Christmas decorations are up in stores and that got me thinking that it really wasn’t too early to start preparing for the wind, rain, and snow heading our way soon. But instead of raking leaves and putting away patio furniture to mark the end of a season, I get ready by changing out my wardrobe. Like me, Ms. Maru has both a summer and winter one which includes sweaters, scarves, coats, and … boots. Maru really hates her boots. She tries hard to shake them off and when that doesn’t work – her body freezes into a catatonic pose and she stares me down with pitiful sad eyes. Quickly though, she resigns herself to the fact that either the boots go walking or she won’t.
Of course, then I start to think. Am I being mean by forcing her to wear those boots? Do I want her to wear them because I like them? Or, is there a legitimate safety or health reason she should wear them? Here’s what I learned.
Researchers in Japan discovered how dogs keep warm on frozen ground thanks to a specialized circulation or “heat transfer” system built in their paws. Using electron microscopes, they found that that even though a dog’s paw has less insulating fur than on its body, the pads contain a high fat content and connective tissue which are freeze resistant.
When warm blood arrives in the paws via arteries, heat is transferred to small veins - or venules - which warm the blood before it returns to the rest of the body. This special system prevents the body from cooling and ensures the paw temperature stays constant. This same network has been found in penguins, Arctic foxes and even dolphin fins.
This latest discovery has interesting evolutionary implications and may suggest that the ancestors of the domestic dog lived in cold climates.
Keep in mind that while dogs have this intricate heating and cooling system, not all domesticated dogs are able to withstand icy conditions or sub-zero temperatures on their paws. Their size, breed, and environment are all determining factors.
Here are some helpful tips to keep your dog safe and healthy this winter.
Frozen Lakes & Ponds
Animals don't know what "thin ice" is. If they fall in, it’s very difficult for them to climb out and hypothermia is a very real and life-threatening danger. "Ice skating" dogs are prone to injuries such as cruciate tears if allowed to "skate" with their pet parents. This is also true of icy walks.
Salts & Chemical De-icers
Pets who walk on sidewalks that have been "de-iced" are prone to dry, chapped, and painful paws. To soothe them, pets will lick their paws. Ingestion may cause gastrointestinal irritation and upset. Wash off your pet's feet after an outing with a warm wet cloth or footbath.
Thirsty and curious pets will lap up antifreeze. Just a few licks can be fatal. Lock up antifreeze containers and clean up spills immediately, especially if your dog stays in the garage.
Dogs walking in snowy areas may get large ice balls between their pads, causing the dog to limp. Be sure to keep ice clear from this area. For dogs that have a lot of hair between the pads, keeping it clipped shorter will help with ice ball formation. Avoid cold feet by ensuring pads are not split or injured and to spray paws with cooking spray before taking out in the snow…. or WEAR BOOTS!
And that brings us back to my original question of boots or no boots for Ms. Maru? It’s a definite yes now. I feel better and less guilty knowing that there are good reasons why it makes sense to make her a little uncomfortable for a few minutes.
And, that triggers another question. Why do dogs walk so funny in their boots? That’s because they have hairs between their toe pads that send the same signals to their brain that their whiskers do. So, really they walk funny because of a neurological response to the foreign object on their paws. You guessed it. The dreaded but ever so cute BOOT!