Gail Courtney doesn’t usually walk her two poodles along main roadways. She much prefers the outer trails.
“There’s just way too much salt around,” she said. “That’s really hard on their paws.”
But earlier this week when she decided to take her pooches along the main walkways at Bowring Park, she was shocked at what she said were many neglectful owners, who had nothing on their dogs’ paws to protect them from road salt.
“In the two hours I was out, I saw maybe two dogs that had (pet) boots on. That was it,” said Courtney, who often volunteers with the SPCA. “I saw a few dogs that were struggling (to walk). It was horrendous. All that slush around and salt, and nothing to protect their paws.”
Courtney said she saw some other dogs with more serious injuries as a result of the salt — to the point where their paws were bleeding.
“One was screaming. It was horrible,” she said. “That salt is toxic to their little paws. … It’s ridiculous that owners allow that to happen. Some people just don’t care.”
Courtney said dog owners should fit their pooches with booties, which slip on over paws and usually stay in place with Velcro.
“The kind I use are like latex balloons that just slip over their paws. I had to chase them around for 20 minutes at first to get them on, but they’re used to them now,” she said. “I wouldn’t think about going out without them having them on.”
So, does your furry canine friend actually need to wear booties when walking in the winter?
According to a well-known St. John’s veterinarian, it depends on the dog.
“Some dogs certainly need (booties),” said Dr. Maggie Brown-Bury, president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Veterinary Medical Association. “The salt on the roads and sidewalks is very irritating.”
She said problems happen when salt gets in between the dog’s toes and has long-term contact with the skin, particularly the paw pads, which can get sore.
“When salt gets between their toes it’s just like when you get a rock or small piece of gravel in your shoe,” Brown-Bury said. “On long contact, it’s just irritating to the skin as well — the same as if you held a handful of it in your hand, it would (burn).”
Booties would prevent these issues, she said, as well as protect their paws from cracking from the harsh cold, snow and ice.
She said certain breeds of dogs — usually slighter, leaner, short-haired breeds, like greyhounds or chihuahuas — are more sensitive than other hardier breeds, like huskies, which have bigger, furrier paws. Elderly dogs, puppies or dogs with health issues can also be more affected by the salt.
Brown-Bury said the best indicator is your dog. Watch to see if your pooch limps, stops walking or seems bothered during your outing. Also, inspect the paws periodically.
She said there’s also balm on the market that can be rubbed on dogs’ paws as a layer of protection.
“It’s like chapstick for your lips,” she said.
She suggests to always clean and dry dogs’ paws after they’ve been outside, “which also prevents them from dragging salt all over your house.”
Brown-Bury also says to be sure dogs don’t lick the salt from the ground or from their paws, as it can cause an upset stomach or more serious health issues.
“That salt is toxic to their little paws. … It’s ridiculous that owners allow that to happen. Some people just don’t care.” — Gail Courtney
She added that owners can also buy pet-friendly, non-toxic ice-melt salt for use on a driveway and around the home.
Courtney said she has even called Mayor Danny Breen to lobby for pet-friendly salt to be used throughout the city, particularly in parks and popular walking destinations.
“I’m not trying to shame (pet owners). I’m just trying to do all I can to create awareness about this,” Courtney said.
“Unless you’re a dog owner or dog lover, a lot of people don’t care. But it really is an important issue.
“Everybody loves their pets. Why not do all you can to protect them and keep them healthy?”