You might not think much about the condition of your dog’s paws, but foot injuries or problems can be as uncomfortable for him as they are for you. It’s important to check your dog’s paws regularly for any issues, and to take steps to keep them healthy and protected.
With its claws and leathery pads, a dog’s paw looks tough and resilient. But many conditions can negatively impact paw health, causing pain and discomfort. With a basic knowledge of paw anatomy – and a general understanding of how to prevent problems from occurring (or worsening) — you can help keep your dog’s feet safe, healthy and comfortable.
Common paw problems
A dog’s paws are designed to protect the bones of his feet, and while the pads may be tough, they can be affected with common problems and conditions.
- Allergies — itchy irritated skin can cause the dog to chew or bite at his feet, worsening the inflammation and making the skin bleed.
- Seasonal hazards – these include chemicals or salt used during the winter or minor burns from hot asphalt during the summer. Consider a set of boots to protect your dog’s paws from damage. Depending on where you live, seasonal problems can also include foxtails, a plant with arrow-shaped pointed seeds that can get under the skin and cause an abscess.
- Cuts, abrasions, lacerations – always watch for broken glass, sharp stones and other objects that could cut your dog’s paw pads. And never underestimate how painful a thorn in the paw can be! Again, dog boots can come in handy here.
- Nail problems – losing or cracking a nail can be very painful, while nails that are left to grow too long negatively impacting the way the dog walks and runs. More on this below.
- Cracked or dry pads – if your dog’s skin gets dry, a common problem in colder weather when central heating lowers humidity in the home, his pads can get cracked and crusty.
- Growths — a dog’s paws can develop warts, corns or even tumors. Any growth that appears on your dog’s paws or between his toes needs to be evaluated by a veterinarian.
Keep in mind that whenever a dog’s paw is cut or the skin cracks, there’s an opportunity for bacteria, yeast and fungi to cause infections.
Natural prevention and treatment tips
While it’s always important to have your veterinarian check your dog’s paws in the event of a problem – licking and biting at the feet is a red flag — there are also a few things you can do at home to help prevent issues from developing or worsening.
For example, paw soaks can help with cracked pads. Soak the affected paw in Epsom salt dissolved in warm water. Typically, a few tablespoons of salt in one cup of water should do the trick. Have your dog stand in a plastic tub of the mixture for at least 30 seconds. This will help draw out any infection, and should also help with inflammation.
If your dog’s paw pads are abraded or cut, cleaning them regularly will help prevent yeast, fungi and bacteria from causing infection.
During the winter, a good practice after walks is to wash your dog’s paws in warm water to rinse away salt and chemicals. Consider adding chamomile tea bags to the soak water; chamomile has natural soothing properties. For minor burns to the paw pads, apply a gentle antibacterial wash and cover the paw with a dog boot. For serious burns, visit your vet immediately. As always, dog boots are a great first line of defense in winter or summer.
Nail trimming is crucial to maintaining good paw health. A dog’s nails provide stability. Excessive nail length results in an altered gait and the potential accentuation of lameness problems. Untrimmed nails can also become ingrown, resulting in abscess formation.
“Mobility is a dog’s greatest asset, and it’s tough to be optimally mobile without healthy paws,” adds Dr. Julie Buzby, veterinarian and founder of Dr. Buzby’s ToeGrips for Dogs. “So many of my new patients present to me with long nails, and a nail trim is typically the fastest, least expensive, and most dramatic way I can help them.”
A dog’s paws are key to his mobility – and therefore the entire well-being.
Make sure to keep your dog’s nails trimmed – I recommend at least two times per month. If you’re not comfortable trimming them yourself, it can be done by a groomer or vet tech. “I once had a client tell me she had her dog’s nails trimmed once a year and thought this was the ‘norm’,” says Dr. Buzby. “She was a lovely woman who loved her dog deeply, but she had never been educated on the topic, nor really thought about it. I asked her — what if you trimmed your toenails once a year? A lightbulb went on and she became a nail care convert.”
Signs and symptoms of a paw issue
The common clinical signs of paw problems in dogs are limping, licking, biting and chewing at the foot, or bleeding. Excessive licking can also generate a yeast infection called malassezia, something you want to avoid this at all costs.
Regularly check all four of your dog’s paws by looking between the toes, examining the top of the feet, and between the pads on the bottom of each paw.
You’ll now see how important it is to check your dog’s paws often. It’s good practice to create a routine (using positive reinforcement) where you always check your dog’s paws after a walk or hike, whatever the weather. Pick a time when you’re hanging out and relaxing so it becomes a low-stress activity. Feel between the pads and check for any debris, sand (if you were at the beach) and thorns. Some dogs are more sensitive to paw discomfort than others. The minute anything is bothering my own dog, Walter, he lifts his paw immediately so I can do a check and “save him” from a thorn or any other debris. With time, patience and positive reinforcement, your own dog may become just as cooperative!