Many dogs can take the cold without any problems, and then there are some who are very sensitive to the cold and wet mixture. That sounds like where your pup falls. His feet are senstitive, and that is normal. My dog could stand in the snow and ice for hours on end and take the cold and pain, where as our neighbor’s dog barely sets foot in the snow and begins crying and lifting his feet one by one off the ground as he walks. Some days are worse than others.
It sounds like you are doing the right things. Make sure all the salt is off his paws and out from between his digits to avoid chemical burns. Even the “pet safe” salts still have dangerous chemicals in them, but just not as bad as regular de-icing salt.
You are on the right track with wiping his paws with a warm rag afterwards. Don’t make it too warm, as that could cause more pain with the warming up from being so cold. Licking his paws afterwards is normal. He is trying to remove the pain and warm them up. My dog does it too. It is nothing to worry about. I understand what you mean by it breaking your heart. It is hard to see, but many of us are battling it. I have 7-8 inches of snow on top of about 3-4 inches of ice in my yard, so playing outside isn’t an option with the ice, but boy does my girl try!
When I take my girl out for a walk, I put boots on her. I have the MuttLuks ($45-$65), but there are other all-weather boots out there on the market for less. I also put toddler socks on her feet with the boots on for extra warmth. When she goes out to potty, I don’t put them on, but you could do that. There are slip-on boots at PetsMart that are much easier to put on and take off for quick bouts outside that may work for you. It takes some dogs a while to get used to anything on their feet, and will high-step throughout the house. Just make it a positive experience by feeding treats while you put them on and while he is getting used to them. I can now just ask Kayla if she wants to go outside, and she runs to her room, sits down near the closet where I have her boots, and starts lifting her paws for me to put her boots on.
I also put on socks when we come back in from outside, and that might be an idea to try too. I bought cheap baby and toddler socks at the dollar store and leave a few near the door so I can slip them on after I have wiped her feet. They don’t stay on real well, but I think it helps. There are actually dog socks out on the market that fit better.
Rest assured that you are doing everything right and that you aren’t the only one with a dog who has foot troubles this time of year!