When temperatures drop and the likelihood of snow and other wintry weather patterns increases, we (mostly) fur-free bipeds break out the winter jackets and snow boots. Especially here in New York City. But are humans the only ones who need to rock special winter gear during the coldest months of the year, or do dogs need snow boots to protect themselves, too?
As with many things concerning pet care, the answer is not a clear-cut yes or no. Here’s what you need to know to decide if and when dog snow boots are right for your dog.
Does Your Dog Need to Wear Boots in the Cold Weather?
When it comes to asking whether or not your canine companion should wear boots during the winter and cold weather, it truly depends on your dog’s tolerance for cold, how cold it is outside, what’s happening under their paws, and several other important factors.
Short-haired dogs, small dogs, and breeds that are susceptible to the cold may need a dog jacket or sweater outdoors. And no matter how hardy your dog is, their paws should always be protected from snow, ice, salt, and ice melt chemicals. In a city setting, you can almost always expect salt on the sidewalks, and most road salts and deicers are completely toxic to dogs. Consider keeping their feet warm and safe with the proper gear and dog boots for winter.
Dogs Are Built for the Cold (for the Most Part)
While humans aren’t able to stand barefoot in the cold without risking discomfort and even frostbite, dogs can and will walk around in the cold and snow as if it’s no big deal, thanks to the amazing way their paws work. So when it comes to booting up strictly to combat the cold, mostdogs don’t need the extra protection for average cold-weather conditions. Dog winter boots are not always necessary.
Some breeds, such as Golden Retrievers and German Shepherds, enjoy chillier temperatures when they can run around without feeling overheated in their thick coats. Others, like Dachshunds and Beagles, tend to shy away from the cold, but can still be persuaded to get in a quick romp outside, especially with the right protection.
Your furry friend has paw pads are made up of adipose tissue and elastic fibers, which are in turn covered by heavily pigmented, thick skin. All of these elements inhibit freezing, of course, but that’s not the only thing that allows them to frolic in the snow or go on winter walks without a dog boot.
Recent research has shown that it’s not just the combination of fat, fiber, and thick skin that keeps dog feet warm; canines also have a special circulatory system within their paws that places arteries and veins in close proximity and allows warm blood to be circulated more quickly.
Also found in penguins and dolphins, it’s essentially a heat exchange system that brings warm blood from the body down into the paws, heating the blood that has been close to cold surfaces before it circulates throughout the rest of the dog’s body. This keeps their entire body temperature stable and allows them to comfortably amble around without extra protection.
That said, not all dogs are equipped to keep themselves warm enough to withstand winter temperatures and conditions like snow and ice.
Your dog’s extremities, including the paws, ears, and tail, are more at risk for getting frostbite. That’s because the body constricts blood vessels in those parts to divert blood and warmth to the core where it can protect internal organs. This is why it is important to put that pair of dog shoes on your pooch even if there isn’t snow on the ground. Freezing temperatures typically require dog booties.
If you suspect frostbite, move your dog to a warm place and contact your veterinarian immediately. Don’t try to rub or massage the frostbitten area. You can wrap your dog in a heated towel or blanket quickly in the dryer for added warmth. The dog’s feet will need to be examined as soon as possible. Pet parents need to be more cautious during the winter season.
Being Cautious in Warm Weather, Too
From one extreme to the next. Your dog can actually burn their paws on steaming hot asphalt. If you’re walking them on a hot day, be sure to check the pavement with the back of your own hand. If it’s too hot for you, it’s too hot for your dog to walk on it for any length of time.
Try to keep walks to cooler times of the day, in the shade, and opt for cooler surfaces, like grass. But boots or other foot coverings can provide protection if contact with hot pavement is anticipated (just don’t leave paw-coverings on too long in warm weather).
How to Choose the Best Dog Boots
The material of the sole should be textured, with a good grip for traction. A rubber sole will help on slippery surfaces.
Choose boots made out of water-resistant material with a waterproof exterior. High tech insulated materials including water resistant fabric are great for your pet’s paws.
Choose the most durable dog boots that offer the most paw protection for your pup’s paws. All season dog boots and heavy duty dog boots are perfect for your furry friend.
The rubber sole should be flexible so your dog can walk naturally.
Always measure the dog’s paw size.
Choose a dog boot with adjustable straps or two fastener straps. The boots for winter should always make your dog comfortable walking.
Most dogs don’t like the feel of shoes or boots. Prepare them by trying on the winter dog boots on the dog in the house for short periods of time and praising them as they get used to wearing them. Older dogs and senior dogs may have more difficulty adjusting.
Always check the manufacturer’s guidelines for size, and measure before you order. The winter boots should have a snug and comfortable fit.
If your dog is ultra-sensitive, try starting with a pair of warm dog socks or a sock liner. These are also great to pair underneath booties for an even warmer feel and to keep your dog safe. Fleece lining is great too.
Paw balm is another great item to have on hand for winter, both for salt protection and for soothing cracked paws.
While a dog’s paw pads are tough, remember that they’re not indestructible — and they can be more susceptible to cuts and cracks. One of the ways you can protect dog’s paws in winter is by putting THE BALM on the bottom of the pup’s paws before heading out on a winter walk. Creating a barrier will prevent snow, ice and other road chemicals from getting in their paw cracks, protecting the paw pad. Taking steps and protecting paws is important for many dogs.
How To Get Your Dog Used to Dog Boots for Winter
Some dogs are able and willing to wear dog boots right out of the gate. Most dogs, however, are not comfortable having foreign objects strapped to their feet. (We’ve all seen the videos of dogs doing the high-step as they struggle to walk in their new boots.) Follow this step-by-step guide to get your dog ready to wear their boots outside.
Put your dog’s boots on the floor and let them sniff around. Use praise and/or treats to reinforce their curiosity. If they’re not interested in the boots at all, try putting some treats inside.
Slowly introduce them to the feel of the boots, first touching them to the paws while offering rewards, then putting on one boot at a time.
After every boot, praise and/or give treats to your dog to reinforce the positive experience of wearing them.
Once you get all four boots on, let them walk (or hop) around the house while praising them. Take the boots off after only a few minutes.
Add on more time for each subsequent session, and eventually transition to taking them outside.
After they become (relatively) comfortable wearing their boots outside, start taking them on short neighborhood walks, increasing the length every time, until they’re walking normally and ready for winter.
If your dog spends a lot of time outdoors — whether in summer or winter — investing in dog boots is always a good idea. Paws are sensitive to extreme heat, extreme cold, and sharp particles such as ice shards or sticks while hiking. One of the biggest threats to your dog’s paw pads is the salt used to melt ice. If your dog’s paws are exposed to the salt for a prolonged time, it could lead to chemical burns.
Your dog may also try to lick their paws or boots, ingesting the road salt. That’s why it’s always a good idea to clean and remove your dog’s boots immediately after entering the house. Once your dog is ready to face the world in their boots, go out and enjoy the winter wonderland.