Oreo's poor dry paw on a can of Bag Balm. His paws are getting softer by the day. Credit: Aislinn Sarnacki / BDN

This story was originally published in January 2014.

“Oreo’s walking funny,” I said as I leaned closer to the window, my nose nearly touching the glass.

“What?” called my boyfriend Derek from the other room.

“Oreo — he’s walking funny,” I repeated as I stood to let the dog inside.

I like to creep on Oreo when I let him outside. It’s fun to watch as he patrols the yard and plays tug-of-war with his friend Dexter, the Lab-collie mix that lives in the neighboring apartment. This time, my snooping turned out to be a good thing. As I watched, I noticed Oreo was favoring his front left paw — not drastically, but just enough to give him an uneven gait.

But once we had Oreo inside, Derek and I couldn’t find any injuries. We checked his paws for cuts and pressed on his leg muscles. Oreo seemed fine, except his paws were exceptionally dry and starting to crack. I looked between his toes, and his skin was a bit pink. Maybe he simply needed a little moisturizing.

You can put lotion on a dog? Well, yes, you can. Dogs often need a little skin therapy, especially during harsh winter months. Crusty snow, road salt, jagged ice, dry air and freezing temperatures can wreak havoc on a dog’s paws.

So what’s a dog owner to do? Well, there are a lot of remedies out there. Pet stores carry special lotions and waxes approved for animals, such as Musher’s Secret.

I turned to Bag Balm, because I just happen to keep a can of it in my first aid drawer to use on my own scrapes and chapped skin.

If you haven’t heard of Bag Balm — it’s an old salve originally created to soften cow udders. The formula was purchased from a druggist of Wells River, Vermont, in 1899 by John L. Norris of Lydonville, Vermont, owner of Dairy Association Co. Soon enough, the salve was benefiting more than just cows.

People realized that the salve was effective in soothing and softening chapped and chafed skin. It also seemed to promote healing of cuts and scrapes.

Norris designed a distinctive green can in which to hold it. The 10-oz square container, accented with red lettering and a red clover surrounding a cow’s head, has remained unchanged for more than 100 years. Today, the company is owned by his daughter, Barbara Norris Allen.

I purchased Bag Balm years ago to use on myself. I’d never thought of using it on Oreo until I was scrambling for a pet-friendly moisturizer.

Oreo poses with his paw on a canister of Bag Balm, a salve developed in Vermont in the late 1800s to soften cow udders, on Jan. 30, 2013, at his home in Brewer. Today, Bag Balm is used for a variety of things, including to sooth and repair dry and cracking dog paws. Credit: Aislinn Sarnacki / BDN

Oreo didn’t particularly like the process of having the salve slathered on his paws, but with Derek’s help, I managed to work it into his hard foot pads and between his toes. Later that evening, I was amazed at the difference. His skin was noticeably softer.

It turns out I’m not the only one to think Bag Balm is especially great for the dry, bitter winter. In 1937, Admiral Richard Byrd, an American naval officer who specialized in exploration, packed the soothing balm in provisions for his trip to the North Pole, according to the Bag Balm website.

“No one knows when the first farmer tried a little Bag Balm on the paws of the family dog, but the product proved itself once again. Minor cuts and abrasions were quickly soothed, and dry, cracked paw pads were on their way to recovery,” the company states on the site.

Which begs the question: What’s in this seemingly magical salve?

Bag Balm is made of petrolatum, lanolin and an antiseptic, 8-hydroxyquinoline sulfate, according to the can. And it’s made right in Vermont. To learn more, visit bagbalm.com.

No matter what moisturizing solution you use, it’s important to check your dog’s paws regularly in the winter — preferably before he starts “walking funny.” Ice and snow can accumulate between dog’s toes, and sharp ice and road salt can lead to irritation, drying and cracking.

During walks, a dog’s feet, legs and belly can pick up antifreeze and other chemicals that could be toxic, warns the American Veterinary Medical Association. So when you get inside, it’s important to wipe down (or wash) your dog’s feet, legs and belly. For more tips about pet safety in cold weather, visit avma.org/public/PetCare/Pages/Cold-weather-pet-safety.aspx.

Aislinn Sarnacki

Aislinn Sarnacki is a Maine outdoors writer and the author of three Maine hiking guidebooks including “Family Friendly Hikes in Maine.” Find her on Twitter and Facebook @1minhikegirl. You can also...