Do Sled Dogs Wear Booties to Prevent Frostbite? By Sanka W. Dog

I’ve seen pictures of Iditarod dogs wearing booties while on the trail. What is this about? My musher and handler wear big boots out in the dog yard during the winter. Do Iditarod dogs wear booties to keep their feet warm and prevent frostbite like my humans do?I decided to ask Iditarod’s Chief Veterinarian, Stuart Nelson, Jr. and my own veterinarian, Rebecca Lee. Dr. Lee lived in Fairbanks, Alaska and served in the veterinary corps for many sprint races as well as the Yukon Quest. She also cared for the dogs in Susan Butcher’s kennel. Given their collective experience, I figured if ever a vet knew about dogs, booties and frostbite, it would be these two.

Both Dr. Lee and Dr. Nelson said that dog’s feet are not likely to become frostbitten. So to answer the question about booties, there must be another reason for mushers spending all that time and effort to bootie up the team before taking off down the trail. There must be another reason for Iditarod rules requiring that a minimum of 8 booties be in the sled for each dog running. There must be another reason why mushers use a couple thousand booties each year for training and racing.

Indeed there is – cold snow and ice are very abrasive or rough. Booties are used to protect the feet from being scraped up and to keep balls of ice from collecting around the footpad. Think about having a blister or cut on your foot or having a small rock in your shoe – pretty uncomfortable. So it is for the dogs but booties prevent these uncomfortable issues.

If it’s not the booties, then why don’t dogs get frostbite on their feet? Dogs have fur on their feet and around their pads. The bottom of their feet is protected by thick epithelial (leather like) pads. Dogs have a higher body temperature (100-102.5) than humans do and their resting heart rate (100-120) is also higher. Their metabolism is very high and in winter, up to 60% of their calories come from fat.

Dr. Nelson thinks that dogs and other animals may have a different circulatory process than humans. When humans are exposed to extreme cold, blood vessels in the arms and legs contract to restrict blood flow to the limbs. This helps reduce heat loss and maintain core body temperature. When extremities get cold in animals, circulation doesn’t decrease as it does in humans. Maybe animals have more blood vessels in their feet.

Dogs and other animals are also able to curl their paws next to their bodies when they sleep. This is an adaptation to the environment, a survival mechanism to allow their feet to stay warm in even the harshest of winter conditions.

Do dogs wear booties to prevent frostbite? The answer is NO. They wear booties for much the same reason humans wear socks – to prevent abrasions.

Now you know a little about how mushers help the canine athletes like me maintain healthy happy feet. I hope you take good care of your feet and be sure to wear warm boots and socks when you’re outside in cold weather.

Being that I’m still considered to be a youngster, I’ve taken a liking to the youngsters that will be running the Iditarod. Keep an eye on Rohn Buser of Big Lake and Melissa Owen for Nome. They are both Junior Iditarod Champions and are just 18 years old. Go Rohn, Go Melissa!

Stay tuned for more stories about puppies, dogs and Iditarod. The next story I’m working on is about the criteria for being an Alaskan Husky.

Sanka W. Dog


14 Comments

  1. i think that it is great that you help pups by putting booties on their feet i am sure that it makes them feel alot beter to no that someone cares about them. Olivia

    Posted by Zuma on February 22, 2008 | Permalink
  2. cute dog
    sincerally soon to be #1 musher

    how cute i want to be a musher is it fun i ove dogs aspecally huskeys i have a beagle what kind is yours?
    sincerally
    hannah soon to be #1 musher!

    Posted by Zuma on February 22, 2008 | Permalink
  3. jackquelynne
    My teacher’s dog, Giannah, has to wear boots in the snow(she is a siberian husky), because her feet got cut up in the snow so Giannah’s feet have to be covered up. Also, she started licking her paws so now she has an infection. It is nice that someone invented boots for sled dogs to wear. Jackquelynne

    Posted by Zuma on February 22, 2008 | Permalink
  4. I hope I can learn things from you about the Idiarod,because my class is learning about the Idiarod and I thought that I can get some infomation.

    Posted by Zuma on February 22, 2008 | Permalink
  5. I’m an old man, 62 during this years race, and I enjoy reading all about the dogs and the mushers! Thanks you… Dan

    Posted by Zuma on February 22, 2008 | Permalink
  6. My dog is a pit bull mixed with an American Bulldog. He is very ill mannered, but very cute and we love him. He is a very big dog. He is black, white and pink. We think he might be a good sled dog because he likes to GO! He pulls on his leash and loves to run and never tires. But…he does not like the cold weather, he shivers when it gets to 40 degrees! Ansen

    Posted by Zuma on February 23, 2008 | Permalink
  7. How do the dogs survive on the trail? What do they eat and drink? Mrs. Conner’s Class

    Posted by Zuma on February 25, 2008 | Permalink
  8. It’s fun to hear from all of you. I think that necessity is the mother of invention. So when the dog’s feet would get scratched up while running on the sharp snow and ice, the mushers had to figure out a system to prevent this so booties evolved. You know, there are dog coats too.
    Mrs. Connor’s class – I wrote a big story on eating and drinking on the trail. It’s posted by me on the Zuma site. That will give you lots of accurate information on eating and drinking on the trail.

    Posted by Sanka W. Dog on February 28, 2008 | Permalink
  9. I am moving to New Hampshire from FLA and I can’t wait to get back in the snow. Any stray dogs I collect will try to be used for sled dogs. Wish me luck!!!
    Hi, my human grew up in Fla and now lives in NH. She loves it. There’s lots of sled dogs up here. You’ll have a great time. Maybe we’ll meet on the trail- Gypsy

    Posted by cindy on March 8, 2009 | Permalink
  10. Can anyone tell me where i can purchase dog booties.My lab lost his leg this spring and loves snow so we need something to keep him from slipping and hurting himself.Need ideas!!!!

    Hello! There are lots of places to buy dog booties. Check your local pet store. I’m sure they’ll help you!

    Posted by Sandra meuse on September 13, 2010 | Permalink
  11. There’s lots of places to buy dog booties. Try a search on the website or call a local pet store. Lots of Tail Wags, zuma

    Posted by Zuma on September 28, 2010 | Permalink
  12. What are the dog booties like? Can they be made of fleece or are they rubber like human boots? Our group is making blankets for babies in hospitals and have pieces of fleece left over.

    Posted by Ellen Bedford on October 3, 2011 | Permalink
  13. Woof, woof, howl… Thanks for asking about dog booties. Today, most dog booties worn for racing are made from Cordura. You can read about dog booties at this site: http://www.dogbooties.com Many mushers or people who sew booties, work with this company or one that sells the same kind of product. Fleece booties aren’t usually used for racing anymore. It takes fleece booties longer to dry.

    Lots of Tail Wags,
    Zuma

    Posted by diane on October 16, 2011 | Permalink
  14. Does anyone know whose dogs are in the picture on the right side of this page? They are the dogs with the tan booties on their paws. The picture is tagged “rondog_1″.

    Thanks!

    Posted by toytrains25 on February 14, 2012 | Permalink

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