Winter Paw Care Basics

February 1, 2010 (RELEASE) In 2008, Americans spent over $40 billion on their pets, but in today's economic climate, professional pet care is now an unaffordable luxury for many dog owners and many have had to cut goods and services for Fido from their budgets. But the good news is that dog owners can handle much of the care for their beloved pets themselves by turning to the expertise of Billy Rafferty, a pedigreed dog care guru who has cared for and groomed thousands of dogs, including Oprah's and Chef Art Smith's, over the past twenty-five years. Billy has written a new book on dog care with Jill Cahr. Happy Dog Caring for Your Dog's Body, Mind and Spirit provides grooming basics and other advice for pet owners. Their advice on everything from canine anatomy to dog food won't break the bank. Billy and Jill also explain how the personal touch can make a big difference to a pet's physical and emotional health.

Here are some tips on how to take care of your dog's paws through another chilly and wet Chicago winter:


  • Hold paw in natural position
  • Check paw pads for cuts, abrasions or chemical residue
  • Check carefully between the pads
  • Remove snow, ice, salt and other debris CLEAN
  • Use a warm wash cloth, wet paper towel or canine paw wipe
  • Gently wipe paws and between pads
  • Spot wash if necessary using only canine shampoo
  • Dry off paws PROTECT
  • Purchase and use properly fitted booties or boots or protective paw balm
  • Keep fur between paw pads trimmed
  • Apply canine paw moisturizer to sore paws

    Winter Paw Care Basics

    Excerpted and adapted from Happy Dog: Caring for Your Dog's Body, Mind and Spirit by Billy Rafferty and Jill Cahr

    Chicago's cold temperatures, snow and ice can be challenging for our four-legged pals. For that reason, proper winter care is critical to your dog's health, safety and comfort, not to mention the cleanliness of your home. Keep your precious pooch safe, comfortable and warm during the winter months by following these proven tips.


    Your dog can't tell you if he's under the weather or uncomfortably dirty. Therefore, you must inspect him often. Inspecting your dog allows you to track, monitor and assess the state of your dog's health and wellbeing in a systematic and thorough manner. Inspections uncover injuries, abnormalities and subtle clues about underlying medical conditions. Moreover, inspections reveal grooming troubles before they become big, painful, complicated, traumatic and expensive problems. Routine inspections also encourage you to spend quality time with your dog. This quiet time together has the added bene?t of relaxing your dog and teaching her that grooming and the associated handling are pleasant. She'll quickly learn that cooperation brings positive attention, praise and treats.

    At least once a week, inspect your dog from snout to tail. The inspection takes only a few minutes and your dog will relish the personalized attention. Use all your senses: methodically peruse your pooch, rub your hands over his entire body (including his private parts), look at the skin, lift ears, check under his tail, and smell his mouth. In the winter, check for chapped skin, especially on the nose, lips and undercarriage. If you find anything unusual or troubling, call your veterinarian and discuss what you've discovered. In the winter, detailed paw inspections are critical due to weather-related dangers, including salt and anti-freeze. So, be sure to check Fido's paws each time you return from a walk. Many dogs are not used to having their paws handled and may try to pull away. Be patient and reward heavily.

    Here's how to do it: Hold the legs and paws in a natural position. A bent leg naturally moves forward or back; never pull it out to the side like you're yanking on a wishbone. Likewise, do not bend the paws backward or twist them into strange, uncomfortable positions. The idea is to limit movement and preserve Fido's comfort. To hold the paw, gently grasp the front of the leg directly above the paw with your non-dominant hand. You'll be able to feel Fido's wrist (this is where the leg naturally bends). Hold the wrist so that it is still, straight and supported while you inspect the paw and pads. If you're doing this correctly, Fido won't complain. Many people find that the back paws are most accessible when the dog is lying on his side or back. Scrutinize the top and bottom of each paw. Gently spread the toes (Fido has four on each foot) to see and feel between the each of the five pads. Search for trapped debris, such as snow and ice balls or salt crystals. Also, check for injuries, masses, dryness and mats. Note whether the paw-pad fur is sticking out and requires a trim. Keeping this fur trimmed is important because snow, ice and salt cling here. Next, examine each of Fido's nails to determine if he needs a pet-i-cure or has any broken, splintered, chipped or torn nails. Long nails can easily become caught in the snow or ice and be broken or splintered. Don't forget to inspect the dewclaws if Fido still has them.


    Cleaning your pooch's paws takes only a few minutes and it's essential to your dog's health and wellbeing. When you dog licks his paws (and he will), he ingests anything that he has walked over. In winter, sidewalks and streets are covered with salt, which can irritate canine stomachs when ingested and dry pads out, causing painful cracks. Moreover, it's often difficult to avoid winter chemicals in puddles, on sidewalks and streets, and other places your pooch walks. Many of these chemicals, such as anti-freeze or windshield wiper fluid are extremely dangerous and often toxic when ingested, even in small amounts. If you suspect your dog has ingested antifreeze or any other poison, begin ?rst aid and call the veterinarian IMMEDIATELY!

    Whether Fido's paws need a quick clean up or a shampooing, you don't need any fancy equipment. To wipe paws clean, use a fresh warm washcloth or wet paper towel. Paw wipes formulated for dogs are also a good choice, but keep an eye out for any reaction to the product. With your fingers, gently remove any snowballs or ice attached to his fur or stuck between his toes or paw pads. Then, wipe the pads and the area in between to remove any chemical residue. Use a clean towel to dry the area thoroughly. If Fido's paws are particularly dirty, spot wash them in the tub or sink. To wash the paws one by one and remove grime without wetting down your entire dog, use a small bowl filled with diluted canine shampoo (human products are a serious no-no). Your pooch will keep his paw in the container as you wash if you lift up the opposite paw. While you wash, keep the dog's leg in natural positions so he's comfortable. Verify that you've rinsed out all the shampoo and conditioner, especially between his toes and pads. Allow the fur to dry thoroughly before your dog goes outside. Be generous with treats and praise to instill canine cooperation.


    As silly as he may look, your dog requires a winter wardrobe to protect him from the elements, even when he's just walking around the block. If Fido has a thin or short coat, he de?nitely requires additional insulation from the cold. Purchase functional coats or sweaters or splurge on designer duds. The choice is yours as long as Fido is warm. Moreover, don't forget to protect Fido's paws from the cold, salt and other winter chemicals. Thankfully, the options for canine footwear are surprisingly vast. Whether you choose waterproof hiking boots or disposable booties, have Fido wear them around the house so he'll be accustomed to them and more likely to keep them on during his walk. Fido's clothing and footwear should be snug, but not impede his movement. Dry the gear after each use and wash it regularly.

    If Fido won't wear footwear even for all the dog biscuits in the world, apply a dog-safe protective paw balm before venturing outside and clean immediately when you return. While outside, avoid salt and puddles as much as possible. It's better the walk through the snow than through a pile of irritating salt. Remove all canine clothing the minute your pooch is inside your nice warm home. Fido can overheat if he's dressed in too many layers. Moreover, prolonged exposure to clothing causes mats, which are often painful and expensive to remove!

    HAPPY DOG: Caring for Your Dog's Body, Mind and Spirit

    Dogs give us so much: unconditional love, happiness, loyalty and the excuse to have fun. In return, we must safeguard their physical and emotional health. This means more than just providing the basics, like food and shelter. Many other necessities, such as grooming (of course), good nutrition, exercise, and play, veterinary care, love, attention, socialization, security, and safety, also play key roles. In my book, I teach you not only how to groom your pooch at home but how to be a caring and responsible owner. Simply put, my goal is to help you improve your dog's life." Billy Rafferty

    In 2008, Americans spent over $40 billion on their pets, but in today's economic climate, professional pet care is now an unaffordable luxury for many dog owners and many have had to cut goods and services for Fido from their budgets. But the good news is that dog owners can handle much of the care for their beloved pets themselves by turning to the expertise of Billy Rafferty, a pedigreed dog care guru who has cared for and groomed thousands of dogs, including Oprah's and Chef Art Smith's, over the past twenty-five years. In his new book, Happy Dog Caring for Your Dog's Body, Mind and Spirit, which he wrote with animal advocate and dog lover Jill Cahr, Billy teaches readers how care for their pooches in a fashion that won't break the bank. Billy's vast knowledge of everything canine, from anatomy to allergies, means the information goes way beyond grooming basics to explain how the personal touch can make a big difference to a pet's physical and emotional health.

    "Grooming is not just about 'styling' a dog," says Billy. "Rather, it involves a variety of activities that are crucial to canine health and happiness." Written in an irreverent, accessible tone, Happy Dog features illustrations and photos throughout—including special appearances by celebrity dogs, including Oprah's cocker spaniels Sophie and Solomon. Humorous and informative anecdotes from Billy's decades of experience grooming all sorts of dogs pepper the text.

    Among the topics covered in depth:

  • Step-by-step guides to monitoring your dog's health, including how to regularly inspect him to uncover illnesses and other problems before they become serious—and expensive
  • How to set up a stellar home grooming station, and properly bathe, brush, and care for Fido's eyes, ears, rear and everywhere in between
  • How to dog-proof your home, for Fido's safety and his owners' sanity
  • Planning a family vacation with Fido in tow, with minimal stress for everyone
  • Which grooming products and tools on the market are worth the money
  • A yearly dog care planner to help you manage Fido's health, cleanliness and happiness
  • Safety and emergency preparedness tips
  • Valuable information on pet nutrition, including what dog food labels really mean and a special dog treat recipe from celebrity chef Art Smith
  • How to exercise your dog and enforce rules so that she is well-behaved and socialized

    "The truth is that a well cared-for dog is a happy dog," Billy says. "Happy Dog is a must-read for every dog owner; no matter how long Fido has been part of the family, you will learn something new and see your dog in a whole new light."


    Billy Rafferty M.P.S., C.M.G., D.T.S., C.A.H is a nationally recognized and award-winning principal stylist at Doggy Dooz pet styling salon in Chicago, Illinois, whose clients include Oprah Winfrey, celebrity chef Art Smith, and MSNBC's Tamron Hall. In addition to being a Certified Master Groomer, a Dermatech Specialist, and a Companion Animal Hygienist, he is a sanctioned grooming judge and a highly regarded speaker and lecturer on all matters canine.

    Co-author Jill Cahr is an accomplished writer and has been involved with Chicago-area animal shelters and animal charities for over a decade. They both donate their time grooming stray dogs at Chicago's Animal Care & Control, and work with a number of other animal welfare groups. Their website is and they also blog at

    Billy and Jill Cahr donating $1 from every book sold on their website to the American Humane Association. Barker and Meowsky. A Chicago pet boutique will also donate a portion of book sales to the organization.

    Founded in 1877, the American Humane Association is the only national organization dedicated to protecting both children and animals. Through a network of child and animal protection agencies and individuals, American Humane develops policies, legislation, curricula and training programs to protect children and animals from abuse, neglect and exploitation.

    The nonprofit organization, headquartered in Denver, raises awareness about The Link® between violence to people and violence to animals, as well as the benefits derived from the human-animal bond. American Humane's office in Los Angeles is the authority behind the "No Animals Were Harmed" end-credit disclaimer on film and TV productions, and American Humane's office in Washington, D.C., is an advocate for child and animal protection at the federal and state levels. The American Humane® Certified farm animal program is the nation's original independent certification and labeling program for humanely raised food.

    American Humane meets the strong, comprehensive standards of the Better Business Bureau's Wise Giving Alliance, has been awarded the Independent Charities of America's "Best in America" Seal of Approval, has met the stringent standards for financial efficiency and accountability required by the American Institute of Philanthropy to qualify as a Top-Rated Charity, and has received a 3-star rating from Charity Navigator, America's premier independent charity evaluator. Visit to learn more

    A Conversation with Billy Rafferty and Jill Cahr Authors of Happy Dog: Caring for Your Dog's Body, Mind and Spirit

    Q: Why did you want to write this book? Aren't there already a lot of dog care books on the market?
    A: Quite simply, we want to help people improve the lives of their dogs. Billy has seen too many dogs who look and feel terrible, and who aren't handled or treated properly. Dogs give us unconditional love and friendship, and ask for little in return. Dogs can't take care of themselves, so we want to teach people to how to improve the quality and quantity of a dog's life and enhance the lives of the dog owners as well.

    Our book is unique because it takes the knowledge of a true expert (Billy) and filters that information through a regular dog owner (Jill). The result is a book that reads like your best friend is sitting in your living room, explaining how to care for your dog.

    Q: Part of the book's subtitle concerns your dog's "spirit." What do you mean by this?
    A: HAPPY DOG discusses how to care for your dog's body, mind and spirit. We teach people what it is to be a dog, so everyone can have a happy dog. Making your dog happy requires you to understand what your dog feels physically (body) and what he thinks (mind). The last part of the equation is his emotional state (spirit), and cultivating that spirit is just as important as keeping him physically and mentally fit. We've all seen dogs that have a spring in their step and dogs who cower because their spirit has been broken. Armed with the correct information, nurturing your dog's spirit is easy and ensures that he can live his life to the fullest (while enriching your life too). Knowing how to do this is not always obvious, and HAPPY DOG shows you how.

    Q: If someone doesn't have a lot of extra money to spend on their dog, what is the best thing to spend that money on?

  • Regular veterinary care, including vaccinations and parasite preventatives, is critical. Don't skimp on the "routine" care.
  • Flea prevention is cheaper than treatment for a flea infestation. Heartworm preventatives can save your dog's life and keep you from spending much more money to treat the disease.
  • A slicker brush and a collar, leash, and proper identification (including a microchip) are essential.
  • Always buy the best food you can afford. Cheap food is cheap for a reason, and the old adage "you are what you eat" is true for dogs too. Moreover, when a manufacturer uses cheap ingredients, it has to bulk up the food with ?llers to meet the government's minimum nutritional requirements. As a result, the portion size for cheap food is typically larger than for more-expensive food with higher-quality, more-digestible ingredients. In the end, you'll be buying more of the cheaper food, which usually works out to be more expensive than buying the higher-quality food in the ?rst place.
  • Purchasing a few good quality toys that will withstand your dog's chewing strength is better than buying many cheap toys that break up and become choking or obstruction risks.
  • Buy yourself a pair of good walking shoes. Walking with your dog is free, and is good for you and your pooch. More than anything, our pets want our time, which is free.

    Q: In this economy, what are some things people can do themselves at home to make sure their dog is healthy and in top shape?
    A: There are quite a few things you can (and should) do:

    1. Inspect your dog. Fido can't tell you if he's under the weather, or even if he's uncomfortably dirty—you have to discover these problems yourself. An inspection allows you to gather, track, monitor, and assess the state of your dog's health and cleanliness in a systematic and thorough manner. Moreover you'll discover medical and grooming issues well before they become painful to your dog and your pocketbook. Once a week, using your hands, eyes, ears and nose, give your pooch the once over. (Fido's eyes require daily inspections.) Be sure you check every nook and cranny. The entire process takes about five to ten minutes, and your dog will appreciate the attention. If at any time you see, feel, smell, or sense trouble brewing, call your veterinarian immediately. Your inspection may save your dog's life (and your bank account).

    2. Dog-proof your house. Many household items are dangerous to dogs as poisons, or as choking/obstruction risks. Spending a few minutes a day clearing your counters, closing drawers and doors, and putting away medicine, cleaners, food, and small objects will safeguard your dog. It's easier to clean up than to pay a huge a vet bill or replace chewed or swallowed items.

    3. Brush, brush, brush. Brushing saves time, money, and is an excellent opportunity to bond with your dog. Brushing also extends the time between professional grooming appointments, loosens and lifts dirt, and keeps skin healthy. Brushing removes the dead coat before it can fall off your dog or cause mats, which can increase professional grooming costs. For most dogs, a slicker brush is all you need. If your dog has extremely short hair, such as a Boxer, Doberman, Dalmatian or a Pug, you can use a rubber curry. You don't even have to brush the entire dog every time. Brush a quarter of your dog each day and by the end of the week, he'll have been completely brushed twice.

    4. Be smart about products. Most people use far too much product when bathing their dog at home, which wastes money and makes rinsing difficult. Dilute shampoo in a bowl or separate bottle. Don't dilute it in the original bottle because adding water can spoil the product. All you need is one quality hypoallergenic shampoo and one conditioner. Although they're fun to use, you don't need fancy spa products. And there is no reason to purchase a shampoo for every doggie dirt situation—a proper wash with a regular dog shampoo followed by a regular conditioner is sufficient. Make sure you rinse thoroughly because product left on the skin can cause painful and costly skin infections.

    5. Ask for a shorter haircut. When your dog gets a haircut, ask your groomer to cut the coat a "step" (or slightly) shorter. The shorter haircut can stretch the time between professional appointments, but make sure the cut isn't too short since exposed skin is prone to sunburn. And because you'll extend the time between appointments, brushing becomes critical—the coat on some dogs can mat up overnight.

    Q: How should someone determine what type of dog is best for their lifestyle or their family?
    A: Start by doing a lot of research. Many respectable websites offer sound advice for potential dog owners. Realistically assess your capabilities, time commitment, and budget. A Poodle requires much more professional grooming than a Pug. Don't get a Border Collie or a Portuguese Water Dog unless you are willing and able to provide a safe means to release all the innate energy.

    Research, read, and talk to friends, family, and dog care professionals. Visit shelters and reputable breeders. A good breeder is picky and will want to ensure that you know the pros and cons of a specific breed before you take a dog home. Similarly, if you're considering a mixed breed, try to get a sense of the dog's personality and learn about the breeds in the mix. Spend time with the breed or dog you like before making a final decision.

    A dog is a lifelong commitment and should never be an impulsive acquisition. Many dogs live 12-17 years. Never get a dog unless everyone in the family or household wants one. Likewise, dogs make lousy gifts. The recipient may not have the time, money or energy to care for the pooch.

    Q: You work with a local shelter in Chicago grooming dogs that are up for adoption--how does this help them find families?
    A: A dog is much more adoptable if she looks like a pet rather than a grubby street dog. Every time we groom a shelter dog, we can see and feel the dog's relief when all the old fur and dirt come off. Moreover, the interaction and attention from a caring human lifts the dog's spirits, making her more attractive to potential adopters. Many of these dogs have never been properly cared for, and a gentle grooming session can gain their trust and keep them relaxed when they meet potential adopters.

    Q: What are some of the things to look out for when buying dog food?
    A: Learn to read labels. The length of the ingredient list doesn't always indicate the quality of the food. A protein from a speci?ed animal should be the ?rst ingredient. Avoid generic proteins such as "meat" or "poultry." Although dogs like to eat some of the animal parts we don't, proteins from a specified animal are better than by-products. Likewise, by-products are better than rendered meals and digests.

    Watch for ingredient splitting. A manufacturer can list similar ingredients separately to make you think that it's using less of a lower-quality ingredient. For example, corn is a mediocre, but cheap protein source. Rather than list it ?rst, a manufacturer might order its ingredients this way: "Chicken, Ground Corn, Meat and Bone Meal, Corn Gluten Meal, Cellulose, Corn Germ Meal," etc. Because Chicken comes ?rst, you'd think Chicken is the main ingredient. However, when you add up the three "corns," they could well outweigh the Chicken.

    Just as with humans, obesity is a growing problem for dogs. Feeding good quality food and treats will help keep Fido's waistline in check. This also maximizes his quantity and quality of life.

    Q: Time today is precious for people--how can you make sure your dog doesn't get shortchanged when your schedule gets busy? Are there certain things you should plan to do with your dog every day? Every week? Once a month?
    A: Spend quality time with your dog every day. If you don't have an hour to play fetch, break up the play sessions into smaller increments. Both you and your dog need exercise, so why not do it together? Many dog care activities double as bonding time. Brushing your dog can be relaxing and fun for both of you—after all, who doesn't enjoy a little pampering? In addition to play time, pet, praise and cuddle your dog. He needs to feel the love just as much as you.

    Your pooch also relies on you to monitor and maintain his health, so a weekly inspection of every inch of his body is crucial. Eyes require daily cleaning. Fido's ears, teeth, paws, genitals and rear end usually require weekly cleaning. Most dogs require monthly nail clipping. In HAPPY DOG, we include a yearly dog care calendar and planner, which covers all aspects of dog care.

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