Should I be worried if my dog's feet are cold?
3rd May, 2023
Have you noticed your ageing pooch has cold paws? Learn what causes chilly feet, how to keep them safe in cold weather and other common paw problems in dogs.
Picture the scene. You’re snuggled on the sofa and your faithful friend hops up for a cuddle. There’s nothing better in our book! But what’s this? Why are their paws practically frozen? They haven’t even been out for walkies yet!
Are they OK? Does this mean they’re ill? What can you do to help? As a loving pet parent, it’s normal to be concerned when your senior hound has cold feet, but don’t worry – we’re here to help.
We’ve all had cold feet at some point in our lives (no, not the kind you get at the altar), and while it can simply be uncomfortable for some, it’s the sign of an underlying health issue in others.
The same goes for our four-legged friends, especially as they age. Below, we take a closer look at some common reasons why dogs get cold feet and ways to protect them while out during the colder months.
Learn what other paw problems senior canines face and how pet insurance for older dogs can help your ageing pooch in an emergency.
Why has my senior dog got cold feet?
Some reasons for cold feet are quick and easy to treat while others are due to a more serious underlying cause that could need ongoing treatment.
Sadly, older canines are more susceptible to a range of health issues, which is why it’s so important to protect them with pet insurance for older dogs while they’re still healthy.
With the right cover in place, you can get the emergency care your pooch deserves at the vet of your choice without worrying about medical bills mounting up.
So, what are the more common reasons for cold feet in senior dogs?
Cold weather and frostbite
The most common reason your beloved Fido might have chilly paws is because you’ve been out in the cold. Just like you get cold hands and feet when out in winter, your dog does, too.
Yes, they have a warm, cosy layer of fur that provides some extra insulation, but their paws are left exposed, so keep them protected as much as you can (more on that below). Too much time outdoors can lead to frostbite, and that’s ‘snow’ joke!
Affected toes and pads will feel very cold, may look grey or pale and feel hard to touch. As they begin to defrost, they start turning red.
How can you tell it’s frostbite and not just a case of cold feet? Gently hold your senior pet’s paw and softly push down. If there’s regular blood flow, they should go pale and immediately return to their normal colour. With frostbite, they can take a long time to go back to their original colour or don’t at all.
If you suspect only mild frostbite, avoid massaging your hound’s feet to keep them warm – this can be painful. Dip them into lukewarm water instead.
In severe cases, paw tissue can turn black and fall off, causing an infection. Get to the vet immediately before your dog loses some toes! They can prescribe antibiotics to stop an infection setting in.
If your golden oldie has mild frostbite and you need quick advice to help them warm up, use our 24-hour vet video service if you have pet insurance for older dogs with us.
Just like with humans, this health issue is also prevalent in our canine companions. Your dog’s thyroid sits on either side of its windpipe and its job is to regulate your pet’s metabolism. Hypothyroidism means they have a low metabolism.
Cold feet, and feeling cold in general, are one of the biggest signs your pooch is suffering from this health issue. Other symptoms include:
- Weight gain while eating the same amount of food
- General tiredness
- Dull, brittle coat
- Shedding excessively
- Frequent skin and ear infections
If you suspect your beloved pet has hypothyroidism, take them to the vet immediately. Expect them to do a blood test and rule out other illnesses before starting treatment.
Your old hound will need medication (normally in tablet form) for the rest of their life, which can cost a lot across their lifetime. Pet insurance for older dogs might be able to help financially as long as you cover your pet before they become ill.
Poor blood circulation
The circulatory system is one of the most important parts of your pet’s anatomy that keeps them alive. When something interrupts the system, blood can’t find its way as easily to all parts of your dog’s body.
The further away from the heart the body part is, the less blood it gets. On your dog, that’s their paws, which become cold to touch.
Heart disease and heart valve problems usually cause poor circulation and can lead to heart failure if left untreated. So, it’s important to keep an eye on your ageing pup and watch for any signs that they’re unwell.
Poorly pets appear lethargic and are less enthusiastic about going out for walks. Instead of assuming it’s a normal part of ageing (which is easily done), get them checked by the vet to rule out anything serious.
Parasites, autoimmune disorders and serious blood loss can all cause anaemia in your dog. This health concern occurs when your pet has insufficient red blood cells or haemoglobin, causing a lack of oxygen in the blood.
Reduced blood flow can make your dog’s feet feel cold to touch. Watch for other tell-tale signs like:
- Pale gums
- Reduced appetite
- Weight loss
To diagnose anaemia, you’ll need to take your dog to the vet. They’ll run blood tests to see if they have the condition and then start treatment, which could mean staying at the veterinary hospital on a drip.
Once they return home, you may need to give them ongoing medication for a few months and adjust their nutrition and exercise routine until they recover.
Low blood sugar in your beloved dog can cause this condition. In severe cases, hypoglycaemia can result in a coma or even death, so you need to see the vet as soon as possible when you notice symptoms.
Along with cold paws, you might spot lethargy, weakness and even seizures – your pet will need immediate treatment. You can expect your vet to give them sugar water or sugar tablets under the tongue.
Work together with your veterinarian to determine the cause and help prevent future drops in blood sugar level. Senior hounds with diabetes are at a higher risk of hypoglycaemia. Learn more about the signs of diabetes in older dogs to help protect your furry friend.
What should you do when your dog has cold feet?
When you first feel your dog’s cold feet, it can be worrying, especially when they’re getting on in years. To help your vet determine the cause, perform a quick assessment of your four-legged friend.
Is it only their paws that are cold? Then it’s probably nothing too serious (unless you suspect frostbite). If they show other signs out of the ordinary, though, take them to the vet.
Shallow breathing, lethargy and pale gums all warrant an emergency visit, so put your pet insurance for older dogs to good use and get them the care they deserve.
What else does cold weather do to my dog’s paws?
Frostbite isn’t the only risk to your canine’s paws while on a winter walk. A few other cold weather hazards all pet parents need to be aware of include:
- Rock salt: Special salt gets used in the colder months to de-ice the road and make it safe for drivers and pedestrians, but it’s not so helpful for our canine companions. The salt irritates their paws and can cause some serious damage if ingested when licking it off.
- Anti-freeze: This is another convenience for us but a serious hazard to dogs. The ethylene glycol blend is irresistibly sweet to canines but highly toxic, causing long-lasting brain, kidney and liver damage. Steer clear of this liquid to avoid claiming on your pet insurance for older dogs.
- Ice balls: What’s so wrong with little balls of ice you ask? Tiny bits of compacted snow can nestle inside your pet’s toes and pads, causing pain and potentially ice burns. If you’ve got a lame dog after walkies, this could be to blame.
Are there risks in summer to my dog’s feet?
Yes, it’s not only the colder months that can cause severe damage to your pet’s paws. According to the Kennel Club, on very hot days, pavements can heat up so much that they burn those delicate pads.
To check whether it’s too hot for a walk on the pavement, lay the back of your hand on the ground for seven seconds. If it hurts you, it’ll be painful for your pooch.
How can you tell if they’ve been burnt?
- Red, swollen pads
You can ease their pain by holding their feet under gentle running water, but you should always see your vet for further advice and to check the severity of their burns.
Top tips to protect your dog’s feet
As you can see, there are hazards to your pet’s precious paws all year round, so it’s your job to make sure they’re well protected when out and about.
Not sure where to begin? We’ve got you covered with our top tips for winter and summer.
Winter paw protection
- Use a paw balm before each walk to lower the risk of damage from rock salt.
- Invest in some fancy doggy boots to keep their feet warm and protect them from anti-freeze and grit.
- Carefully trim long tufts of fur around their toes and feet to prevent ice balls from forming.
- Don’t stay out for too long and go out during daylight when temperatures are a little higher.
- Always rinse paws thoroughly when you get home before going indoors. Use warm water and soft cloth to gently work out any grit and defrost ice balls.
Looking for more tips to keep your senior safe throughout the coldest months of the year? Read our article on giving your old dog extra care during winter.
Summer paw protection
- Use the seven second rule (mentioned above) to check how hot the pavement is and whether it’s OK for your older pooch or not.
- Take your dogs for walks during cooler times of the day, so early in the morning or in the evening. Never go out at midday in the burning hot sun.
- Try to stick to cool grassy areas rather than pavement whenever possible.
- Keep some water on you in case you need to cool down hot paws while outside.
We’ve got more helpful advice on keeping your dog cool in summer elsewhere on our site.
Sadly, heatstroke and other health issues due to warm weather are all too common in senior pets. Make sure you’ve got lifetime pet insurance for older dogs to get your pooch emergency care, fast.
Other common dog paw problems
Cold feet isn’t the only thing you need to watch for with an older dog’s feet. Their pads might be durable and able to withstand quite a bit of wear and tear, but they can still suffer from various issues, especially as they age.
Sure, you have pet insurance for older dogs to protect them in an emergency, but you can also do your bit with routine care to help them live a long and happy life. It’s important you check their feet, pads and nails often to spot any signs of a problem.
This way, you can take them to the vet before it becomes too serious.
Here are some of the most common problems we see in senior canine’s feet.
Keeping your dog groomed is part of being its responsible pet parent. Letting nails get too long makes it tough for them to walk properly and can even cause them to be pushed back inside the nail bed, which is agonising for your elderly pet.
Overgrown nails can also turn into ingrown ones or suffer from tears and fractures, causing bleeding and infections. If you don’t feel comfortable trimming toenails at home, speak to your vet to avoid these painful problems.
Cuts and other wounds
If you’ve got an adventure-loving hound who enjoys nothing more than tearing through the woods, they’re bound to get the odd nick and abrasion on their feet. That doesn’t mean you can’t help them out by looking for sharp objects up ahead and staying away from particularly tough terrain.
With lacerations and deeper cuts, you should always take your senior to the vets. While it might seem easy to wash it at home and keep it clean, there could be broken glass, rocks or all sorts of other debris inside the wound that needs to be removed.
Just like us, dogs can also experience a range of allergies, some causing itching on their skin, particularly around their paws. To relieve that relentless itch, canines chew, bite and lick their feet, sometimes causing injury and infection.
If you spot your golden oldie licking their paws more than normal, give your vet a call. They’ll want to run tests to check if they have an allergy and get to the root of their itching.
Dry, cracked pads
No dog has perfectly smooth paws – they’re supposed to be a little rough to grip to all kinds of surfaces. But certain factors can mean they become very dry and start cracking, including:
- Very cold weather
- Exposure to chemicals
- Dry air
- Hot pavements
- Extremely rough surfaces underfoot
- Excessive licking (there are lots of medical reasons dogs do this)
The dryer the pads become, the more cracks appear, which can become really sore for your beloved dog. Get them to the vet if you notice dryness to reduce the chance of infection and moisturise them back to their best.
We’ve got plenty of advice on caring for your dog’s dry skin if it’s affecting them elsewhere, too.
We’ve already mentioned how a hot pavement can do a lot of damage to your senior dog. Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon in the hottest months of the year.
If you spot blisters or soreness on your dog’s pads, it’s an emergency, so take them to the vet immediately.
Ticks. One of every pet parent’s biggest fears, and with good reason. These tiny bugs hide between your dog’s toes, making it hard to find them. They can lead to all sorts of problems, including Lyme disease.
Always carry a tick removal tool when out and about in nature and take your senior for a check-up with the vet when you get home if you’ve had to remove one. The RSPCA has some great advice on how to remove a tick properly.
Pet paws can also host a mite infestation, apparent by hair loss, scaling of the skin and swelling. Your vet will need to assess your pooch for mites and provide treatment to rid their paws of these pests.
Lumps and bumps
Cysts, growths and tumours can develop anywhere on your greying dog’s body, but it’s common to find them in between their toes. By regularly inspecting your pet’s paws, you should spot these while they’re still small.
Lumps are often benign but they might also be a sign of a severe health concern, so it’s always worth a visit to the vet to get a proper diagnosis. If it does turn out to be something serious, your pet insurance for older dogs is there to support you financially.
Bacterial and fungal infections
There’s an abundance of bacteria and fungi that are naturally found on your dog’s paw pads, but they can sometimes develop out of control and lead to infection.
Don’t worry, though. These infections are common in canines of all ages and often appear on their paws.
Tell-tale signs your pet has an infection include:
- Chewing and licking paws
- Pus and discharge
- Brown nails
It might sound a bit grim, but your vet can usually prescribe an effective treatment to combat the infection, like topicals, washes and wipes. Don’t try to treat the problem at home without professional advice, though, as you could make things worse.
Stay on top of care and prevention
The best way to make sure your dog’s paws are always in tip-top shape is to care for them at home. Regular checks to spot a problem early on are vital to their foot’s condition. You’ll also need to groom them often to keep nails trimmed.
Vets can perform routine treatments like these, but they aren’t included in your pet insurance for older dogs. Speak to your vet about a pet health plan to spread the costs of non-emergency care throughout the year.
Don’t forget to check the weather conditions for extreme cold and heat – keep them indoors if it’s too risky to go out and find other fun ways to exercise your older dog at home.
Last but not least, always carry a doggy first aid kit to treat minor injuries as soon as they happen.
Get pet insurance for older dogs from the specialists
Your beloved dog has been a faithful friend to you for years, so it’s only natural you want to reciprocate their unconditional love. And what better way than lifetime pet insurance for older dogs specially aimed at getting your elderly canine the best healthcare when they need it most?
At Petwise, we provide ongoing protection for the senior citizens of the canine world and have no upper age limit.
Enjoy 24-hour vet video calls, and a senior food contribution when you’ve insured your old dog with us.