When did you last walk any distance in bare feet?

The chances are it’s been a while, and never on frozen ice or a baking-hot sidewalk. Spare a thought then for your dog’s paws.

Learn how to take care of your dog's paws after daily walking:

  • Dog paw anatomy: What’s normal and what’s not
  • Health hazards for dog paws: Winter worries and summer specials.
  • The daily paw check: What to be alert for

Yes, dogs have tough pads; but they need regular care. Think of a dog’s paws like expensive Italian leather shoes: They’re functional and look good, but cleaning and polishing keeps them supple for longer.

Dog Paw Anatomy

That iconic doggy paw print is left by four digital pads (the toe pads) with the larger metacarpal (metatarsal on the back leg) pad at the center. Thus, those digital pads are like finger pads, whilst the metacarpal/tarsal pad is a palm or sole print.  

Dog paw anatomy includes a carpal/ tarsal or ‘stop’ pad, slightly higher up the leg, but these don’t leave a print on the ground. These pads matter when the dog does an emergency stop, as they act like brakes and protect the delicate skin of the wrist from abrasion.

Canine foot pads are wonderful feats of natural engineering. The tough outer is made up of specialized epidermis, as tough a shoe leather. This covers an inner fatty cushion, which is a shock absorber. Thus dog pads work like shock-absorbing running shoes, and cushion the paw joints from damage.

Tipping each toe are nails or claws. These are made up of keratin (similar to our finger nails) and give the dog traction when running or digging.

Hazards for Healthy Dog Paws

From overgrown claws to dry pads, baking sidewalks to ice balls, foreign bodies to parasites there are lots of hazards to healthy dog paws.

You can help keep paws pain-free by checking them daily, especially after a walk. But first it helps to have an idea of the hazards to healthy dog paws to know what to look out for.

Problem Dog Paws?

Is your dog licking or chewing at paws?

This can be a sign the dog needs veterinary attention for problems such as an allergy or parasitic disease. Clues that your dog needs to see a vet include:

  • Limping
  • Part or all of the paw is swollen
  • Bleeding or broken skin
  • The paw doesn't look the same as the other paws
  • Pain when touched or uncharacteristic grumpiness when the paw is handled
  • Constant licking or chewing at the paw
  • A discharge from between the toes

If the dog isn't unduly distressed, check out the paw to see if there’s an obvious problem such as a thorn in a pad..

Here are our suggestions for your dog’s daily paw check:

Feel you dog’s paws. Are the pads soft and supple, or rough, dry, and chapped?

  • Rough or cracked pads require moisturizing to restore their suppleness. Source a pet-safe paw balm, to nourish dry pads and form a protective barrier against abrasion.

Check the claws: Are they too long, cracked, or broken?

  • Overly long nails force the toes to splay out, and are more prone to snapping or cracking. If you don’t feel confident about how to cut long claws without damaging the quick, have a groomer or vet tech show you what to do.

Feathered paws: Check the fur between the toes is a trimmed and not knotted

  • Overlong fur between the toes is uncomfortable. It also sweeps up twigs and debris, which can lead to painful tangles. Trim this fur regularly to prevent problems.

After every walk: Lift each paw to check between the toes and the pads. Look for stones, knots, foreign bodies (such as grass awns), cuts, and parasites (such as ticks). Spotting these straight away makes them easier to sort out.

Seasonal Hazards for Dog Paws

Each season comes with a fresh set of hazards for healthy dog paws. Here’s what to watch out for.

In Summer Especially:

  • Hot sidewalks: Is the sidewalk too hot for my dog? Follow the ‘Seven-second’ rule. If you can’t hold your hand on the tarmac for at least seven seconds, then it’s too hot for the dog.
  • Grass awns: Grass seeds are like tiny darts. The sharp tip embeds between the toes and migrates under the skin. Check after every walk and remove the awns while still on the surface.
  • Tick checks: The nooks and crannies in dog paws are great places for ticks to hide. A daily check to remove these parasites could prevent a tick-borne infection.
  • Parasites: Towards the autumn, harvest mites may bite between the toes causing irritation and signs such as a dog chewing paws. These tiny mites are orange-red in color, but can be hard to see.
  • Sharp objects: Broken glass, nails, thorns etc., will cut or stick into pads causing the dog to limp.

Winter Worries

  • Freezing conditions: Ice and snow are tough on paws. Rough ice can cut pads, whilst extreme temperatures can cause frostbitten paws. Use paw balm to condition the pads, and consider doggy booties when the temperature plummets
  • Salt balls: Another winter hazard is de-icing chemicals. These are often irritant to the skin and can be toxic if the dog licks their paws. Wash and dry those dog paws after each walk.
  • Ice balls between toes: Long fur traps ice and turns dog paws into snow paws. This is uncomfortable and can cause thermal damage to the skin. Trim the fur regularly to reduce the risks.
  • Wet fur: Fur that’s constantly wet can weaken and macerate the skin, making it vulnerable to infection. Be sure to dry dog paws to prevent this happening.
  • Mud: Mud contains bacteria, which when in prolonged contact with the skin can set up infection. Another reason to keep those paws clean in muddy weather.

Paws and effect!

A simple daily check helps keep your dog on their feet. Follow the steps above for healthy dog paws whatever the season, come rain or shine.