Ask the Vet: Why Do Dogs Have Cold Paws?
Dr. Ivana Crnec
Cold paws are something most dog parents are worried about. For us, it is completely normal to have cold feet, especially if it is cold outside but when our furry canine babies have cold paws it is often utter panic. But are cold paws in dogs really a reason for panicking? In this article we will review the most common causes of cold paws in dogs. Some of them are normal and self-limiting while others are more concerning and warrant prompt veterinary attention.
Cold Paws in Dogs
As long as cold paws is the only symptom your dog has, do not worry, there is likely nothing majorly wrong going on.
When it is cold, we wear cozy socks and warm shoes. Our dogs instead walk barefoot and their paws are always exposed to the elements. Therefore, having cold paws every once in a while is not just normal – it is quite expected.
If there are though worrisome, accompanying signs and symptoms such as swollen feet or swollen legs, trouble getting up, difficulty walking, pale gums, impaired or heavy breathing, occasional fainting, then it is time to call your veterinarian and schedule an appointment.
If your dog’s paws are unusually cold, before becoming unnecessarily concerned, check the overall status by looking at a dog's vitals –that is, the dog's gum color, rectal body temperature, pulse and respiratory rate.
Normal Vitals in Dogs
The normal body temperature for a dog is 100 to 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit. If your dog has a temperature less than 99 or over 104, contact your veterinarian immediately.
A dog's normal gum color is pink. In dogs with pigmented gums, you can check the color of the tissue under the dog's eyelid. Pale, white, blue or yellow gums should warrant a trip to your veterinarian.
A dog's normal heart rate varies based on size. Puppies and small dogs have heart rates of 120 to 160 beats per minute, dogs over 30 pounds from 60 to 120. The larger the dog, the slower the normal heart rate.
The normal respiratory rate is taken when a dog is relaxed and not panting. The normal rate for dogs is 10 to 30 breaths per minute. When dogs are panting, their rate can normally go up to 200 pants per minute.
Causes of Cold Paws in Dogs
Following are several potential causes for cold paws in dogs that warrant veterinary care, some sooner than later considering potential health implications.
Bad Blood Flow
Just like in people, bad blood flows occur in dogs. A dog experiencing bad blood flow in the feet probably has issues with the heart or the lymphatic system.
Blood circulation issues can arise in cases of shock, severe blood loss (internal or external) or a blood clot interrupting the blood’s proper flow.
They can also occur due to hemolytic anemia (autoimmune or immune-mediated), head trauma, airway obstruction, low blood sugar levels, severe seizures and sepsis.
Dogs with some of those underlying issues will also have pale to bluish gums, shallow breathing and lethargy. In such cases, seeing the vet is crucial.
While going to the vet’s office you can assess the gravity of the situation by checking the dog’s capillary refill time (CRT). CRT is used to evaluate to blood perfusion.
You can check the CRT by pressing your thumb on the dog’s gum. When you release the thumb the gum will become white. CRT is the time needed for the pressed gum point to restore its healthy pink coloration. In healthy dogs the CRT is less than 2 seconds.
Walking on extremely cold grounds, especially if they are covered with snow can easily result in paw frostbites. Frostbites can occur in all dogs, but are more likely among dogs acclimatized to warmer environments. Frostbites usually occur in several places – ear tips, tail, paws and scrotum.
If the toes have frostbites they will be cold and hard to the touch and pale or grayish in color. Then, gradually, as they thaw, they will become somewhat reddish.
You can easily check if your dog has frostbites by pressing them and observing the color. Namely, in normal circumstances, when you release the pressure the pressed point will be whitish, but it will immediately restore its natural coloration. If there are frostbites there will not be changes in the coloration regardless of the applied and released pressure.
Mild frostbites can be treated at home – just warm the dog’s feet by using warm (never hot) water and vigorously massage them.
Severe frostbites require veterinary care since the damaged tissue may become necrotic (black and sloughed off) and then secondarily infected. In extreme cases, frostbites may result in toe losses.
If your dog just had anesthesia, consider that dogs feel cold after surgery and cold feet are something that regularly occur in dogs recovering from anesthesia. This is because during anesthesia, most anesthetic agents slow down the blood flow and cause lowered tissue perfusion.
Tissue perfusion is the scientific name for blood delivery. The effects of the slowed down blood delivery are usually minimized by administering intravenous fluids during the anesthetic effects.
If your dog is recovering from anesthesia and has cold paws, check the following parameters – femoral pulse, body temperature and presence of sensation in the paws.
If these parameters are normal there is no major problem occurring. If the body temperature is a bit lower than normal, motivate your dog to move as moving tends to increase the tissue perfusion.
Alternatively, you can try to artificially increase your dog’s boy temperature by keeping him in a warm environment or even using an electrical warming blanket (ensuring your dog doesn't get too warm).
If the dog is incapable of using its legs or if there is no sensation in the paws get your dog back to the vet’s office as soon as possible.
Thyroid Gland Issues
If your dog’s cold paws are accompanied by unusually heavy shedding (although it is not shedding season yet) chances are, he is experiencing a thyroid gland problem.
Dogs are particularly prone to developing hypothyroidism which in plain words means that they have low thyroid hormones levels.
Dogs with hypothyroidism lose their coats and start symmetrically balding in the lumbar area. Excessive hair loss can also be seen on the tail and rear legs.
Hypothyroidism makes affected dogs more sensitive to chilly and cold environments, which explains the manifestation of unusually cold paws.
Winter Paw Care for Dogs
If it is too cold for you to walk barefoot it is also too cold for your dog. Luckily, you can protect your beloved canine’s paws. There are specifically formulated paw balms and serums that can be sprayed on the paws and offer protection against both cold and hot surfaces.
Alternatively, if your dog is more fashion conscious you can treat it with some nice doggy boots. The boots protect from the cold and from salts and chemicals frequently sprinkled or sprayed on iced grounds during winter. Last but not least, the boots will keep your dog’s paws and your home clean.
About the Author
Dr. Ivana Crnec is a graduate of the University Sv. Kliment Ohridski’s Faculty of Veterinary Medicine in Bitola, Republic of Macedonia.