I’ve received these questions a lot over the years: Does my dog need to wear boots in the snow? Do Chester and Gretel wear boots in the snow? What boots do you recommend for dogs? Well, today I’m going to answer all of these questions in one blog post so the information is easy to find later.
I’m going to share what I’ve learned here. But first, let me tell you a little about our experience and climate where we live.
NOTE: THIS ARTICLE DEALS SPECIFICALLY WITH THE ISSUE OF DOG BOOTS AND COLD PAWS. IT DOES NOT ADDRESS THE VERY IMPORTANT ISSUE OF HYPOTHERMIA. I WILL COVER THAT IN ANOTHER ARTICLE BUT, FOR NOW, YOU CAN READ MORE ABOUT IT HERE AND HERE.
I tried finding boots for Chester 10 years ago when I started taking him on snowy hikes. There weren’t a lot of options back then and I didn’t find any I was satisfied with. It was impossible to find boots that would fit over a Dachshunds fat feet yet be narrow enough at the ankle to cinch up tight and be comfortable. I can’t say if any boots I tried “stayed on” or not because we never made it out of the livingroom. He hated boots and it wasn’t worth getting him trained to wear them if they didn’t even fit properly.
Our snow is different than other parts of the country. I remember being shocked at how light and fluffy the snow in Colorado was when I visited. Here, our snow is called “Cascade Concrete”. It’s comparatively wet and heavy. I can tell you about how Chester and Gretel do without wearing boots in our snow conditions. Although it’s likely transferable to your situation, I can’t make any promises. Your snow might be different than ours.
Also, I don’t take Chester and Gretel hiking in the snow if it’s much below 25 degrees F. That temperature feels absolutely FREEZING to us. However, I acknowledge that we live in a temperate climate and it gets much, much colder in other parts of the country. The number of winter days in the mountain that are below 25 degrees F are not many and a temperature below 15 degrees F is very uncommon (all of this is, of course, not accounting for any wind chill factor).
It rarely gets below 30 degrees F in Seattle. Our average winter low is probably 40 degrees. That means ice is rare, salted roads, and de-iced sidewalks are rare. We also live in an eco-conscious city. Half of the de-icers used around here are environmentally and pet friendly. That means that our chance of encountering a lot of salt that could potentially burn Chester and Gretel’s feet is low.
Personally, I have not found dog boots necessary for Chester and Gretel and we don’t use them.
How A Dog’s Foot Works in the Cold
A dog’s foot doesn’t work like a human foot. As humans, we often attribute human characteristics to our pets. We think that if our feet get cold in the winter then so do our dog’s. That’s not necessarily true though. If fact, it’s unlikely your dog’s feet get cold.
Two articles – How dogs can walk on ice without freezing their paws and Dogs Have Built-In Snow Boots, Researchers Find – explain the differences in scientific terms. In summary:
“Dogs’ paws… have an intricate heat transfer system built in that immediately warms cold blood. Couple that system with a high amount of freeze-resistant connective tissue and fat located in the pads of the paw, and a dog’s paw rivals that of a penguin’s wing for the ability to stay warm in crazy-cold climates.” (an arctic fox is also referenced in one of the articles)
Now, domesticated dogs are not penguins or arctic foxes. Most domestic pets not used to living in harsh conditions year-round. However, the point is still the same – a dog’s paws stay warmer way longer than a human foot would.
With some simple precautions, dog boots may not be necessary.
Protecting a Dog’s Paws Without Boots
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Your dog may not need boots in the ice and snow. It’s likely that they don’t if it’s just plian snow or ice (no de-icing salts). This is, of course, for you to decide based on research, the knowledge about your dog’s breed and temperament, the toughness of their paw pads, and your dog’s experiences.
This is my recommended system if you want to skip the dog boots:
- Make sure your dog gets regular walks on a hard surface to toughen their paws. I hear that Tuf-Foot is also good for strengthening a dog’s paw pads.
- Trim the fur between your dog’s foot pads if it’s long or there is a lot of it.
- Make sure your dog has enough fur, or a dog jacket, that will keep their body extra warm when it’s cold out.
- Apply all-natural Musher’s Secret paw balm before you head out. This dense, breathable, barrier wax works like “invisible boots” to protect your dog’s paws from salt and chemicals, ice build-up, snowballing, and abrasions from rough ice or snow.
- Check your dog often when out on adventures. Feel their body (through fur or under their jacket) to make sure they are warm. Feel their feet to make sure they are not freezing and there is no ice or snow build-up.
Using this method, I’ve haven’t a problem in the 10 years I’ve been hiking in the northwest winters with dogs.
When Dog Boots Are Necessary
(Photo courtesy of The Dog Saga)
Sometimes the above method is not enough and your dog does need boots. Here are some scenarios where I could see boots are necessary:
- You live in an area where salted or chemically de-iced sidewalks are a thing all winter. You are afraid of salt burns on their feet or your dog has already experienced salt burns.
- Temperatures below 25 degrees F are common when you go out in the snow and you’ve seen your dog lifting their feet when walking or standing around.
- Your dog’s foot pads are weak and often get cut or scraped.
- Your dog is extra fluffy and snowballs stick to their fur, including around their feet and between their foot pads.
So maybe you’ve determined your dog needs boots. How do you find the right pair?
First, the “right” boot is one that fit’s your dog’s foot perfectly. It’s not too snug around the foot and allows their toes to splay out naturally when they walk. It also fit’s securely so they don’t rub or fall off.
For more help, read my guest article on the Sierra Trading Post blog about selecting a properly sized dog boot.
Beyond that, there are a few other things to consider:
- No “traction device” is better than your dog’s naked paws. While boots can help protect from the elements, it can also cause them to lose their footing and slip. It’s not super common that results in an injury but it certainly can and does. I’ve heard of a dog with boots slipping down a cliff or slipping and pulling a tendon. It likely won’t be an issue but be aware.
- Your dog “perspires” through their feet. The less breathable a dog boot is, the greater chance there is of then overheating. It’s not likely in the snow but it’s something to be aware of.
- A boot with a thicker, more obvious tread will give more traction but you will sacrifice flexibility of the material. It may cause them to walk unnaturally.
- If your Dachshund has thicker legs, so their is not such a size difference between the proportion of their foot and leg, you will have an easier time finding dog boots that fit.
- Most dog boots take into account the leg length of a dog for each respective size. In other words, the smallest size dog boot is made to fit dogs with shorter legs. Larger dog boots are sized to fit dogs with long legs. Dachshunds have short legs compared to the size of their feet. Beware that a dog boot properly sized for their foot may extend over their “knee”, or up into their arm pit, and rub.
- I hear it’s very common for a dog to lose or damage a boot. We’ve certainly found several on the trail. Be prepared to replace one at some point.
Good Dog Boot Options For Adventurous Dogs
(Dogs is PAWZ dog boots – photo credit @lifewithjasperzen – left – and Montecristo Travels – right)
Just because Chester and Gretel don’t wear dog boots, doesn’t mean I don’t pay attention to what’s out there. Here are the dog boots that have caught my eye and a little about why:
- Muttlucks – These were the first boots I found that had potential to be a good fit for Chester. Atticus, the adventurous Mini Schnauzer that climbed all forty-eight of New Hampshire’s four thousand-foot peaks twice in winter, wore Muttlucks for his journey. They have genuine leather soles that are soft flexible. They also have self-tightening straps to provide a secure fit. The Whole Dog Journal claims that Muttlucks are the Mercedes of the dog boot world.
- Ruffwear Summit Trex – These boots have a rubber, lugged outsole that provides better traction. They also feature an integrated stretch gaiter that protects legs and locks out dirt and debris. I really like these boots but they didn’t fit Chester’s (a Dachshund) feet very well. They are a little pricey but totally worth it if they fit your dog.
- Pawz Dog Boots – These boots are like deflated rubber balloons for your dog’s feet. I’ve heard they can sometimes tear when hiking from abrasion, sticks, or toenails that are too long. I also know people who use them on their dog’s regularly and don’t have issues. They might work for your dog while hiking but they are great if you just want to protect your dog’s feet from de-icers on the sidewalk. They seem like they’re less likely to feel weird on your dog’s feet since they are made of thin, flexible rubber.
For a super awesome comparison chart of dog boots – including these and some others – check out our doggy friend Robin’s in-depth Dog Boot Comparison Summary.
Does your dog wear boots? Which brand/model do you prefer and why?