Winters in the south can be extremely dry and freezing temperatures can cause chapped cheeks and dry skin for many of us. The same is true when it comes to our pets that venture outside during these cold months. Due to constant contact with the frozen ground, your pet's paws are at risk for a multitude of issues. Knowing preventative care and what signs to look for can save you a trip to the vet this winter.
Whether your outside companion this winter is a cat or a dog, the signs for paw problems are much the same. Beginning signs include dryness, chapping, peeling, and cracking. If left untreated, paws may become red, swollen, and bleeding which can lead to limping and loss of gait. If this starts to happen, see a vet as soon as possible because antibiotics may be necessary.
Frostbite is another issue to be on the lookout for when animals go outside in the winter. Signs of frostbite include; discoloration of skin (pale, gray, blue or black), cold or brittleness to the affected area, pain when touched, blisters or skin ulcers and swelling. If any of these symptoms occur, see a vet immediately! When your pet comes inside, always check their paws and dry them off if necessary.
If your pet's paws are slightly dry, cracked, or chapped, there are a few things that can be done before you visit the vet. Cover their paws with a pet safe balm to reduce minor cracks and chapping. When coming inside, wash their paws in warm water and gently massage. Keeping paws as clean as possible greatly reduces the risk of infection. Try covering their paws with socks or booties when venturing outside - if they'll let you!
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Doing everything you can to prevent a problem before it starts is the best way to take care of your pets during the cold months. The first step is to keep the hair around paws and in between toes clean and trimmed. This stops ice crystals from forming and causing frostbite. Keep nails trimmed to a short clean length. Nails that are too long may cause your pet to walk with their paws splayed out making it easier for ice and frozen debris from the ground to get in between their pads causing cracks and infection. Apply a protective balm or petroleum-based jelly before heading outdoors. This can prevent snow and ice from sticking to paws while maintaining moisture below the surface of the pad.
Consider taking a pet first aid kit with you when you go on outdoor walks or hikes with your pet. If cuts and scrapes do occur while out, immediately put antibacterial ointment on and wrap up the paw. Another thing to remember is that salts and de-icers can cause chemical burns as well as cuts and scrapes from stepping on crystals. If a chemical burn occurs, run the affected area under cool water for at least 20 minutes to make sure all the de-icer mixture is rinsed off. Apply a balm to the burns or irritated areas then wrap and consult your vet as soon as possible.
A good rule of thumb is if it is too cold for you and your bare hands outside, then it is most likely too cold for your pet's paws. Take the time to follow preventative measures to keep your pet safe and warm this winter.