Dog Paws and Why they Don’t Get Cold Feet

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Dog PawIf you are an obsessed or overprotective dog owner then you have likely browsed the dog apparel aisle in your local pet store and paused briefly to contemplate “winter booties” for your dog’s paws. A recent discovery by researchers in Japan, however, finds that dog paws may not need “winter booties” after all thanks to a specialized circulation system in their paws.

Dog Paws Include Specialized Circulation Systems

As humans, we often tend to give our dogs human characteristics and that means that if our feet get cold in the winter time then so do our dogs. Some of us even invest in footwear to ensure that our dog’s feet don’t “freeze to the ground” in winter, but a recent research study finds that footwear isn’t necessary at all. According to this study that was published in the journal Veterinary Dermatology, the internal structure of dog paws is constructed to ensure that dogs feet do not freeze during the winter. Japanese researchers utilized electron microscopes to take a look inside the internal workings of the paws of domestic dogs and found a circulatory adaptation that was not uncommon in other animals. The findings show that even domesticated dogs have a way to transfer heat from the artery to a network of veins in the area so that colder blood was unable to return to the body.

The Discovery Itself

Dr. Hiroyoshi Ninomiya of the Yamazaki Gakuen University of Tokyo, Japan, and his team decided to test the theory of whether or not dog’s feet could resist freezing after reading of previous studies on the topic. In the past, researchers have claimed that dogs feet are able to resist freezing in temperatures as cold as -35 degrees Centigrade and Ninomiya and his team of researchers wanted to see whether this finding was something that applied to the common domesticated dog.

Dr. Ninomiya and his team utilized electron microscopes to observe the feet of domesticated dogs and what they found was that within the dog paw or footpad each dog had veins that were extremely close to arteries. The closeness of the veins and arteries ensures that heat is able to be conducted from the circulatory system to the area that is experiencing cooling. In more simple terms, as a dog steps outside and its feet begin to cool down rapidly the heart is able to pump warm blood to the feet quickly by utilizing the artery that is in close proximity to the neighboring veins in the footpads. This unique circulatory adaptation ensures that dogs do not freeze as the blood is warmed up before returning to the body and cooling the entire body down.

What Does This Discovery Mean?

Many people may take this discovery to mean that they can leave their dogs out in the yard during wintertime, this is not the case. Despite the fact that dogs paws will not freeze due to their circulatory adaptations, there are many reasons why dogs should not be left outside during winter. This discovery does mean that you do not have to worry about your dog’s paws freezing when you take him or her out to the bathroom or out on a walk on those cold winter days.

Why Is This Finding Unique?

The finding of this circulatory adaptation is considered somewhat unique even though it is an adaptation that has been seen many times before in other species. The reason that this finding is so important in this case is because it is a system that has not been seen in domesticated animals previously.

What Implications Does This Finding Have?

The most important implication that can be inferred from this incredible finding by Dr. Ninomiya is that at some point during the evolutionary process dogs naturally lived in cold climates. How can this inference be made? Well, for an animal to develop such a specialized feature it must, at some point, have been a necessary adaptation to help the creature survive. In order for the ancestors of our domesticated dogs of today to survive their freezing climates, they had no choice but to develop the specialized circulatory system within their footpads to prevent them from freezing.

Other Amazing Animal Adaptations

This incredible circulatory system adaptation that was confirmed to be present in domesticated dogs has been seen before in a number of other animals – most particularly those living in cooler territories. A good example of another animal that utilizes this same circulatory adaptation is the dolphin. The dolphin makes use of this circulation system in its fins to ensure that cold blood does not return into the body. Likewise, this system is also found in the beaks of penguins. Finding this adaptation in domestic dogs, however, is slightly more surprising although it really shouldn’t be since despite domestication our dogs maintain the same general structure as wild dogs.

But What about the “Winter Dog Booties”?

So what about all of those people who dress their pets up in “winter dog booties”? Well, there really is no need for such apparel for the domesticated dog; however, this doesn’t mean that you can’t play dress up with your dog if you so wish.

A Note from the Author

It is important to understand that while all dogs have an evolutionary adaptation that allows them to prevent their feet from freezing and their body temperatures from dropping rapidly when out in the cold, that they should still be treated humanely. No domesticated dog should ever be left in freezing temperatures. Consideration should also be given to the individual needs of a pet, simply because a dog has this adaptation there are many individual characteristics and concerns that can cause additional circulatory difficulty. If you are concerned about your dog’s ability to handle cold weather you should consult your vet for professional advice tailored to your specific dog’s needs. Finally, always remember that smaller dogs and dogs with thin or non-existent coats are likely to lose body heat at a much faster rate than other dogs and should always be provided with proper insulation when spending time in freezing temperatures.

Does your dog get cold feet?

Since the day she was born, Michelle has lived in a home full of dogs and dog lovers. Her home is no exception with two adorable rescue pups of her own, Bella and Lily. Their unconditional love and never ending tail wags make every day brighter.

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Jude
I live in MN and have an APBT and an ABST. We don’t wear booties but we don’t go out on walks when the temp is below 27°F.
Walt
I can tell the people responding have never had a malamute or a northern breed. Or mushed dog teams down the Yukon at 50 below… happy dogs! The booties worn on teams in the Iditarod and such is for the ice balls mentioned, when the canines run through overflow, but not for the cold. At 20 below my mal lays out on the ground, nose tucked under her tail. She leaves a deep clear spot in the snow where her body melts it. They are happiest in sub-zero temps.
Melanie Howard
My dog who is double coated and loves the snow, arrived at the cottage with us this morning, – 26C and immediately began holding her paws up and lying on her side to get them off the snowy ground. Therefore she will be getting dog boots next time.
Sadie Cornelius
Wow, that’s cold! So glad you are keeping your pup’s feet protected with boots. Thanks for sharing and stay warm.
Emma
Yet seems odd for them to not be capable of getting cold feet given both our girls literally start limping if we’re out in the cold snow too long, my pit/hound mix especially usually starts limping within minutes usually before she even pees, with snow/ice and temps below about 15 degrees F. The collie/dalmatian mix lasts maybe twice as long. And I understand it’s probably not Just paws, but a combination of paws and lower legs, but when my butthead is wimping and whining as she limps to me because I still can’t find boots to stay on her feet -which I never even considered buying or needed to worry about til we moved from NC to CO, USA- I can’t say I’m a believer of inability to get “cold feet”. I’m not allowed to pick her up being 5 months pregnant, and even prior to pregnancy she’s a long lean 70 lb average, so not exactly the easiest baby to pick up either.
Trish
I just took my pittbull out, this is our first winter with her) and she literally sat on the ground and had a 4 paws off the ground. It’s 8 degrees with a windchill of -1. It probably has something to do with their coat and how warm it keeps their skin, which in turn keeps their blood warmer. Jojo has an extremely fine, short coat and can’t be outside for very long on cold days
Marco
My purchase of boots for my lab had nothing to do with the cold. It was to prevent the salt from burning my dogs paws. Also, a week ago, my dog’s paws started bleeding from the ice while walking on Mont-Royal.
Cismyname
My dog does better with booties in slushy sticky snow because he gets snow and ice balls stuck to his paw pads and feet and literally has to try to chew them off.
Dave
Dogs in Alaska wear booties when it gets too cold. The booties help to prevent ice balls to form between the pads and toes. Protection in wet snow is important for comfort. I have a WelshTerrier and have ordered taller booties and socks to keep the snow from clinging to the fur on her legs. Right now I have to brush the snow clumps off the fur on her legs before she goes back into the house or truck. It’s a fair amount of water when it melts!