Dog paw pads are one of a few spots where dogs sweat and they aren’t covered by fur. When you think about it you could easily get the idea that they might be more prone to frostbites or even freeze to the icy surface because of their dampness. So how is it possible that dogs can walk and run in snow or on ice without consequences?
Japanese scientist Hiroyoshi Ninomiya and his team of experts brought an explanation in 2013. Together, they found out that dogs have a special arrangement of vessels in the paw skin and it can maintain them warm even at very low temperatures.
These vessel structures are so tiny that they aren’t visible with regular microscopes. They were discovered and photographed with the use of an electron microscope which can achieve much better efficient enlargement than a common light microscope.
The vessels in dog paws create a net around arteries. They are so close to them that the warmer arterial blood warms the blood in vessels and a significant amount of the warmth is saved. This system is called heat exchangers and penguins, whales or seals also have it.
But it’s not everything. To keep the paws warm, dogs use one more trick. The same one is used by arctic foxes and wolves. The vessels of these animals control the supply of blood into paws according to the ambient temperature. If the temperature drops, the blood flow in paws speeds up and it can’t get much colder.
As the character of individual breeds is more or less different from their wolf ancestors these days due to breeding, the same applies to their physical properties. Therefore, it is possible that the predispositions for dog paw resilience against freezing will be different in different breeds. It’s difficult to say how the miniature breed’s paws will handle snow for a long time. This research was done on beagles.
As you can see, dog paws can stand much more than you might think. However, nature definitely didn’t take into account salt, gravel and other grits. It’s paradoxical, but we have to pay more attention to dog paws in winter in cities even with very short walks than on a day-long trip to the countryside.