Preventing Snowballs and Ice Balls in Dogs' Foot Pads
Ice and Snow Build-Up in Dog Paws
If you have a long-haired dog, especially a sporting breed that also has webbed paws, you may find yourself picking and breaking ice and snow build-up from between your dog's paw pads. The snow attaches to the dog's long hair, melts from the body heat, and forms ice balls that grow larger, stretching your dog's toes apart and causing cracking, bleeding, and hair pulling. This is painful and distressing for the dog, who may then try to remove them by licking them, which then causes even more ice to build up.
Luckily there are some very cheap, efficient ways to get rid of this problem. I've tried them myself on my English Shepherd, and have found that the most inexpensive option worked best for us.
The Easiest Solution... Find It In the Kitchen!
So far, regular solid vegetable shortening, such as Crisco, has proven to be the best and easiest solution to this problem for my dog. I had bought some Musher's Secret online, but my shipment got delayed, and I was running out of the cheaper and not-so-effective paw balm I bought at the local pet store.
I thought that paw balm really resembled shortening, so googled something about paw pads and Crisco and snow. I came across a hunter's forum in which hunters were discussing their Brittany Spaniels' ice build-up. One man mentioned Crisco.
I tried it the next day, with a fresh snowfall. Before we went out, I slathered my dog's feet with Crisco, rubbing it down far between his paw pads and into the fur. We went for a one and a half hour walk, and there was almost no build-up of snow in his paws. There was no ice at all. The snow was balling up everywhere else on his body, but his paws were absolutely fine, even without my having had to trim them.
There were even more positives. First of all, it actually worked better than the paw balm I'd purchased. The paw balm let me slide the ice out from between the dog's paws, but the Crisco prevented the ice entirely. Secondly, the paw balm had a smell that seemed to bother him. It made him rub his head into the carpeting, and when he did want to remove the ice pellets, the smell made him not want to touch his paws. The Crisco was odorless and apparently quite tasty, as he was licking his paws and the cats had their heads in the container as I was applying it. But I know it's completely non-toxic, even to my more sensitive cats (some essential oils are toxic to cats) who were near us, and it stayed on the dog's feet even after he licked at it.
It goes on far more cleanly than you'd think. I have carpeted floors and I did not see any grease staining. It seemed to be absorbed rather quickly. It was completely clean when we walked back in.
The only drawback I saw listed to using Crisco was the possibility that it could soften the paw pads over time, and that could potentially be painful for the dog. I had my dog using Crisco on his paws twice a day in the coldest Chicago weather, on snow and one ice, and he did not have any problems. In fact, while the Crisco healed the deep cracks on his paws, the pads stayed tough and resilient.
- Clip the fur between your dog's toes. You can use a mustache groomer or a bikini-line groomer for this purpose. You can also use small scissors. Be very careful, especially in dogs with webbed paws. Do not cut down between toes and pads... just trim off the excess fluff.
- Use a professional paw wax, such as Musher's Secret. It has excellent ratings on Amazon, and it prevents ice build-up while also toning paw pads and making a protective coating against cold, salt, ice, and snow. This is an excellent, albeit more pricey, solution. Most pet stores do not carry this product. I purchased mine on Amazon.
- Other solutions include Vaseline and Pam Non-stick Cooking Spray. I have tried Vaseline and found it to be rather ineffective (plus it's rather expensive for 4 paws, for two walks a day). Plus, I'm not a fan of the idea of my dog ingesting petroleum products, so I don't use it on him. I can't vouch for the Pam spray, having never tried it. I hear it works well (and works well for snowballs in the dog's belly fur as well), but I don't think it would have the lasting power of the Crisco when used on paws on longer hikes.
- Pawz natural rubber reusable / disposable dog booties are another alternative. These work well, and if you get the right size, they stay on well. Stretch them and pop them on the dog's feet and force the dog to take a few steps. Once he's taken a few steps, he'll forget they're there because they're so thin (I can vouch for this... my dog hates anything on his feet and he tolerates these). They protect against salt and cold as well. They are fairly durable and can be reused and come in twelve to a pack. The only downside is that they sometimes fill with snow or get punctured, which effectively makes them useless.