A dog’s paws serve a variety of functions in your dog’s life. While they might not be quite as cute as a dog’s perky or floppy ears or their large and expressive eyes, they still hold a lot of power, which is why you should take dog paw protection seriously as an owner.
Did you know that a dog’s paws are only made up of a handful of bones? The rest of a dog’s foot is made up of ligaments, tendons, blood supply and connective tissue, and skin. Dogs have claws, as well as digital pads (the biggest part of your dog’s paw pad), a metacarpal pad, and a carpal pad. They also have a dewclaw, sometimes even two!
Digital and metacarpal dog paw pads basically serve as your pup’s shock absorbers. These little shock pillows help protect your dog’s joints and bones from the normal wear and tear they experience walking, running, and jumping. Your dog’s carpal pads serve an important purpose too, helping your dog to navigate slippery or uneven ground and act sort of like a set of brakes on a car.
Your dog’s paw pads are made of a thick, fatty tissue that helps to insulate your dog’s foot from extremely cold weather and protects their feet in extreme temperatures (similar to whale blubber). This is because it doesn’t conduct cold as quickly as other types of tissue.
A dog’s paw pads can even get sweaty just like a human’s hands can. This is because your dog’s feet have sweat glands located on the inner layer of skin that sends perspiration out to their outer layer of skin. This helps keep them cool and prevent their paw pads from drying out.
A dog’s paw pads also give dogs some protection while traversing rough terrain. You may even notice dogs that spend a lot of time outside seem to have tougher paw pads then dogs that stay indoors. Dogs that spend a lot of time inside will have paw pads that are smoother and softer to the touch.
Another interesting thing to note about your dog’s feet is that unlike humans, who take most of their weight on the heel and ball of the foot, dogs take most of their weight on their toes when they walk. This makes their toes a very important appendage to keep healthy and functioning properly.
Additionally, dogs have dewclaws and even though they don’t seem to provide much help when it comes to traction or doing things like walking and digging, they do help dogs keep a grip when they are chewing on bones and toys.
There are also certain breeds that use their rear dewclaws for additional stability on the ground that is rough and uneven. Just like there are breeds born with webbed feet to make them great swimmers, while other breeds (especially those from cold climates) are born with large paws designed to help them better navigate walking on ice and snow.
Then there are certain breeds who have small, round, compact feet much like a cat. A dog uses less energy to lift these small, lighter feet, which in turn helps increase their levels of endurance. Some breeds have rabbit feet that look much like the foot of a hare, and some breeds have feet with a very distinctive aroma that smells like your favorite bag of potato chips.
Don’t get too excited though, the smell actually comes from bacteria and fungi, which is kind of gross when you stop to think about it. Luckily dogs with paws like this don’t seem to suffer from any adverse health effects and instead are often affectionately dubbed as having, “Frito feet.”
Dog Paw Protection: A Helpful Guide to Healthy Feet
Overall, a dog’s paws are relatively sturdy and quite fascinating when you study more about them. However, when they do suffer from some sort of paw pad injury, it can be quite painful. The best medicine is to prevent any problems before they start, especially paw problems like broken and torn nails, or burns or frostbite to the paw pad or toes. With that said, here are some tips to help keep your dog’s paws protected and healthy all throughout the year.
Trim Your Dog’s Nails Often
How often you trim a dog’s nails is largely dependent on the breed and the type of lifestyle you live. Just bear in mind that when a dog’s nails are long, it is much easier for them to split or be torn. Not only is a split or torn nail painful, it also can bleed profusely due to the many blood vessels located in the nail. Not to mention how easy it is to end up infected.
Some owners don’t have to trim their dogs’ nails very frequently at all. If you take your dog on daily walks outside on rough pavement, the concrete can act like a sort of natural nail file and wear down your dog’s nails enough that they don’t need to be trimmed. Just keep an eye on that dewclaw if your dog has them, because they don’t reach the pavement and if left untrimmed can create an ingrown nail that is painful and prone to infection. Ultimately you have to figure out what works best for you and your dog.
Avoid Harsh Chemicals on Your Floors
Pay attention to the cleaners that you use for your floors. Chemicals can cause burns and allergic reactions on your dog’s paw. Not only can chemicals be absorbed through the pad and cause harm to your dog, some dogs also may try licking the chemicals, ingesting them even more and can even make themselves sick.
Protect Your Dog’s Paws in Cold Climates
In the winter, you should make a habit of wiping your dog’s paws when he comes back inside. Things like snow, ice, as well as the salt and chemicals often found in both, can cause your dog’s paws harm. To combat this, wipe down their paws on re-entry so that all of the dirt, salt, and ice is removed completely.
Another thing to watch out for if you live in cold, snow-filled areas, is ice patches. Though dogs often love to go outside and romp around in the snow, the reality is, they can still slip and fall, just like people. They can also cut their feet on sharp edges of ice, and then suffer from an injury that is not only painful but very challenging to heel.
You should also make sure you don’t leave your dog outside in the cold for long periods of time. A dog can suffer from frostbite just the same as you can, so keep the playtimes short and frequent, rather than long and infrequent.
Protect Your Dog’s Paws with Boots
Whether you live somewhere hot or cold, consider investing in a pair of doggie boots or foot wax to help protect your dog’s feet. If you do put boots on them, make sure the boots have some sort of traction on the bottoms to help keep your dog from slipping.
Not only can boots keep your dog’s feet warm, they can also help protect them from salts and chemicals, and if you live in hot climates, help protect them from burns. Of course, not all dogs like wearing boots, so if yours protests too much you could try using a foot wax instead. Just keep in mind that foot wax wears off more easily and can be applied improperly, which basically renders it ineffective.
Protect Your Dog’s Paws from Heat
Just like cold climates can pose dangers to your dog’s feet, so can hot climates. Concrete and asphalt soak up the sun’s rays and can get hot enough to fry an egg in some locations. In general, use your best judgment. If you wouldn’t walk on it barefoot, then you probably should not allow your dog to walk on it either. At least not without some kind of foot protection or booties.
If you do have to take your dog outside or let them out in the heat of the day, walk them on grassy terrains and avoid hot pavement altogether. Dogs can also burn their paw pads from walking on hot sand, so keep that in mind too, if you and your dog are beach lovers.
If you do choose to allow your dog to walk on services that are hot, you run the risk of your dog suffering a burn injury, coupled with blistering and perhaps even a loss of tissue. Not to mention the whole kit and caboodle of pain they will suffer needlessly.
Unfortunately, even though you may keep eagle eyes on your dog, the truth is they can still accidentally spend a little too much time walking on hot ground. If you notice your dog is limping or acting lame, or if you notice your dog licking at their paw, or there is bleeding or the paw pad is red, your dog may have a burn.
Another tip during hot summer months is to plan your outdoor excursions and walks during cooler times of the day so that it’s comfy for both of you. You can walk early in the morning or late in the evening and supplement your walks with lots of indoor play.
Make Checking Your Dog’s Paws a Regular Habit
Always examine your dog’s paws after walking outside, whether you are walking on soft, flat terrain, or hiking a rough, rocky trail. You should make a habit of checking their feet to ensure they have not been burned or injured in some way, because although you can watch where they are walking and try to avoid problem areas, they can still accidentally step on things like bits of glass or sharp pieces of metal. This can end up cutting their paws and causing injury.
Dogs commonly pick up burs and thorns too, which can cause injury. Or they may step on sharp rocks or sticks that can lacerate their foot or penetrate the paw pad and get embedded. Note that if an object becomes too deeply embedded for you to remove easily on your own, you will need to see your vet so that they can sedate your dog and remove it themselves.
If your dog’s paw is bleeding, you will need to apply pressure to try to stop the flow. This can be difficult depending on the type of injury, especially if there is an object stuck there. You run the risk of embedding the object further if you press too hard, which is why getting your dog to the vet is important.
Train Your Dog Early with Paw Play
A lot of dogs don’t like having their paws touched, so much so that they get antsy and even snappy. But dogs should be trained from puppyhood to become accustomed to having their paws handled and their nails trimmed. Otherwise, if they aren’t trained early on and are touchy about having their feet messed with, it can make treating any future paw injuries difficult to say the least. It can make grooming tough as well.
At the end of the day, you should make checking your dog’s paws a routine affair. Even if your dog doesn’t seem to be bothered by their paws, you should still look at them and inspect them and make sure all is well.
That way, if you notice something even a little off, you can act quickly and address the problem before it gets out of control, or before further injury or damage occurs. Be proactive with your dog paw protection, and you’ll have a happier, healthier canine as a result.