Healthy paws are an important part of your dog’s well-being. Your dog’s paws bear their body weight and are essential for their daily activities. Dog paws are made up of skin, bones, tendons, connective tissue, and blood vessels.
The pads, which are made up of fats and elastic fibers, help cushion your dog’s joints and bones from shock, protect tissues within their paw, and allow your dog to move around comfortably.
Pads also help dogs tell what kind of surface they are walking on and to regulate their body temperature.
How to Care for Your Dog's Paws
Check paws regularly. Foreign objects like pebbles, weeds, thorns, and bits of glass can get lodged in paws. Try to check your dog’s paws regularly, especially after being outdoors. Use tweezers to gently remove any debris.
Clean regularly. Wipe or wash your dog’s paws as soon as they come in from outside. In winter, this will remove any de-icing products or ice that has gotten stuck. Snow turns into balls of ice that get stuck between their paw pads. A cloth soaked in warm water and gentle massage can help loosen the ice.
Allergies. Some dogs may have contact allergies to certain types of grass. Dogs can also have seasonal allergies to pollen and trees, which can lead to swollen paws. Keeping their paws clean will help to prevent this.
Intense licking. Dogs occasionally lick their paws as part of self-grooming. But if the licking is intense and constant, there might be underlying health issues. These include injuries and pain, allergies, dermatitis, or parasites like lice or fleas.
Some dogs may even lick their paws when the pain is in a different part of their body. Sometimes the licking could be a behavioral issue like anxiety or obsessive compulsive behavior. Don’t wait too long to see a vet. Moisture from the frequent licking could lead to a bacterial or yeast infection.
Trimming. Dog’s paws need to be groomed regularly. Long nails can injure your dog and interfere with their walk. Your dog’s nails shouldn’t touch the ground when they are standing on a flat surface.
The frequency of trimming depends on the breed and how active your dog is. In general, nails should be trimmed monthly.
Moisturize. If your dog’s paws get too dry, they can crack and bleed. Only use moisturizers that are meant for dogs. Those meant for humans can make their pads too soft.
First aid. If your dog’s paws have a minor cut or wound, clean it with an antibacterial solution, apply an antibacterial cream, and then wrap with a light bandage. Deeper cuts should be looked at by a veterinarian. These could indicate a bigger issue like a cut to the tendon.
Ease into exercise. Dogs need to get adjusted to new activities, so ease into a new exercise program with your dog. Like people, dogs can also get running injuries. Running on asphalt and other hard surfaces puts stress on dogs’ paws.
Paw care during summer. It’s important to remember that the sidewalk and asphalt can be dangerously hot for your dog’s paws. If it’s too hot for bare feet, it’s too hot for paws. Try to walk your dog in the morning or evening when it’s hot outside. If possible, walk on the grass.
If your dog’s paws get burnt, see your veterinarian. Meanwhile, cool their paws under running water and bandage them.
Wintertime paw care. Dry and cold winter air can result in cracked paws. The exposed skin on paw pads is also at risk of frostbite. Dog booties may look a bit silly, but they’re great for protecting paws from ice, snow, salt, and de-icing chemicals.
Many common de-icing products use calcium chloride and sodium chloride which can hurt paws, causing blisters and sores. Some of these chemicals are toxic if your dog licks them. Make sure your dog's booties fit well. They should stay in place, but not be so tight that they change your dog’s way of walking.
If your dog won’t wear booties, try applying Vaseline or a paw balm to their paws. These are good salt barriers. Don’t forget to wipe down their paws after being outdoors, even after short walks.
Preventing problems. To avoid paw injuries, check the areas that your dog walks and plays in to make sure that they are clear of debris. When taking your dog out for a walk, avoid broken glass, metal pieces, and other hazards. If it’s not a place you’d want to go barefoot, don’t walk your dog there.
Photo Credit: Photoboyko / Getty Images
Animal Humane Society: “Five tips to keep your dog safe from the summer heat,” “Protect your dog’s paws from winter weather.”
AKC: “7 Ways to Clean Your Dog’s Paws,” “An Ice and Snow Melt That’s Safe for Dogs,” “Why Does My Dog Lick His Paws?”
AMERICAN KENNEL CLUB CANINE HEALTH FOUNDATION: "Feet on The Ground," “Keeping Dogs’ Paws Healthy.”
ASPCA: “Dog Grooming Tips.”
AVMA: “Run, Spot, Run!”
FOUR PAWS International: “HOT ASPHALT.”
VCA: “First Aid for Torn or Injured Foot Pads in Dogs.”