Dog natural adaptations to the cold:

Countercurrent circulation is found in all dog breeds and helps to keep their paws from freezing

In addition, the fats in dog paw pads remain liquid and flexible at much colder temperatures than fats in the human body. Our fingers and toes are like sticks of butter in cold temperatures while a dog's paws are more like canola oil in the cold - still liquid and much more flexible than our frozen butter fingers in the cold!

Double fur coat

Double coated breeds have a downy undercoat layer that is the dog equivalent of a puffy down jacket to keep them warm On top of that they sport long, coarse guard hairs (like a gore tex jacket) that helps shed snow or moisture. These breeds are well suited to snow and cold without any additional jackets or warm layers. However, many other breeds who only have a single coat or very thin coat may need to wear a warmer jacket when out in cold, snowy conditions to help them regulate their temperature.

If any dog (regardless of their fur coat) gets snow packed through their fur and right next to their skin (think sleet, wind driven snow, anc other challenging weather conditions) they are at risk of hypothermia and it is important to get them calories to help them regulate their temperature and get them warm and dry as soon as you can.

Winter hazards

Ice melt on sidewalks or roads. Many can be toxic to dogs so clean their paws off if you suspect they may have walked through some. If you plan on using any snow melt products look for ones that are dog friendly.

Antifreeze This product tastes sweet and can be appealing to dogs, but it is also incredibly toxic. If you suspect your dog drank antifreeze contact your veterinarian right away.

Overall health

Exercise. Many humans struggle to get out and exercise outdoors in winter when days are shorter and colder and wetter. However, dogs (and humans) benefit greatly from maintaining a regular exercise program in the winter months. It is good for all of us mentally and physically to get out and play every day.

Hydration. Just like humans, dogs may not be as interested in drinking water in the cold weather. Make sure your dog is staying hydrated in winter just as much as in summer. Consider baiting water with a spoonful canned tuna or soaked kibble if your dog doesn't like to drink water in the winter.

Supplements. If your dog has dandruff due to dry weather or because of forced air heating, consider adding a fish oil supplement to help their skin and coat stay healthy.

Weight. Make sure your dog is maintaining a healthy weight. It is easy for dogs to add weight in winter if they are spending more time indoors and less time running around outside. Here is a helpful chart for determining a dog's weight. Where does your dog register on the chart? Don't just look at your dog. Use the palm of your hands (not your fingertips) to feel for their ribs, their vertebrae, their waist, etc. Your dog will enjoy their outings with you more and be less at risk for athletic injuries if they maintain a healthy weight.

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Dealing with snowballs or ice buildup on paws and fur

If a dog is consistently getting snowballs forming in the webbing and fur between their toes that's the dog equivalent of getting rocks in your walking shoes - no fun at all. There are a few different solutions to try:


Yes, most dogs hate them, but often it's because they are too clunky or heavy or not properly put on....and because dogs aren't used to wearing clothes or shoes so they always have a reaction to them at first.

Here's what most pet owners think of as dog booties

Here's what most dog mushers think of as booties

The top booties have lots of features - rubberized soles, breathable fabrics and a whole bunch of other things that your dogs don't really appreciate the way we humans do. These booties just keep them from being able to feel the earth (or snow) beneath their paws and that bothers them so they work hard to get those pesky things off.

The mushing version of a bootie is a cordura fabric (please don't get the fleece ones. Fleece will form snow and ice balls just as quickly as your dog's fur) with a velcro strap. Their purpose is NOT to keep paws warm (dogs do that on their own through countercurrent circulation and special fats in their paws called neatsfoot oil but that is for another tidbit). Their purpose is to protect paws from forming snow or ice balls or to protect a cut or abrasion or other injury.

Dogs won't instantly accept this version of a bootie either. You have to size it and put it on properly so it is tight enough to stay put through deep snow. After a few minutes of funny footed walking, your dog should barely notice the booties on their feet. Instead, they will frolic in the fluffy white stuff rather than stopping and chewing out ice balls from between their toes every few feet. Eventually this style of bootie will wear out and get holes. Once they do it is time to order replacements. Handlers and dog walkers need to also check to be sure that there is a proper fit and no holes during a walk so that snow is not building up inside the bootie, which can be just as bad or worse than no booties at all!

There are lots of small businesses that sell the mushing variety of dog booties online. Use their sizing charts to order the right size for your dog. We can always show you how to properly put them on. Here's a few to check out

Show Sheen Spray

We have used this spray successfully on some of our longer coated huskies in Alaska to help minimize (not eliminate) the formation of snow or ice balls on their fur. Spray Show Sheen on their paws, legs, chest, belly....wherever snow and ice might build up and brush/ massage into their fur well before they go out to play in the snow.

We have not yet tested how well this works on other breeds of dogs, especially those with hair rather than fur so this winter will be an experiment. We don't think this product will leave any residue, but we have not tested whether it could stain furniture, carpets or floors so talk to your groomer or others who might have more insight about this. It is not a greasy formula, it is more like silicone spray. Bonus - your dogs will have a very shiny coat!

If you try this on your dog this winter, let us know how it works for you.

Paw salves

Dogs can get splits and cracks in their paw pads or the webbing between their toes. When you are relaxing in the house with your dog, giving them belly rubs, take a minute to get a good look at each foot. Do they have cracks in any paw pads? Do they have splits, redness or swelling in the webbing between their toes? Are their nails a good length? Are there any splits or cracks in their nails? If so, they could use a little paw-dicure and pampering.

A couple products we found beneficial with sled dogs to protect their pads and help prevent snow and ice balls from forming between their toes are:

Paw Tect is a thicker salve that should be massaged into pads and webbing before your dog heads outside on long walks. It is less likely to leave residue on floors, furniture, etc. but test it out in your house before you take our word for it.

Musher's First Aid is a liquid oil with lots of antifungal and antiinflammatory properties. It works well on splits and cracks that may be infected. Because it is so oily it can also reduce snow ball formation on paws. Warning: This stuff is oily and will leave a residue on fabrics so don't put it on and let your dog run all over the house. Massage a small amount into their pads and paws very well before they go for walks outside and towel their feet off when they return to minimize the chance of any oily residue being tracked indoors.

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© 2017 by Lilith Erlenbusch

(541) 977 - 1566

10494 Iris Rd, Truckee CA

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