Winter Dog Care: Tips for Snowball Build-Up On Fur & Paw Protection
Updated: Feb 23
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 against a cut or abrasion or another 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.
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.
This might be the best full coverage snowsuit we've seen for dogs that really struggle with snow and ice balls building up on their coats. (I'm looking at your doodles!). The company that makes this is well known for quality products for dog mushing so we feel confident this coat will be well made as well. Keeping their hair dry in fresh, wet snow will go a long way toward keeping them warm and happy. This is not insulated so not designed for super short-coated breeds, it really is for protection from snow.