Protecting paws in salt season

Few things are as pronounced for pet owners as the changing seasons, with various months bringing their own reassurances.

During September, the cool weather is refreshing, but the shift in schedules can be stressful no matter how many legs you balance on. In October, trees shed their leaves – beautiful but bringing with them a blanketing of ticks, not so beautiful. Towards autumn’s end young families celebrate Halloween, which kids love, but most pets do not. It’s a night of unrest populated with unidentifiable fiends and goblins, who, after pounding upon the door, extend their hands imploringly into what pets perceive as their den.

Parading through the calendar we greet November and December with feasts our pets are decidedly not invited to and then, perhaps worst of all, the January to March spread, which heralds shorter days as well as the perils of ice, salt and snow that can spell trauma for our pets’ precious paws.

A word about the paw. I routinely pose the following question to my clients: “What is the most skin sensitive region on your pet’s body?” It’s a query that leaves many puzzled, so I routinely offer a multiple choice:

• tail

• nose

• paw

I applaud those who guess “nose,” though I point out that this is the most “sensory” sensitive area. The most “skin” sensitive areas are the paws, or more specifically, the pads of the paws. Unlike people, dogs do not wear shoes, generally speaking. The neurons located on a dog’s feet are in direct communication with the brain, conveying the same information we might glean by looking down. So back to the pet-concerning perils of winter.

As few Northeastern towns leave anything to chance, communities are already stockpiling salt for the coming season. Though there are many forms of salt, think of large granules of your basic sodium chloride mixed with other additives – both natural like sand for traction and chemicals that enhance the meltability of generic road salt.

As your dog’s paws are more porous than skin, they’re often more sensitive to the burning caused by salt and other chemicals. Road salt stings and when it contacts cracked, winter-dry paws, you’ve got a painful predicament. Your dog’s solution? Lick, lick, lick – sodium and chemical additives be darned.

Should you get shoes for your dog? Well, that is one option, but many dogs balk at the idea and go to phenomenal lengths to dodge your efforts or to remove their booties once they’re affixed. Further, I’ve heard many stories of dogs who simply stage a boycott, refusing to budge. That said, if you think your dog will tolerate such an accessory it’s worth a try.

In the end, prevention is worth a pound of cure, or a pound of salt for that matter. If you can’t avoid a salted passageway either carry your dog over the area if that’s possible or rinse their paws with warm soapy water ASAP.

Remember to consider what you use at home. Purchase dog-safe ice melt or sand and keep a bucket of water handy to rinse your dog’s feet after a walk on suspect surfaces.

If you’re accustomed to walking on streets and sidewalks that are salted in inclement weather, consider new grounds – an open field perhaps or the back parking lot that remains unplowed. Of course, nothing is without caution.

My second concern in wintertime is ice – not the kind of ice that hangs from trees and awnings capturing sunlight and deflecting its rays into a mirage of rainbows. No, the type of ice that is routinely concealed by a layer of white fluffy snow and can be as threatening as a knife blade should your dog step on it the wrong way. If you suspect a layer of ice on the ground, limit your dog’s bounding and racing if at all possible. Keep your dog on a leash and walk on well-trodden paths and shoveled driveways. Boring, but safer.

Of course, I’m probably putting a damper on all things winter. Like many of you, I love a good snow in all its forms, and our dogs are no exception. There’s snowball snow, sledding snow, stick-to-the-trees-and-take-a-million-photos snow. Winter provides photo op after photo op, whether your favorite children walk on four legs or two. But walking and allowing your dogs to romp in blissful abandon in the wintertime is something pet parents have to be mindful of – for better or worse.

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