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The secret of dog feet: Why dogs can walk barefoot in the snow.

Updated on March 8, 2012

Have you ever watched your dog frolic outside on a colds winter day, and wondered how they can stand walking on the cold snow and ice essentially barefoot? If a human stepped into snow barefoot we'd get very cold very fast, but somehow our canine companions can spend lots of time walking and playing outside in the cold without any noticeable signs of discomfort.

Dog (and puppies!) use an internal central heating system to keep their paw pads warm, even while walking on snow and ice.
Dog (and puppies!) use an internal central heating system to keep their paw pads warm, even while walking on snow and ice. | Source

If you've ever wondered why this is so, then you're not alone. Japanese scientist Hiroyoshi Ninomiya, a university professor, wondered why as well. He took his curiosity a step further and decided to research the matter. And it seems as though he may have come up with the answer. According to Ninomiya, dogs utilize an internal central heating system to maintain a constant temperate in their paws, even when they are walking barefoot on cold snow and ice.

The trick to this doggy paw heat exchange system is based on blood circulation. Dog's bodies circulate warm blood down to the dogs lower extremities and paw pads, where the warm blood helps to heat up the colder blood before the cold blood has a chance to move back up towards the dogs heart. The arteries and veins inside dog's food pads are very close together, so that the heat contained in the oxygenated blood from the dog's arteries can easily transfer and warm up the colder blood inside the veins. This not only helps to warm the dog's paws, but prevents blood that is too cold from circulating back up into the dog's body and affect the animals core body temperature.

If you'd like to learn more, Ninomiya's findings on the topic have recently been published in the journal of Veterinary Dermatology.

So now you know how your dog can play outside in the snow for extended periods of time without needing and kind of paw protection. Just keep in mind that all dogs are individuals and it's important to always monitor their outside time, especially in extreme weather conditions.


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    • Dragonrain profile image

      Dragonrain 6 years ago

      Interesting about bird feet, Rufus rambles!

      I use a product called "Mushers Secret" to help protect my dogs paws from both the snow/ice/road salt in winter and the hot pavement in summer. So far it's worked really well for us :)

      Dog Advisor - like I said I don't recall if the researcher I mentioned in this article looked at whether this mechanism works the same in hot weather as it does in cold. My educated guess would be that dogs to some extend would be able to regulate their paw temperature in the heat as well as the cold, but I'm not an expert. Also something to consider is I believe this trait first evolved in wolves and then carried over into dogs. So something to think about - makes sense that wolves would need a way to warm their paws in winter but they would never be exposed to hot pavement in the wild.

      It's an interesting topic to say the least and something I'd like to do more research on. The only definite advice I can offer is that each owner should pay attention to their individual dog(s) and make sure they are comfortable with the current temperature. If extreme heat or cold seems to bother your dog(s) then there are steps you can take to help keep them more comfortable.

      Thanks to both of you for reading and commenting!

    • Dog Advisor profile image

      Sarah Falkner 6 years ago from Dog Advice

      Great puppy, Daisy, absolutely loves to be outdoors when it is cold and windy(I don't). She just likes the wind in her 'hair' but is really an indoor dog. My question is the same as the other comments, does it work the same on hot surfaces? Summer is coming and it is hot in Texas.

    • Rufus rambles profile image

      Rufus rambles 6 years ago from Australia

      Great hub! I've often wondered about this. From high school biology class I remember there is a similar system in birds' feet that keeps them warm.

      I live in a place where there is no snow but I often worry about their paws getting burnt on hot pavement... Voted UP!

    • Dragonrain profile image

      Dragonrain 6 years ago

      I don't recall now if the researcher mentioned walking on hot pavement, but I'd guess that the same system would help cool their feet to some extent. Supposedly it attempts to maintain a constant temperate in their paws, so I'd guess that would include during hot weather as well as cold. That's just my educated guess though.

      Thanks for reading!

    • ELeeH profile image

      ELeeH 6 years ago

      Does he talk about whether the same holds true for walking on hot pavement? Does the blood help cool the feet?

      Very interesting article.