Protect paws from road salts

It’s January, and it’s cold, and they are calling for more freezing rain and snow. Above freezing temperatures that we are having today will only make it worse, as all the slush will turn into hard ice overnight (when temperatures dip back down below freezing point). Tomorrow morning commute will be quite painful, and black ice is an enemy you do not want to experience. No matter for great the tires are, they stand no chance if your speed is anywhere above “crawling”.


The second major application of salt is for de-icing and anti-icing of roads, both in grit bins and spread by winter service vehicles. In anticipation of snowfall, roads are optimally “anti-iced” with brine (concentrated solution of salt in water), which prevents bonding between the snow-ice and the road surface. This procedure obviates the heavy use of salt after the snowfall. For de-icing, mixtures of brine and salt are used, sometimes with additional agents such as calcium chloride and/or magnesium chloride.


It is important to note that the use of salt or brine becomes quite ineffective below −10 °C (14 °F), and that’s when calcium chloride and magnesium chloride are used in some colder parts as de-icing agents. Sand is also used primarily for providing some traction, but in high winds it just blows off the road.

I personally don’t agree with this practice. It destroys the asphalt on the roads, it washes off into the soil, it stains and ultimately damages clothes and shoes, and it rusts the underparts of any vehicle. Unfortunately, it is an evil we have to deal with for almost half a year, and the government spends millions to keep our roads safe. Ultimately, hundreds of tons of salt are used per season.

1517559_651878478285168_856416149445442250_nOur pets’ paws are also affected. Exposure to the de-icing agents, for any period of time, puts the paws at risk of drying, cracking, trauma, frostbite and chemical burns (and we are talking about both dogs and cats paws). Limping by the end of the walk most likely means discomfort to the paws created by the road salts. Try to keep your dog off the salty sidewalk (use the ‘grass area’) whenever possible.

Their overall health is also badly affected if they ingest the road salts. And that could happen very easily. They bring the salt in the house on their paws, lie down in their favorite spot and start licking those paws clean! To prevent the dog from ingesting de-icing agents, keep a shallow bowl of warm water and a cloth near the entryway to your home, so that you can wipe the dog’s paws when coming back inside.

It is very easy for hairy-footed dog breeds to create snowballs between their pads and toes. Not only do the hairy paws create little balls from snow that ultimately cause sore paws, they could also hold on to the de-icing agents. If your dog has hairy paws, it helps to trim the hair around the paws and between the toes throughout the winter months. Maya and Zeus’s paws are prone to form little snowballs and, although we don’t trim the hair, as they live outside, we do check on them daily and get rid of those little balls. 

Related: The white dogs live outside

Short haired dogs left in the cold for long periods of times are at risk for frostbite on the paws and hypothermia. It is always advisable to not have the dog out in the cold for a long period of time. Frequent short walks are a lot better for the dog – the crisp air will tire them out sooner anyway. Using a dog jacket will help to keep the dog warmer and winds and the cool air will be easier to endure. Tia refuses to go outside longer than she has to, unless he is all bundled up in her fleece jacket. 

The best protection, for your dog’s paws, is using dog booties. They may look really silly, but they will protect the paws from salts, ice balls, and they could prevent small cuts caused by sharp ice. Proper sizing ensures the comfort of the dog, as well as maximum protection for the paws.

Another way to protect your dog’s paws is by applying a thin layer of salve or wax. Bag balm is available at nearly all pharmacies and farm supply stores and it prevents cracking and bleeding of the under paw. Bag balm is also used on those dry and cracked hands we all experience during winter time – especially if you wash your hands more than usual (warm water and soap strip the skin natural oils). Using a humidifier in the house should also prevent dry, itchy skin for both you and your pet. Paw wax is applied to protect the dog’s pads before going out for a walk. The wax creates a waterproof barrier between the paw and the salty pavement. Paw wax will wear off after extended walks, and should be reapplied before each walk. Bag balm can be reapplied when you’re back from the walk, but not before cleaning the paws with warm water and dry them with a cloth. If you can’t find Bag Balm then Vaseline is an acceptable alternative. Vaseline is non-toxic and safe for dogs to ingest in small quantities (as they lick their paws off of any extra vaseline). Vaseline acts as a laxative and big quantities of ingested product could cause diarrhea, and sometimes vomiting. CAUTION: do not use as a relief for constipation in dogs! that’s a different can of worms for another post 😉

Use safe products to de-ice the driveway and walkways around the house. Pet friendly de-icers are sold at pet and farm supplies stores, but sand, small stones, and kitty litter (the non-clumping kind) also do the job while protecting your dog’s paws from injury and chemical burns.

Winter can be tough on all of us, including our fur babies. Making use of safe products and practising due diligence will help all of us in the long run.




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  1. Pingback: The white dogs live outside | Caledon Acres

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