Regular grooming is a part of canine ownership. You’re probably well aware that brushing their fur is necessary, especially for dogs with long coats. However, grooming doesn’t end there. You’ll also need to trim their nails and do other tasks to keep your pup healthy. We recommend not waiting until there are obvious signs that something isn’t right.
Caring for your pup’s paws isn’t difficult or time consuming, and handling your dog’s paws frequently will make it easier. Your vet will likely even thank you when it comes to your pet’s annual exam. If you haven’t taken a good look at your pup’s paws in a while, let’s begin with a few terms and descriptions to get you up to speed.
Paw Anatomy 101
A dog’s paws aren’t unlike our human feet or hands, except they have thicker skin and more padding, i.e., insulating fat. The four digital pads are the equivalent of our fingers, with the bottom, upside-down “V” one like our palm. Back toward the wrist-ankle portion is the carpal pad. Dogs also have claws that are always visible (unlike cats’ claws, which can retract).
You can typically see a dog’s trail in mud or snow because of the visible claw marks. They are often not noticeable in wild canines, such as foxes or coyotes, because they wear them down while running.
Your pup’s paws take a great deal of punishment just from the surfaces on which they walk. The pads are excellent shock absorbers for an animal that can run up to 45 mph (in the case of the Greyhound).
There is also a dewclaw on the inside of each of your pup’s front legs; some breeds will have one on all four limbs. Dewclaws are like our thumbs. While they may seem to serve no purpose in some dogs, in others, such as the Great Pyrenees, they can help the pup get better traction and thus, avoid injury when traversing rugged terrain.
Signs of Problems
Your dog’s paws are probably just as sensitive to yours when it comes to skin conditions or injury. If something is wrong, you’ll notice it right away by your pet’s behavior.
Don’t be surprised if your pup won’t let you touch their paws. If something is obviously wrong, we suggest contacting your vet. In some cases, mild sedation may be necessary to do a thorough exam.
Dogs aren’t unlike people when it comes to their feet. Injuries or other conditions make it difficult for them to do just about anything. Damaged paws often take longer to heal, especially if your pet becomes obsessive about them and licks them constantly. That can also increase the risk of secondary bacterial infections. The condition of your pup’s paws depends on the types of surfaces on which they walk.
Their paws are more likely to be rougher if you walk your pet frequently on pavement. Likewise, a dog that gets their exercise running around in the backyard may have softer pads. If that’s the case, we suggest transitioning slowly to new surfaces to prevent blisters and other issues.
8 Ways to Take Care of a Dog’s Paw Pads
1. Make It a Game.
Ask your dog to shake or give you their paw, followed by a treat. This will help create a positive association between the two things. We suggest teaching your pup to do this trick with either front paw.
2. Examine Your Pup’s Nails.
Nails that are too long can curl over and hurt your dog’s pads. Also, look at their shape and color. Ringworm is a fungal disease that can affect your pet’s toenails and cause them to grow misshapen. If the nails are long, you should trim them instead of waiting for the telltale click-click sound of the nails on a hard surface to tell you that it’s time.
3. Inspect the Space Between Each of Their Toes.
If your pup likes to run in the woods, chances are that they picked up burrs or other debris. Look for any signs of redness or injury, especially if your pup is reluctant to let you hold their paw. You can use an antibacterial ointment on minor cuts. Leave more serious ones for your vet to treat.
4. Trim the Hair Around the Paw With Blunt-Ended Scissors.
Carefully cut the hair around the paw. That will help prevent ice from collecting between their toes during winter. Gently cut out any mats or burs that you may find. You’ll help prevent a recurrence of these issues if you keep the hair in check.
5. Examine Your Dog’s Pads.
First, check for any signs of injury. If the pads feel particularly rough, you can apply a balm to soften them and prevent cracking. Be sure to use only products formulated for dogs. Human products may contain toxic ingredients. Remember that just because you can use it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s safe for your pup. Besides, you probably won’t lick your feet after applying it, as your dog inevitably will.
Don’t forget to check their dewclaws and clip them as necessary. Some owners forget to check these, causing painful ingrown nails to develop.
6. Repeat the Process With the Other Front Paw.
Treats work well here, especially if you’ve taught your pet to use either paw to shake. It’s essential to examine these front paws carefully, especially if your pup likes to dig, as that makes them more prone to injury. Like people, dogs have a right-left paw preference. Humans are primarily right-handed, whereas it’s about 50/50 with canines.
You can find out which one your pup is by observing which paw they use to grab hold of a toy. It can also explain why your pet might be hesitant to give you one paw over the other, as the less dominant hand might be weaker than the other.
7. Encourage Your Dog to Lie Down to Work on Their Back Feet.
It’s essential to get your pet to lie down to work on their back feet. Make it into a game for fostering a positive experience. You’ll find that if you practice this when grooming isn’t involved, it’ll be easier whenever you have to check your pup’s feet. You may find that your pet doesn’t welcome handling of their back paws as readily as their front paws. That makes regular care essential.
8. Repeat Each Step With Both Back Paws.
The process is the same as with the front paws, down to the moisturizing of any rough pads. If your dog has rear dewclaws, be sure to check them too.
Taking care of your dog’s paws is a recommended part of grooming. You can stop problems before they develop into painful issues. We can’t emphasize enough how vital it is to regularly handle your pet’s feet and ears. It’ll make your job (and your vet’s job) quicker and easier if your pup is used to it. Consider it bonding time with your dog that will help build trust between you.
Next on your reading list:
- 10 Best Paw Balms for Dogs – Reviews & Top Picks
- Cat Paw vs Dog Paw: Vet-Reviewed Differences Explained
Featured image credit: Binikins, Shutterstock