Exposure to winter’s dry, cold air and chilly rain, sleet and snow can cause chapped paws and itchy, flaking skin, but these aren’t the only discomforts pets can suffer. Winter walks can become downright dangerous if chemicals from ice-melting agents are licked off of bare paws.
Says Dr. Louise Murray, Vice President of the ASPCA Animal Hospital, “During the winter, products used as de-icers on sidewalks and other areas can lead to trouble for our animal companions, potentially causing problems ranging from sore feet to internal toxicity. Pet parents should take precautions to minimize their furry friends' exposure to such agents.”
To help prevent cold weather dangers from affecting your pet’s paws and skin, please heed the following advice from our experts:
- Repeatedly coming out of the cold into the dry heat can cause itchy, flaking skin. Keep your home humidified and towel dry your pet as soon as he comes inside, paying special attention to his feet and in between the toes.
- Trim long-haired dogs to minimize the clinging of ice balls, salt crystals and de-icing chemicals that can dry on the skin. (Don’t neglect the hair between the toes!)
- Bring a towel on long walks to clean off stinging, irritated paws. After each walk, wash and dry your pet’s feet to remove ice, salt and chemicals—and check for cracks in paw pads or redness between the toes.
- Bathe your pets as little as possible during cold spells. Washing too often can remove essential oils and increase the chance of developing dry, flaky skin. If your pooch must be bathed, ask your vet to recommend a moisturizing shampoo and/or rinse.
- Dressing your pet in a sweater or coat will help to retain body heat and prevent skin from getting dry.
- Booties help minimize contact with painful salt crystals, poisonous anti-freeze and chemical ice-melting agents. They can also help prevent sand and salt from getting lodged in between bare toes, causing irritation. Use pet-friendly ice melts whenever possible.
- Massaging petroleum jelly into paw pads before going outside helps to protect from salt and chemical agents. And moisturizing after a good toweling off helps to heal chapped paws.
- Brushing your pet regularly not only gets rid of dead hair, but also stimulates blood circulation, improving the skin’s overall condition.
- Pets burn extra energy by trying to stay warm in wintertime, sometimes causing dehydration. Feeding your pet a little bit more during the cold weather and making sure she has plenty of water to drink will help to keep her well-hydrated, and her skin less dry.
- Remember, if the weather’s too cold for you, it’s probably too cold for your pet. Animal companions should remain indoors as much as possible during the winter months and never be left alone in vehicles when the mercury drops.
For more information about pet care in winter, please read our Top Ten Cold Weather Tips. If you spot wounds or redness on your pet’s feet, please contact your veterinarian immediately.