Toe Balls

One of the hazards of running on snow, for dogs, is the accumulation of hard balls of snow between the pads of their feet.

I've learned that this happens more often with Meadow, and mostly when the outside temperatures are between 15-30F, which means the snow is wetter.

Why Meadow more often? I can only guess it's because her feet are big and there's more space and fur between her pads, and because the texture of her fur is different than Maia's. I've always called Meadow "Velcro Girl" because everything seems to stick to her wooly fur.

Years ago I read in Musher Magazine that spraying a vegetable cooking spray onto a dog's feet will help prevent the snow balls from forming. I happen to use Pam Cooking Spray. I try to work it deep into the spaces between the pads. Meadow doesn't like it - it tickles - but she tolerates me applying the Pam.

I rarely see Maia get the toe balls, so I don't often spray her feet. Consequently, she puts up much more of a fuss when I do.

I took the girls for a quick run up into the forest yesterday morning. I forgot to spray the feet of either girl.

Big mistake. I spent much of our time out in the forest bending over squirming dogs, digging snow balls out from between their toes. If I don't, they start limping. Imagine trying to walk with a half inch diameter rock, or three, in your shoe; that's what it must feel like to them.

Sometimes the snowy toe balls have melted from the heat of their feet, just enough to become ice balls that stick to the fur between the toes. Those balls don't give up their position willingly, and sometimes the girls yelp as I try to remove them. I've gone so far as to put the ice balls into my mouth briefly in an effort to melt them enough to remove them painlessly. I can only imagine what that must look like - me kneeling beside one of the girls, their front leg bent at the wrist with paw exposed backward, me "kissing" that paw until the ice ball melts and I can pull it off with my teeth!

Anything for my girls!

On this run, within a minute of clearing some paws, the balls would reform. It was, I guess, the perfect temperature and snow consistency for this subtle form of torture.

I took these photos of the girls front paws yesterday. Maia's paw - the smaller one, upper photo - is completely stuffed with hardered snow balls. Meadow's paw is only partially full and mostly they're deep between the pads, hidden from view. I've tried booties, but they hate them and shake them off quickly. I've not seen a bootie design yet that actually stays on a dog for very long, and they're expensive!

Lesson: don't forget the Pam! I need to find a small squirt bottle and take some olive oil along on these runs, in my fanny pack. And hope it doesn't attrack predators to us.