July 28, 2014

Booties and Boots – Part I

Musher, handler, and even the kids in the family wear BIG boots out in the dog yard during the winter. I hear they wear boots to keep their feet warm and prevent a bad thing know as frostbite. I’ve seen pictures of Iditarod dogs wearing tiny little sock like things called booties. We sometimes wear booties in Wisconsin, too, but I want to tell you, my feet NEVER get cold. So what’s this all about?

I asked a couple of my veterinarian friends why a sled dog’s feet stay warm even in very cold temperatures while the poor humans don’t seem to be so fortunate. Can a dog get frostbitten toes like humans? The vets said they never see sled dogs with frostbite on their feet. So there must be another reason why mushers spend all that time and effort to bootie up the team before leaving each checkpoint. There must be another reason for Iditarod rules requiring a minimum of 8 booties be carried 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. There must be a reason why mushers pay about a dollar per bootie and remember – they go through a few thousand of those cute little sock like things.  Think of the cost!

As it turns out, there are a couple of very good reasons. For one thing, booties are used to protect a dog’s feet from being scraped up. Cold snow and ice are very abrasive and rough – equivalent to rough cement or blacktop. That’s why humans wear shoes when running and playing outside – to protect the bottoms of their feet. Then there is the ice ball issue – snow gets caught around the pad of the foot and between the toes and it turns to ICE balls. Ice balls are so annoying! Think about having a blister, scrape or cut on your foot or having a tiny rock in your shoe – OUCH! So it is for the dogs but booties protect their feet.

If it’s not the booties that keep a dog’s toes from getting frostbite, what does? My vet friends told me that we’re just built better for playing outside in the cold compared to humans. Dogs have fur on their feet, humans don’t. The bottom of a human’s foot is very TENDER whereas a dog has thick tough almost leather like skin that covers their foot pads. Dogs have a higher body temperature – 100 to 102.5, compared to 98.6 for humans. The resting heart rate of a dog is in the range of 100 to 102 beats per minute so blood circulates faster. In addition, dogs burn calories very quickly – their metabolism is much higher than a humans.

Experts like my vet friends think that dogs and other animals that live out-of-doors have a different circulatory process than humans. When humans are in McGrath and the temperature is minus 36 degrees, blood vessels in the arms and legs contract to restrict blood flow to the limbs. This helps humans to maintain core body temperature. When sled dogs and other animals run into extreme cold, circulation in their legs stays constant or perhaps increases. Outdoor animals may even have more blood vessels in their legs and feet. Dogs and other animals have these natural adaptations to their environment, survival mechanisms to allow their feet to stay warm in very harsh winter conditions.

Now you know why dogs wear booties when training and during Iditarod. They wear booties for much the same reason humans wear socks – to prevent abrasions and keep their feet happy. You also know something about the natural adaptations in animals that allow them to stay warm in even severe winter conditions. Without these handy survival mechanisms, you humans will just have to wear warm boots and socks along with mittens and hats.

There you have it, a story about how sled dogs are built better for cold weather than our mushers and handlers. Check soon for more stories. Let PRIDE be your guide – Personal Responsibility in Daily Effort.

Born to Run,
Sanka