Making dog paw care a regular part of your pup’s care and routine is crucial. Making sure their nails are clipped properly is part of paw care. There’s a lot more to keeping paws in good shape other than nail care. Dogs can develop paw problems, and some pet parents may not notice.
A common misconception is that a dog’s paws don’t need protection. After all, their ancestors roamed the earth without boots, creams, or salves. Paw pads contain a layer of fatty tissue, but dogs can still damage the pads, nails, bones, skin, and other areas.
Touch the paw pad of a dog who doesn’t walk on rougher terrain. The pads won’t be as smooth as that of a less active dog or one who walks on smoother surfaces.
From a purely anatomic perspective, a dog’s foot is quite extraordinary. The bottom of a dog’s paw is coated with thick, leathery skin. Here’s everything you need to know about dog paw care so your pooch walks (and runs) by your side with comfort and ease.
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Anatomy of Dog Paws
A dog’s paw is full of fascinating facts. The majority of dogs are born with five toes on the front feet and four toes on the back feet. The front toe called a dewclaw doesn’t touch the ground and might be removed on some puppies when they are a week or two old.
When we walk, as human beings, our heels and balls of our feet take a lot of weight. However, dogs are digitigrade in nature. Dogs walk on their toes, and their heels do not touch the ground.
The skin of a dog’s paw pad is very delicate despite being thick. Since they don’t contain sweat glands or bodily oils, they can dry out and crack.
The bottom of a dog’s paw is coated with thick, leathery skin. When a dog’s foot touches the ground, the fatty inner layer serves as a sort of shock absorber.
Dogs lose heat through their eccrine (or merocrine) glands located in the shock absorber area of the paw. Eccrine glands release sweat, but that’s not the primary way dogs cool off.
Dogs do not have nearly as many eccrine glands as a human being. They cool off by panting. The black or pink skin you see covering the fatty pads can become roughened.
Dog Paw Pad Maintenance and Care
Fortunately, paw pads care is easy and requires only a few minutes of your time each week.
Train Paw Touching From An Early Age
Many dogs love a good foot massage, much like many people. Dogs tend to relax, feel calm, and this is a great time to casually inspect and feel the anatomy of your dog’s paws.
As you massage the foot, be careful not to use excessive pressure. May particular attention to the areas between toes and visually inspect for cuts or even ticks.
From a purely anatomic perspective, a dog’s foot is quite extraordinary. The bottom of a dog’s paw is coated with thick, leathery skin. When a dog’s foot touches the ground, the fatty inner layer serves as a sort of shock absorber. It is here that the eccrine glands are located: those glands that allow a dog to lose heat aka “sweat.”
Smell Your Dog’s Feet
Do your dog’s paws smell? If bacteria or yeast build up, paws may smell like corn chips, or ‘Fritos feet.’ This isn’t an issue unless the yeast or bacteria take over.
Yeasty paws appear red, irritated, with hair loss and are itchy. Think about it – the warm, moist environment coupled with small spaces and lack of airflow is the perfect environment for yeast.
Take your dog to the veterinarian if yeasty paws are suspected. Dr. Julie Buzby recommends managing the underlying cause of yeasty paws.
Using Indoor Cleaners on Floors
Your dog’s paws touch every surface on which he walks. If you use floor cleaner or floor treatments regularly, your dog is at risk. He will have wet, chemically laden paws and want to lick them. That means chemicals are getting ingested into his bloodstream. Even after the product dries, it poses a danger. Make your own pet-safe floor cleaner.
Keeping Your Dog’s Nails Trimmed
One of the single most important things you can do for paw care is paying attention to nail length. Dog claws are not used as weapons as they are with felines. However, nails grip the ground in activities of daily living and when dogs run, play, and turn corners.
Indoor dogs tend to have nails that need more regular attention than dogs who put a lot of wear on tear on their nails from outdoor play.
Imagine wearing a pair of high heels if you are accustomed to flats or wearing shoes: Now try running in those heels and wearing them 24/7. This is akin to what overgrown nails feel like on a dog. This can also create bone and leg pain, which in the long run, causes serious issues for a dog.
Learn to clip your dog’s nails at home or have a groomer or veterinary technician clip them regularly.
How to Clean Dog Paws and Skin After A Walk
Daily skin care is very important to dogs, and that includes cleaning their paws after a walk. You can rinse dog paws with warm water and soap as a start. I keep a washcloth, bucket, and Soggy Doggy mat near the door.
In the fall months, my Cockers generally get itchy from the fallen leaves. Recently, I discovered HICC Pet pet glove wipes that you slip on your hand for ease of use.
The glove wpes are alcohol free, steroid free, and antibiotic free. I slip one on my hand and the extra thick material removes odors, eliminates bacteria, soothes any inflammation, and improves the coat and the skin’s natural barrier.
HICC Pet pet glove wipes can be used on sensitive areas, too, like the eyes, ears, mouth, and private regions. My last Cocker Spaniel was prone to lip fold dermatitis, and these wipes would be perfect for that type of condition.
Since the main ingredient in these gloved wipes is hypochlorus acid, I know my dog is getting a dedicated anti-itch treatment without a prescription. Hypocholorus acid occurs naturally in mammalian white blood cells, so it helps boost a dog’s immune system.
Keep a pack of HICC Pet pet glove wipes in your travel bag, near the door, and in your car’s glove box so you aren’t caught empty handed. I love that they are non-toxic and safe should your dog lick the area afterwards.
I Found A Lump On My Dog’s Paw
Lumps and bumps can appear anywhere on a dog’s body, including paw pads. There are benign and malignant causes. A veterinarian, no matter how experienced, cannot tell you with 100 percent certainty what a lump is simply by looking at it or touching it.
As you examine your dog’s paws (and I recommend doing this when they are tired), feel around for lumps and bumps.
I’ve dealt with interdigital cysts between the toes of several Cocker Spaniels. They can become infected and are found in the webbing between the toes.
Interdigital cysts are treated with shampoos, topical applications, antibiotics or anti-inflammatories, or surgery depending on how painful or advanced it is. My dogs have been through all of these treatments.
Other types of lumps on a dog’s paw or pad include:
- Digital cutaneous melanoma (common in black dogs)
- Lick granulomas
- Mast cell tumor
- Sebaceous cyst
- Skin tag
- Squamous cell carcinoma
- Wart (papilloma)
Do All Dogs Have the Same Type of Paw?
Dogs, like their paws, are uniquely different. Dogs have three different types of paw shapes – webbed feet, hare feet, and cat feet.
Webbed feet allow certain breeds of dog to swim, hunt, and dig thanks to the extra skin between their toes. Did you ever take a peek at the paws on Dachshunds or Portuguese Water Dogs? They are webbed! If you love Cocker Spaniels like I do, they are a water breed with webbed feet.
Hare feet dogs have two long central toes to help them run fast and reach maximum speed. Samoyeds, Australian Shepherds, and Greyhounds are types of dogs with hare feet.
Cat feet are small and compact. Because they are rounded, the dog is more stable and balanced. Some dogs with cat feet are Akitas and Doberman Pinschers.
Most kennel clubs, including the American Kennel Club, recognize these three types of paws that appear on most dog breeds. However, the American Foxhound has a foot like a fox. Alaskan Malamutes have insulating hairs similar to a bobcat.
Does My Dog Need Boots?
Some dogs benefit from wearing a protective covering or boot on their paws. Ice salt, chemicals, ice and snow can wreak havoc on paw pads. Boots can help protect pads from de-icing products. There is no ice melt product on the market that is 100 percent pet safe, just more pet friendly.
Because paw pads are made of fatty adipose tissue, they don’t freeze. However, cold can become overwhelming to dogs. Not all dogs have the ability to keep themselves warm, and boots can help.
I personally know of Newfies who rock a solid boot and Chihuahuas who thrive wearing a pair of Pawz slip ons.
If you hike with your dog, consider the proper boot for his paws to grip a rocky, rugged terrain.
My Favorite Dog Boots
Muttluks All Weather Dog Boots: The waterproof material is fully machine washable, and the protective toe cover is helpful. The bottom is made with water-resistant leather, and the cuff stretches to adapt to most paws. My Cockers have used these with success.
Pawz Waterproof Dog Boots: Pawz are an all-time favorite around here. You slip them on your dog’s paws and off you go. I like to stretch them a bit since they feel like a thick rubbery balloon. Also, pierce a small hole on the top of the Pawz so your dog’s paws can breathe.
Pro Tip: Most Cocker Spaniel paws require a purple, size Large in Pawz. Smaller dogs or petite paws should downsize.
Ruffwear Grip Trex: I’ve been told time and again how awesome Ruffwear’s Grip Trex boots are. They can be worn with or without liners.
How To Get Your Dog Used To Boots or Pawz
Learn to put one boot on at a time and make the experience the best possible experience for the dog. Act like he just won Best in Show. Associate your joy with his favorite treat.
Once my dog had one dog boot on, I tossed his favorite ball and whistled for him to come to the kitchen for a piece of cheese. Allow him to get used to it indoors before ever trying it outside.
He may stand in place like frozen into the floor or walk like their foot is on fire, but eventually he will move. As the dog accepts one of the boots, you can add a second one and so on.
Be positive. Be happy. Be encouraging. Never scold the dog, and be sure the dog’s nails are not long.
Why Are My Dog’s Paws So Rough
Feel your dog’s paw pads. Are they smooth or do they feel coarse and rough? Severely cracked paw pads can be symptomatic of hyperkeratosis, where the skin makes too much keratin. A veterinarian can diagnose this condition.
It’s not uncommon for dogs to have rough paw pads. Veterinarian Dr. Greg Hammer recommends rubbing a cream like Vitamin E into their pads as if it were hand lotion on your own extremities. Be sure to rub it in so your pooch can’t lick it off.
Some dogs love licking their paws. This can cause further damage to the paws if it continues excessively.
How To Treat Cracked Dog Paws
Dog paws can often heal on their own. If the cracks are minor and do not require veterinary intervention, here’s what I do for cracked paws and regular paw care maintenance:
- Visually inspect your dog’s paws and touch them, including toes, nails, and in between the toes.
- Rinse their paws with warm, soapy water. I like to put my dog in the tub and clean his paw pads with the spraying unit.
- If your dog has allergies, consider a natural soak such as the one a holistic pet care nutritionist shared with us.
- Dry paws thoroughly. I usually let my dog run around indoors to get his zoomies out of his system before moving onto the next step.
- Apply a dog-friendly balm such as the ones listed in our next section. Follow the label instructions closely. I like to do this before bed for maximum effect. Rub it is as best you can without overapplying.
- If your veterinarian prescribed a cream or ointment or you want the best effect, have your pup wear a comfortable cone alternative overnight.
- See if one of the products works better than another on your dog. Like people, all dogs are unique and have different reactions.
- Keep track of your paw care routine in our DogMinder Canine Health and Wellness Journal.
Best Products For Dog Paw Care
We’ve rounded up our favorite dog paw care balms, lotions, and moisturizers. Never use a human product on dog paws.
Best CBD Infused Skin and Paw Balm
We love: Pet Releaf Skin and Paw Releaf
SPECIAL SAVINGS: Use code FIDOSE20 to save 20 percent at checkout when you purchase through PetReleaf.com. Plus free shipping on all orders over $75.
I’ve been using Pet Releaf products for years on my Cocker Spaniels with success. I love the smooth roll on of this balm in the handy portable container. No sticky messes or pungent smells to deal with.
Pet Releaf’s CBD is effective for skin and paws, too. Infused with things like andiroba oil, calendula flower extract, coconut oil, grape seed oil, and more, this product works magic.
Use it on rough paws, itchy paws, allergies, and after summer or winter walks. I keep one in my travel bag always.
Best Herbal Healing Cream For Active Repair
We love: Dr. Harvey’s Herbal Healing Cream
SPECIAL SAVINGS: Use code FDRLUV5285 at DrHarveys.com to save 10% off your order plus free shipping on orders over $59
I am never without a tube of Dr. Harvey’s Healing Cream. Keep a tube handy for dog cuts, rashes, hot spots, and itching. The creamy formula goes on easy and acts as an all-purpose first aid cream for dogs.
I love rubbing the herbal healing cream on my dog’s paw pads. It is infused with coconut oil, shea butter, eucalyptus, and more holistic extracts. Relief is immediate and his paws feel oh so soft.
Contains no artificial dyes or preservatives and is made with natural ingredients.
Best Pre-Walk Paw Balm
We love: Musher’s Secret
Hands and paws down, Musher’s Secret paw wax is our go-to all-season protectant against hot pavement, sand, dirt, and snowy conditions. It acts like an invisible boot with a breathable shield. It is not meant to replace boots, but the Canadian dog sled drivers apply it to their dogs.
The vitamin E and beeswax work wonders on paws, and it can also be used on ears, elbows, and hot spots. Because it is made with 100 percent natural food-grade waxes and vitamin E, you don’t have to worry about your dog getting sick if licked.
Contains no flax oil, nuts, gluten, toxins, soy, or GMOs.
Protecting Dog Paws in Winter
Use the information and products in this post to keep dog paws healthy in the colder, snowier, icier months.
Of major importance is to keep the hair between the toes and between the paw pads trimmed to avoid ice and snowballs from sticking to fur and causing pain. Ice balls can also cause bruising and tendon injuries.
Imagine getting wet snow stuck between your toes and then it clings to fur. Packed snow can turn to ice and that is extremely painful for a dog. Couple that with frigid temperatures, and the dog is not a happy camper.
I prefer to clip this fur myself instead of going to a groomer because it’s easy and quick. My dogs are accustomed to me grooming them at home. Use a pair or grooming clippers that are small, quiet, and cordless such as the Wahl Bravura, which is lightweight, rechargeable, reliable, and has five blades in one.
I learned to groom my Cocker Spaniel at home, so be sure to check out that post as well.
After any walk, check the paw pads for ice, snow, antifreeze (which is deadly if licked), oil, gasoline, ice melt products, or any number of outdoor dangers. Winter dangers to dogs are very real.
Protecting Dog Paws In Summer
In addition to the information provided in this post, summer brings its own set of dangers to dog paws. Place your barefoot on the pavement. If it’s too hot for you, it’s too hot for your dog.
Though a dog’s pads contain much fatty tissue that does not freeze as easily as other tissues, protection against scuffing, burning, scraping, cutting, and hot damage is crucial in summer months.
If a dog’s paw pads are severely damaged, a veterinarian might create a usable flap from tissue taken from another paw of the dog. In extreme cases, dogs may lose a limb if the paw damage is extensive.
While inspecting your dog’s paws after a walk, check for burrs, foxtails, bee stingers, rocks, allergens, and wash thoroughly. Spring and summer means more chemically treated lawns. You never know where someone applied a dangerous chemical.
My Dog Keeps Chewing Paws
Allergies to the environment and/or diet are the primary reason most dogs lick, chew, or bite at their paws. Your dog could also be bored or nervous, and biting his paws is a compulsive behavior.
Paws should be kept clean, any offending allergens should be removed, and it’s best to determine what is causing the chewing in the first place. Here’s how to help a dog with allergies.
The Bottom Line on Dog Paws
Paws are fascinating. They are designed to serve specific purposes in a dog’s life. Regularly touching and examining your dog’s foot anatomy is a good routine to get into.
If your dog is limping on his front leg, check his paws. Something could be stuck or damaged. Seek veterinary intervention if the problem doesn’t resolve or is too involved or dangerous to treat at home.
Preventative measures make a huge difference. How are you caring for your dog’s paws?
No. You should never use bandages or products intended for human use on dogs. Check with your veterinarian about liquid bandage products made for dogs.
My veterinarian advises not to put anything on a dog’s paws that isn’t safe to lick. This means Neosporin or other home-based remedies that can do more harm than good. A little lick may not bother your dog, but licking off four paws’ worth of Neosporin isn’t good.
Paw pads will grow back with proper care but it can take a while. It may take one to two weeks or more.
In a pinch some pet parents use Vaseline (petroleum jelly) on their dog’s paws. However, it doesn’t allow your dog’s paws to breathe, which they need. There may be carcinogens in some petroleum jelly products.
Question: Do you inspect your dog’s feet/paws regularly? Does your dog have a regular foot care routine? Do tell!