Do Dog’s Paws Get Cold in Winter?

depth of field photography of brown dog near white grasses

The great southern state of Texas is noted for it’s warm temperatures and sunny skies. Certainly no threat of freezing cold temperatures here, right? In fact, the average winter temperatures in Austin range from 40°F to a pleasant 73°F. While considered mild, other parts of the country can be bitterly cold with temps dipping down below zero begging the question, do dog’s paws get cold in the winter? Well contrary to popular belief, that is an excellent question! And the answer is both yes — and no!

For centuries, veterinarians have wondered how wolves and eskimo sled dogs could walk and stand on snow and ice for long periods of time without their paws freezing. Even more so, do their domesticated canine ancestors share the same ability? Well, one research team of Yamazaki Gakuen University in Tokyo, Japan discovered the the answer to that very question.

A study published in 2011 led by Dr. Hiroyoshi Ninomyia, determined that domesticated dogs are naturally suited to endure the cold environmental elements of snow and ice for long periods of time despite their lack of fur covering on their paw pads. But how, you may ask?

What Keeps Dog Paws Warm?

Barefoot and fancy free, our four-legged canine friends actually have a built-in internal central heating system that keeps their paws warm while frolicking in the snow, walking across the ice and pulling eskimo sleds. You see, unlike us humans where vascular blood flow is restricted in cold temperatures resulting in heat loss, the canine has this unique internal central heating system that actually supplies blood through the numerous networks of venules (veins) throughout the dog’s paw pad – like a heat exchanger of sorts.

As seen with electron microscopes through the research work of Dr. Hiroyoshi Ninomyia; a dog possesses an intricate arterial pattern within the paw where the veins run parallel to the arteries. While the arteries deliver warm blood from their heart to the dog’s paw, the heated blooded is then transferred to the corresponding veins.

In layman’s terms, their built-in heat exchanging system works like this:

When your dog’s paw pad is exposed to the cold elements, the circulatory connection of the paw’s arteries and veins – called arteriovenous anastomoses – recirculates the blood flow from the surface of the pad back to the body’s core thereby preventing heat loss for reasonably long periods of time. In retrospect, the cool blood that is returned to heart from the dog’s paws aids in keeping up the body’s core temperature. Hence, the saying ‘cold paw, warm heart’!

How Does the Cold Winter Exposure Affect Pet Owners in Austin Texas?

Dog Running Paws Cold

You may be asking yourself, if Austin doesn’t get that cold then why should I be concerned about how the winter will affect my dog’s paws? We are bringing this to the forefront of your attention because winter is a peak travel time when folks pack up the kids and family dog to visit friends and family’s for the holiday season.

Since you are from a warmer climate and well adapted to the lazy days of summer heat, you might not be aware of how the cold can affect your dog. Even though your dog’s paw is divinely designed with a built-in heat exchange system that can withstand the cold for extended periods of time, there are dangers and precautions that you should be made aware of.

While able to handle the cold for long periods of time, that does not mean for hours on end or to be left unattended. Never under any circumstances leave your pet tied up or unattended. If your dog cannot go with you, either plan for an alternative date, leave your dog with a responsible caretaker or doggy daycare service.

Additionally, you need to consider that your dog’s coat has not adapted to temperatures exceeding its normal habitat – especially if he or she is an indoor dog. Factors to consider when you are traveling to colder climates are:

  • Prolonged exposure to snow, ice and cold risking frostbite and chafing
  • Protecting your dog’s paws from chemicals used to melt snow and ice
  • Proper fitting dog sweater attire and booties

What is Frostbite?

Frostbite is caused when the blood vessels to the skin begin to constrict due to extreme cold, or prolonged exposure to the cold. This is the body’s protection mechanism to preserve the body’s core temperature. So if 40 degrees doesn’t sound cold to you, try sleeping outside all night in nothing but your birthday suit. It’s important to emphasize that dogs with heart disease, diabetes, or with reduced blood flow are at higher risk for frostbite.

No matter the breed or thickness or your dog’s fur, NEVER keep your pet outside in the winter. Sensitive areas like their ears and paws can easily become frostbitten, especially when the cold is combined with wind and moisture. Sleet is particularly dangerous to its cold and wet qualities, often later becoming frozen – along with your pup’s paws and body. Shortly thereafter, frostbite and permanent injury can set in very rapidly.

What is Chafing and How Does it Happen?

Chafing in the winter time is caused by moisture on the dog’s paws. The source of moisture can be from several things including rain, sleet, snow or ice. You would be surprised at how most people never think about their dog’s feet getting wet, much less sweating. But moisture can happen when dogs lick their feet or ‘sweat’ within winter dog boots during long walks or playtime.

With chafing being very similar to diaper rash, their toes repetitively rub together with this moisture – leaving the skin raw and exposed. Its this moist, raw and exposed skin which can lead to frostbite and/or infection.

Please be aware that painful chafing can happen with, or without dog boots if their paws are left damp. To prevent chafing, always thoroughly dry your canine bff’s paws and keep outdoor walks and playtime to multiple outings with short timeframes.

What Are the Chemical Hazards to Dog Paws in the Winter?

Dog Paws

Unfortunately, the cold itself is not an exclusive worry as with winter comes salt trucks and corrosive deicers. Both liquid and rock salt pavement deicers, can be extremely dangerous to our dog’s paws as well as digestive system if they are ingested.

Pavement rock salt or snow melt salts are corrosive by nature causing chemical burns and irritation to unprotected paws. In addition, dogs tend to lick their paws and lap up melting snow and ice in puddles while out on a walk or playing. Ingestion of the melted snow and ice containing these salts can cause severe burns, ulceration and toxicity.

It’s important to remember that just because you, your family or friends may use “pet safe salt”, doesn’t mean the local highway department, neighbors or local businesses do.

How to Protect Your Dog’s Paws in the Winter

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. There are many proactive steps that you can take to protect our four-pawed friends. Dog boots are a versatile choice that can be used in the winter as well as summer for walking on hot pavement. Take care to dry their boots between outings. Be sure to keep a towel nearby the door to thoroughly dry off your dog and his paws when he comes in. Using proper protective barrier emollients on the paws like Musher’s Secret is excellent in all seasons. Remember; if you’re cold, your dog is probably cold too. So dress your dog warmly and check their paws frequently for irregularities. Importantly, familiarize yourself with the signs of frostbite.



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