You are playing with your dog, or it excitedly comes to greet you at the door and puts its paws on your hands or body. The paws are cold to the touch. Why does this happen? Could cold paws be the reason you should immediately call up the vet?
If cold paws are the only symptom you notice, it is typically not a cause for concern. For example, if the dog was playing barefoot in the backyard, enjoying running around in the snow, its paws are bound to feel colder than usual.
The problem starts when the dog shows additional signs along with cold paws. For example, cold extremities could indicate hypothyroidism. In addition, the dog may show other symptoms like weakness, weight gain, and thinning coat.
Other health-related causes could include anemia, bloating, heart disease, hypoglycemia, and internal bleeding.
The article will look at the possible causes for the scenario – dog paws cold. We will also look at ways to protect your dog’s paws and how to take care of them in case of health issues.
Dog Paws Cold: Can Snow be the Reason?
You may have seen several dog breeds prancing around in the snow without any issues. Breeds like Siberian Huskies, Alaskan Malamutes, Japanese Akitas, Newfoundlands, and Bernese Mountain Dogs are built for snow.
They can walk, run, play, and work in the snow without issues. This is because these dogs were bred to be working dogs in the snow. First, they were used for pulling sleds, hunting, and navigation. Later on, they were also used as racing sled dogs.
So to answer the question, yes, your dog’s paws can get cold because of snow. But your dog will not be uncomfortable or in distress.
You need not sound the alarm because dogs have a unique circulatory system in their paws that protects the paw pads, keeps the temperature regulated, and prevents freezing.
How are a Dog’s Paw Pads Designed?
When the dog steps during winter, it is natural for its paws to get cold when it comes into contact with a cold floor or snow. But the design of the circulatory system ensures the dog’s paws do not freeze.
Your dog’s paws contain a complex structure of veins and arteries. The veins are responsible for bringing cold blood back from the dog’s toes to the heart, whereas the arteries deliver warm blood from the heart to the paws.
A study by Dr. Hiroyoshi Ninomiya of Yamazaki Gakuen University found that veins closely surrounded the arteries in the dog’s paws.
The veins are so close that there is heat exchange between the arteries and the veins. So the cold blood in the veins gets warmed up before it reaches the heart. This way, the dog’s body spends less energy reheating the blood. The heat exchange phenomenon is known as countercurrent circulation.
This is how dogs continue to retain heat in their paws, regulate their body temperature, and are able to walk on snow.
How Can You Protect Dog Paws in Snow?
When it comes to the winter season, not all dog breeds like playing around in the snow. For example, breeds like Great Danes, Boxers, Chihuahuas, Dobermans, and French Bulldogs can be sensitive to cold. So they would like some protection in the form of jackets and snow boots.
Another thing you need to be wary of during winter is the salt spread on roads. Salt is sprinkled on roads to reduce the freezing temperature of the water. This prevents ice from forming on roads and pavements to a certain point, making them safer for driving and walking.
This can be a problem for dogs, as the cold may not bother them much, but the salt can be mildly irritating on their paws. It can lead to dry, itchy, and cracked paw pads. In addition, if the dog ingests these salts, it may cause vomiting, loss of appetite, and drooling.
So, you should protect your dog’s paws against factors like cold, snow, ice, and salt.
One way to do this is by using boots for dogs. Several types, designs, colors, fits, and materials are available.
According to AKC, when choosing winter dog boots, you should consider factors such as:
- The material should be waterproof or water-resistant.
- The sole should provide good traction.
- The sole should also be flexible so the dog does not feel uncomfortable while walking.
- Opt for boots with adjustable straps.
- If your dog is too sensitive to the cold, put a warm sock on its paws before sliding on the shoes.
Some dogs may not take to the feeling of boots around their paws. In such cases, you can try paw balms or vaseline. Before going for walks, lather the balm on the dog’s paws. This will prevent snow or salt from getting stuck in your dog’s paws.
What Health Issues Can Lead to Cold Paws in Dogs?
Besides cold weather, several health conditions can cause your dog’s paws to turn cold. In such cases, though, the dog will show a range of other signs.
Here are some health conditions that can have cold extremities as one of their symptoms.
A dog is said to suffer from anemia when the number of red blood cells (RBCs), hemoglobin (Hb), or both are reduced in circulation.
RBCs are released in the blood and keep circulating for about three months before being removed from the bloodstream due to their age or damage. RBCs contain the protein Hb. Together the cells are responsible for delivering oxygen to tissues for cellular metabolism.
Anemia can be categorized into different types like
- Blood loss anemia
- Aplastic or non-regenerative anemia
- Hemolytic anemia
Immune-mediated hemolytic anemia (IMHA) or auto-immune hemolytic anemia (AIHA) are causes of hemolytic anemia that can lead to cold paws. Other causes could include parasites, exposure to toxins, and cancer.
A dog with anemia can show other signs like:
- Pale gums
- Loss of appetite
- Rapid breathing
- Bloody poop
It would be best to visit the vet when your dog starts showing the above signs. Depending on the symptoms, the vet may perform tests like packed cell volume, hematocrit, stool parasite exam, urinalysis, ultrasounds, or bone marrow biopsy to confirm the diagnosis.
The dog should first be in a stable condition when it comes to treatment. The dog will require a blood transfusion if the condition has reached a life-threatening stage. Once the dog stabilizes, the underlying cause can be identified and treated.
For example, in case of auto-immune diseases, the vet may prescribe corticosteroids, antibiotics in case of infections, and surgery in case of damaged organs.
Your dog’s body needs glucose to function. They can be found in the dog’s food and are used by cells for energy. Dogs’ normal blood sugar level is 3.5 – 7 mmol/L.
Hypoglycemia is a condition in which the level of glucose circulating in the bloodstream reduces significantly. The dog is considered hypoglycemic when the blood sugar level reduces below 3 mmol/L.
There can be several health-related causes that can cause hypoglycemia in dogs. These include liver inflammation, liver cancer, portosystemic shunt, hypoadrenocorticism, and abnormal growth of pancreatic cells.
Practices like delayed or irregular meal times, malnutrition, excessive strenuous exercise, and overdose of insulin could also be contributing factors.
A dog with low blood sugar levels will also have low energy levels. As the amount of energy reaching body organs is low, the dog’s paws could turn cold.
A dog with hypoglycemia can show signs like:
- Lack of energy
- Loss of appetite
- Exercise intolerance
According to PetMD, these symptoms may develop gradually or suddenly. They could also come and go depending on the cause. But low levels of glucose can be dangerous for dogs; thus, it would be best to visit the vet at the earliest.
The vet will conduct a physical exam and take a blood glucose measurement. Then, depending on the severity of the symptoms, the vet may perform additional tests like checking organ function and thyroid and cortisol functions.
The pet should first be stabilized, so the aim would be to raise the dog’s blood sugar levels. This may involve rubbing glucose on the dog’s gums or administering IV fluids.
Once stabilized, the vet will treat the underlying cause. This may involve medication, surgery, or supportive treatment depending on the cause.
3. Airway Obstruction
As a dog parent, you may have experienced the scenario multiple times wherein you are trying to get its mouth open, asking it, ‘what have you got there?’
Dogs can pick up the most random objects, hold them in their mouths or swallow them. If your dog continuously shows such behavior, it could indicate an underlying cause. These causes may include behavior problems, nutritional deficiencies, boredom, or pica.
These objects can be dangerous because, if swallowed, they can make breathing difficult for the dog. The foreign object could get stuck at the back of the mouth and put pressure on the windpipe.
As the dog cannot breathe in enough oxygen, its paws and skin could start to feel cold. Other signs may include:
- Gasping for air
- Excessive coughing
- Refusal to eat or drink
Be it a partial or complete obstruction; you should not delay a visit to the vet. The vet may take an x-ray to identify where the object is stuck. If the x-ray imaging is inconclusive, the vet may use an endoscope or take a CT scan.
Treatment depends on the type of foreign object and its location. If the object is small, then it may be pushed through the esophagus, and it may pass out on its own. Or the vet may remove the object through the pet’s mouth.
The dog will require surgery if the object is harmful and cannot pass through the dog’s digestive tract. In any case, the dog will require general anesthesia. In addition, if the object has already damaged tissues on its way, the dog will need additional medication.
Bloating may seem like a simple stomach issue, but it can be dangerous for dogs. According to AKC, for about 30% of dogs suffering from bloating, the condition could be fatal even after intensive treatment.
The condition is also known as gastric dilatation-volvulus (GDV). Cold paws are one of the symptoms of this condition because the dog’s stomach starts filling with air, and the building pressure hinders the blood flow from the hind legs and stomach to the heart.
As the working blood volume reduces, the dog can go into shock. In a more severe scenario, the dog’s stomach may flip, dragging the spleen and pancreas. Due to lack of oxygen, the pancreas can produce toxin hormones, one of which can stop the dog’s heart.
The cause of bloating is a question that has perplexed vets and researchers. Eating quickly or from a raised surface and running after eating are considered risk factors, but no particular cause for bloating has yet been identified.
A dog with bloating may show signs like:
- Abdomen enlargement
- Difficulty breathing
If the dog has gone into shock, treatment will involve the administration of IV fluid and antibiotics. The vet may release the build-up pressure by passing a tube down the dog’s throat or putting a hollow needle through the dog’s belly.
If the stomach has flipped, then surgery will be necessary to put it back into place. A gastropexy procedure can also be performed to prevent the stomach from twisting again.
The thyroid gland located on the dog’s neck is responsible for its metabolism. When the gland underperforms, the dog is said to have hypothyroidism. The condition slows down the dog’s metabolism.
One of the common causes of hypothyroidism is the immune-mediated disease called lymphocytic thyroiditis. In this case, the dog’s immune system thinks the thyroid gland is foreign and starts attacking it.
Another cause of this condition is idiopathic thyroid gland atrophy, wherein thyroid tissue is replaced by fat tissue.
Dogs with hypothyroidism can get cold quickly. So if it is raining or snowing outside, the temperature drops, and you will come across the dog paws cold scenario.
Other signs of the condition may include:
- Weight gain
- Thinning and balding coat
- Skin pigmentation
- Slow heart rate
There is no cure for hypothyroidism. The most common treatment to manage symptoms is the administration of thyroid replacement hormone. You can orally give this drug to the dog at home as per the vet’s dosage recommendation.
You will have to keep up with vet visits as the hormone dosage will have to be periodically adjusted according to the dog’s health.
6. Internal Bleeding
Blood in any living organism follows a particular flow. It does not freely exist in all parts of the body. For example, if there is free-flowing blood in the dog’s abdominal cavity, it could be internally bleeding.
Your dog may bleed internally due to trauma. For example, it may fall down the stairs or get hit by a car. In case there are no external bleeding injuries, that does not mean the dog is in the clear. It may happen that it has hurt its spleen or brain.
Other internal bleeding causes may include exposure to poisons like rat baits, chemicals, human medication, bone fractures, tumors, auto-immune diseases, or physical abuse.
Shallow breathing and increased heart rate are one of the first signs the dog will show. The dog’s paws may start feeling cold when the respiratory and circulatory systems are affected.
Other signs of internal bleeding may include:
- Pale gums
- Excessive coughing
- Black poop
If the dog shows these signs, contact the vet and be gentle with the pet while transporting it to the clinic. Avoid putting any unnecessary pressure.
The treatment depends on the cause of the bleeding. For example, surgery may be necessary in case of broken bones, ruptured spleens, or tumors. In other cases, treatment may include oxygen therapy and IV fluids. Pain medication and antibiotics may also be prescribed.
7. Septic Shock
Bacterial infections can be of two types in dogs. One wherein the bacteria stays in the dog’s bloodstream temporarily, whereas in the other type, the bacteria stays for a longer period.
The latter case is known as sepsis, and the dog can undergo septic shock when it becomes severe. Sepsis is less common in dogs, but it can have worrying symptoms.
When sepsis occurs, the dog’s blood pressure can drop, and the blood flow can also reduce. The heart will try to pump blood to important organs, and its beating rate will increase in the process.
The causes of sepsis may include immune-system diseases, surgical site infections, urine infections, or skin infections.
Some of the first signs of septic shock may include:
- Rapid breathing
- Increased heart rate
As the dog’s condition worsens, you may notice signs like:
- Cold paws
- Drop in body temperature
- Irregular pulse
- Difficulty breathing
The vet may perform various tests to identify the cause of infection and to check for the health of major organs. So for diagnosis, the vet can perform tests like blood tests, urinalysis, x-rays, ultrasounds, and blood culture.
The vet will focus on stabilizing the patient and treating the source of the infection. So treatment may involve antibiotics, IV fluids and oxygen, medication, and surgery.
8. Heart Disease
Your dog’s heart is responsible for pumping oxygen-rich blood to all parts of the body. Dogs with heart conditions will see a decrease in their blood pumping capacity.
One can categorize heart issues into valve and muscle issues. In the case of valve issues, there can be a reduction in the amount of blood that is pumped into the dog’s body. In the case of muscle problems, the heart itself may not be able to pump blood optimally.
There is no single cause of heart disease but different contributing factors. For example, age, obesity, nutrition, and breed could all contribute to heart conditions.
Some breeds, like Miniature and Toy Poodles, Doberman Pinschers, Great Danes, Dachshunds, and Boxers, are prone to heart conditions.
Apart from cold extremities, dogs with heart conditions can show signs like:
- Reduced appetite
- Excessive coughing
- Difficulty breathing
- Abdominal swelling
Some of these early symptoms often get confused with aging. So please discuss any signs you notice with the vet for a proper diagnosis.
Treatment can include surgery, medication, and nutritional changes. Even if the vet cannot treat the heart disease, your dog can enjoy a decent quality of life with medication and diet.
What to Do When the Dog’s Paws are Cold?
If you suddenly notice your dog’s paws are cold to the touch, you need to consider what they were doing before. For example, did your dog get in from the backyard, or was it back from its walk in the snow? If yes, the dog’s body temperature should get back to normal within some time.
If there are no additional signs and your dog is behaving as normal, there is nothing to be concerned about. However, as mentioned above, some dog breeds can be sensitive to cold, and their cold paws could be the result of the temperature dropping outside. Use dog boots and jackets to keep it warm.
If you are still concerned, you can take your dog’s body temperature using a rectal thermometer. This may be uncomfortable for the dog, but the method provides an accurate reading.
As long as the body temperature is between 101 to 102.5°F, things are fine. If the body temperature is lower or higher, please contact the vet.
Other things you can do to assess your pet’s health are:
- Place your fingers on the inside of its thigh and feel its pulse. It should be strong and consistent.
- You can check its blood flow by placing a finger on its gum, applying pressure, and lifting a finger. The gum will become pale due to the pressure, but it should regain color in about 2 seconds.
Please contact the vet if these tests do not produce the results mentioned above.
As we have seen in the article, causes like anemia, hypoglycemia, internal bleeding, airway obstruction, and bloating require immediate vet care. Treatment involves stabilizing the dog and then working on the underlying cause. So please do not delay in contacting the vet, or the cause could turn fatal for your pet.
Are your dog’s paws cold? If that is the sole symptom, you notice it could be a result of the dropping temperatures during winter. If your dog is sensitive to cold weather, consider dressing up your dog in jackets and boots when stepping out.
Typically this reason is not something you should be worried about. But if you are, take the dog’s temperature and call the vet.
Other health reasons for your dog’s paws turning cold may include anemia, hypoglycemia, hypothyroidism, internal bleeding, airway obstruction, bloating, septic shock, and heart disease.
In case of medical conditions, the pet will show other signs like labored breathing, lethargy, loss of appetite, gagging, and retching. Please get in touch with the vet immediately, as these conditions may require intensive treatment.
Heather Abraham is a professional blogger who owns two dogs, a cat, a parrot, and a leopard gecko. She has a connection with animals since she was a child. She shares her love for all pet breeds and provides information on pet food, toys, medications, beds, and everything else.
She is committed to learning about the internal workings of animals. Her work permits her to work closely with knowledgeable vets and obtain practical expertise in animal care. When she is not working, her love of animals continues in her writing. Her goal is to educate and uplift readers who also have a passion for animals through her writing.