Last updated on May 13, 2017
I have a paw fetish. I don’t know what it is: from the tip of their nose to the base of their tushes, my heart beats dog.™ There is something about a dog’s paws that pretty much melts me. I love dog’s paws so much that there are two of them permanently tattooed on my outer thigh (more about that another time). Dogs also can develop paw problems.
A common myth in among dog parents is that a dog’s paws need no protection; after all, they’ve been walking around without socks or shoes for thousands of years, right? True, but a dog’s paws do need protection. There’s a way to treat the feet and a multitude of dog paw problems that can ensue if you don’t. See how many of these facts about a dog’s paws surprise you —and then notice how you’ll start to cross over to the “hey, dog feet are really cute” camp after reading this post:
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.”
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. The dog’s digits, aka toes, take the brunt of the pressure and weight when they walk. Imagine how painful a broken toe or bone abnormality in the foot is to a dog!
A full or partial thickness paw laceration/tear occurs when dogs step on a sharp object, as they are essentially walking around barefoot. Due to the anatomic location of the wound, this type of injury is prone for contamination and bacteria, so immediate veterinary care is warranted. Many dogs tough it out and will continue on with their walk or outdoor activity after a paw wound, which is why diligent pet parents should inspect paws after every outdoor activity (or indoors on a regular basis).
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 trim your dog’s nails or have a qualified groomer or veterinarian/vet tech perform this necessary duty.
In hot weather, paw pads may be burned by hot pavement. In cold weather, pads can be harmed by frostbite or chemicals tossed on icy roads and sidewalks. Excessive or frequent walking or running can also wear a paw pad down.
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.
Raise a paw if your dog’s feet ever have an aroma of Fritos corn chips or perhaps popcorn. Bacteria, yeast, a growth, or injury could all be culprits. If you walked around barefoot, your feet might not smell too good, and in most cases, Frito Feet isn’t a big concern. If it continues and/or physical symptoms of a problem emerge, seek veterinary care.
Practical Tips to Treat the Feet of a Dog
1 Train your dog to allow touching of the feet 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.
2 Iditarod secret: Musher’s Secret is a barrier, food-grade wax for dog paws/pads that acts as an invisible boot. Developed in Canada for sledding dogs, apply a thin coat on pads and between toes, weekly. It dries in seconds and does not stain, is nontoxic, non-allergenic and ranges from $12-$20 depending on size. Good on hot pavement, sand and sand burn, snow and ice, salt and chemicals. Mushers Secret is a fave of mine. I use this year round, carry it with me in the first aid bag, and swear by it. And they don’t pay us to say that.
3 Allergies and pollen/grass issues can wreak havoc on a dog’s paws. The same holds true for winter time chemicals and irritants. Consider dog boots or an item like Pawz, which are natural rubber disposable boots for dogs. Never in a million years did I think I’d have a dog who wore “booties,” but I do. Our pooch is very sensitive to the cold. He loves to play outside in the snow, but snow and ice tend to form in between his toes and pain results. It took us 10 minutes to get Dexter used to wearing Pawz, and we are not alone in using them. Our pal, Sugar Golden Woofs, is a regular year-round user and wearer, too. For those interested, our Cocker Spaniel wears a size large.
4 Hair can cause issues, especially long haired breeds. 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. Boots become a necessity in these cases. If your dog absolutely refuses to wear boots and/or you are not into the idea, keep outdoor walks in extreme weather situations to a minimum, dry feet thoroughly upon return, and even slowly warm the paws in water.
5 Licking dogs can lead to emergency vet visits. Dogs are notorious for licking their feet, and there is no worse time to do this than after a winter walk. Everything from antifreeze to rock salt and calcium chloride lines the street all winter long. Foot pads get irritated, dogs lick, and an array of symptoms from vomiting to diarrhea results. Rinse a dog’s paws in warm water upon return from a walk. Keep a container near the door filled up before you leave for the walk. On return, dunk paws in water and this also takes off any mud or ice. We use a door-hanging towel from Luv and Emma’s Dry Pets all year long after this process.
The bottom line is dog feet get a bad rap. They deserve as much TLC and attention as the rest of their body. Happy trails and here’s to happy, healthy dog feet!
Question: Do you inspect your dog’s feet/paws regularly? Does your dog have a regular foot care routine? Do tell!