Caring for your dogs sensitive paws.
It’s important to properly care for your dog’s feet beyond making sure their nails are trimmed, and it’s pretty simple!
By Cathy Madson, MA, CBCC-KA, CPDT-KA
April 14, 2020
What Exactly Are Paw Pads?
Paw pads consist of a layer of pigmented skin, usually pink or black, covering fatty tissue. Since fat is insulating, these give your pup's paws a bit of protection from colder surfaces in the winter. They’re also an integral part of your dog’s foot structure, and work in conjunction with your dog’s nails (which provide protection for the pads). Paw pads help with your dog’s balance, and provide traction, stability, and shock absorption, too.
You might notice that your dog’s paw pads are rough and calloused or smooth and soft — this all depends on the terrain your dog regularly walks on. If you take your dog hiking often, or they take regular walks out on asphalt, they’ll have more calloused paw pads due to the exposure to rougher terrain. If your dog is older and doesn’t walk as much, or spends most of their outside time running around on grass, their paw pads are likely to be smoother (and more likely to tear when they do walk on rougher surfaces).
Just as we humans can build up calluses by incremental exposure to rough surfaces, you can do the same with your dog if you plan on frequent hikes or know they’ll be walking on rougher surfaces throughout their life. Start with shorter periods of time on these surfaces to let the pad build up toughness over time.
Paw Pad Maintenance and Care
Make it a habit to check your dog’s paw pads regularly. Gently spread their toes apart and inspect the sides of their paw pads and between their toes for any injuries or foreign objects (like burrs, pebbles, or dangerous foxtails). It’s also a good time to check for any swelling or discoloration. Watch to see if your dog shows any signs that they are in pain or have tenderness when examining their foot.
Avoid walking your dog on hot pavement! You can easily check to see if the ground is too hot for your dog to walk on by placing the back of your hand flat on the pavement and try holding it there for 7 seconds. If it’s too hot for you to keep it there for the full time, it’s too hot for your dog to walk on!
If the pavement is that hot, it’s probably too hot for a dog walk or other outdoor activities.
Winter can also be tough on your dog’s paw pads, with snow, ice, and salt. No ice-melt product is completely safe for your dog and many can cause your dog’s paw pads to dry out, crack, or even burn, and can be toxic if your dog ingests it by licking it off their paws. (Read our article about which ice melters are safer for your pet if you need to de-ice your driveway or sidewalk.) Wash off their paws after any trip outside where they've been walking on salt-treated surfaces.
A paw pad injury can be very painful for your dog, whether it’s from ripping a paw pad during excessive running and play, cutting a pad while on a hike, ice build up between their pads, or burning and blistering from walking on hot surfaces. The best way to protect your dog’s paw pads from wear and tear is to have your dog wear booties when they are participating in activities or in environments that could damage their pads. Look for a sturdy, well-fitted, and non-slip boot for your pup.