Its winter in Vermont. Cold temperatures and fewer daylight hours have us indoors more than outdoors. Opportunities for exercise and burning off the never-ending supply of GSP energy are limited. A pointer with too much energy is a disaster (not just an accident!) waiting to happen. This is why our daily walks through the streets of our small city, provide an indespensable tool for maintaining sanity, mine and the dogs.
If you are in a climate that gets snow, winter dog walking has its hazards and challenges. Icy sidewalks, unplowed sidewalks and snow banks, just to name a few. Another commonly overlooked hazard, is the salt, sand and chemical deicers used on streets and sidewalks to keep them ice-free. Deicers are made from chemicals. The most common products are made from calcium chloride, magnesium chloride, sodium chloride (rock salt), potassium chloride, and calcium magnesium acetate (or in any combination of these chemicals). These products can be harmful to dogs in multiple ways.
These products have the potential to cause chemical burns or skin irritation after contact. This is a greater concern for dogs that have excess fur between their pads where sand and deicer chemicals can get trapped prolonging the contact with your dogs paws. Should your dog’s pads be chapped or cracked from winter dryness, walking on areas where these products are used increases the potential for small chunks of salt or sand to lodge in these cracks and cause further irritation. Also a concern is ingestion of these chemicals. If ingested (typically from paw licking) your dog may suffer gastrointestinal irritation or distress.
While you can control what you choose to use on your own driveway and walkways, you can’t control what your neighbors or your municipality uses (another great reason to NEVER let your dog roam unattended), but there are some things you can do to manage your dog’s contact with these products.
There are pet friendly deicers on the market that you can use around your own home. These should be readily available at your local hardware store.
One can attempt to avoid areas with deicers all together. Dog parks, recreational paths or community trail systems may be an alternative to walking on city streets and sidewalks for the winter months or at times of snowfall when there is widespread use of salt and sand.
However, if you are like me, our pre-work, daily routine consists of a convenient, out-the-front-door, 20 minute ‘airing’ walk around the block. Driving anywhere is impractical and simply…ain’t gonna happen.
If you can’t avoid walking your dog where these products might be used, you can be mindful and make attempts to minimize exposure.
If possible avoid sidewalks and streets that are main traffic arteries they tend be treated more heavily and frequently than lesser travelled corridors. Avoid walking on them directly after the deicers are applied. During our walks, after we walk across salted streets, I look for areas of fresh snow, like lawns and greenspaces, where the dogs can clean their feet.
Before going out you can coat your dog’s pads with Vaseline or Mushers Secret, both will provide a protective barrier to your dogs pads to prevent the chemicals from absorbing. I apply this stuff outside. These items are greasy and will make a mess on carpets and furniture.
If your dog will wear them, dog booties provide a physical barrier between your dogs pad and the chemicals, ice, cold pavement and chunks of salt and sand. Dog booties are available in a wide variety of sizes shapes materials and prices. I recommend dogbooties.com. I have used their 330 Denier Cordura Booties for years. They are simple, easy to get on (relatively), cheap and long lasting. They are priced per bootie so you can buy as many as you need. The stretchy velcro enclosure works suprisingly well and in my experience they rarely slip off. These booties are also great for summer conditions where you might need paw protection from hot pavement or rocky terrain. I have also used them in the event of an injury that I needed to keep the bandage dry and in place. Because they are flexible and light, dogs get used to them quickly and may tolerate them over other types of rigid sole booties.
Dog booties will only work if your dog will wear them. Having something on their feet is not natural. Some dogs get over it in minutes. A few riduculous high steps, a couple off-to-the-side foot shakes and the puzzled embarrassed look slowly disappears and they’re off. But if your dog is having a hard time with them, go slow. Make it fun, not traumatic. It may take a couple of attempts for your dog to become accustomed to wearing them.
After your walk be sure to clean your dog’s paws with a quick rinse or damp towel. Winter weather does have some additional challenges, but nothing that can’t be overcome.