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How to Prevent Snowballs and Ice Balls in Your Dog's Foot Pads

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Mo Rita is a teacher, writer, pet owner, and artist. She is especially interested in holistic pet care.

Long-haired dog's playing in deep snow can lead to painful ice blocks between the paw pads.

Long-haired dog's playing in deep snow can lead to painful ice blocks between the paw pads.

Dog Paws in the Snow

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.

Vegetable Shortening: The Easiest Solution Is 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 I 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 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.

Crisco on my dg's paws prevented the ice buildup entirely.

Crisco on my dg's paws prevented the ice buildup entirely.

Alternate Solutions

  • 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 four 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.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

© 2011 Mo Rita


Valerie Taylor on December 15, 2017:

I tried this today for the first time and it worked wonderfully. My Springer spaniel always had the worse time with ice balls in her feet, but today there are none. Thank you for the great tip, I will tell my doggie friends.

Leanne on February 02, 2017:

I also have an English Shepherd! Love the breed! Will try this on our walk tomorrow. Thanks!

Mo Rita (author) from IL on February 26, 2014:

Hope it worked for you and Honey Bunny the Schnoodle!

ularose.w@ on February 24, 2014:

just going out to try the Crisco right now ! My dog is a beautiful shnoodle . Thanks for the tips . Rose and honey bunny.

Mo Rita (author) from IL on January 25, 2014:

I'm so glad it worked for all your doggie friends. It also helps to trim the hair between paw pads with small scissors or a mustache / bikini line groomer. :)

mary on January 04, 2014:

Thanks for the Crisco tip. We belong to a dog hiking group and have tried several boots on our dogs. The boots always come off. Those of us hiking today tried the Crisco and it worked great for all dogs.

Mo Rita (author) from IL on February 16, 2011:

Hi, Janie, as mentioned, I tried petroleum jelly as well, but I didn't find it to be very cost effective with two long walks a day and a tiny jar at $2.50. Generic shortening costs $3.99 for a giant tub, and it lasts forever. I've also heard petroleum jelly is not great ig a dog licks it, because it is a synthetic product.

That being said, I think whatever works in the end is good for whomever is using it!

janiek on February 08, 2011:

Hi MoRita:

That's a great tip and one that I've never heard before. I've used petroleum jelly which also works well. I wear dog boots on my doberman when the streets have a lot of salt on them. My lab doesn't want any part of boots! Thanks for the Pawz dog bootie tip as well. Never heard of these either.

Nice hub.

Janie :o

Mo Rita (author) from IL on February 07, 2011:

Glad it helped! :-)

chspublish from Ireland on February 07, 2011:

You've made a great discovery there with Crisco. Good stuff.

Mo Rita (author) from IL on February 06, 2011:

Thanks, Susan, for the nice comments on my hubs, and for following me. I'm glad it helped. I was trying so hard to find something that would work. Anything that keeps the pups able to go outside is helpful and wonderful!

Susan Zutautas from Ontario, Canada on February 06, 2011:

Wow I would never have thought of this....great info! I have 2 Newfoundland dogs and try to keep the fur on their feet trimmed but sometimes it gets away from me. They just love being outside in the backyard in the winter and so many times I am trying to pick the ice balls from their paws. So glad that I stumbled upon your hub. Thank you!