How many times have you clicked on an article that was supposed to be the ultimate guide to something, only to see a couple of paragraphs of information that you already knew?
Not this time.
We have done our best to research and compile the best information on paw care available. The result? The most complete no-cost guide to caring for your pooch's pads on the planet.
In this article, you will find credible, actionable information to improve your dog's quality of life. How can you be sure it's credible and accurate?
We have included links to every source - including the American Veterinary Medical Association, Colorado State University, The Chicago Tribune, medical case studies published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association and many others.
At Baely's, paws are our passion. Our mission is to use our business to help as many dogs as possible through the funding of Baely's Foster Sanctuary and by providing free resources like this one for our customers.
So, let's get ready to take a deep dive into The Ultimate Guide to Caring for Your Dog's Paws.
Types of Paws
Let's begin by understanding that not all paws are the same.
In general physiological terms, all dogs have basically the same paw structure. You won’t find one breed with an extra toe, or an opposable thumb – but you will find variations in the overall shape, size and evolutionary adaptations based on your dog’s breed.
The American Kennel Club (AKC) defines this type of paw as a "neat, round foot, with high-arched toes held closely together". This type of paw is usually found in working breed dogs like the Doberman and Akita. Thought to help improve endurance, provide excellent grip and prevent injuries, this paw's primary characteristic is a shorter third digital bone.
- Defined as a "foot on which the two center digits are appreciably longer than the outside and inside toes of the foot, and the arching of the toes is less marked, making the foot appear longer overall" by the American Kennel Club, this paw shape is credited with helping breeds such as the Greyhound achieve incredible speeds in shorter sprints.
- As you might imagine, the webbed foot is characterized by "toes connected by a skin membrane; important for water-retrieving dogs, providing help in swimming".
Now that we know the overall shape and function of your pup’s paws, we can look at its physiology a little more closely. All canine paws share the same anatomy regardless of the overall type or shape of the paw.
- Located on the highest portion of the paw area, we can think of the carpal pad as your pup's emergency brakes. The carpal pad is used to increase friction on steep grades or in emergency situations that require prompt deceleration.
- Dew claws are widely misunderstood. In some areas of the Southern United States, it is believed that the presence of rear dew claws is an indicator of immunity to snake venom (there is no scientific evidence to support this theory). Others believe that the dew claw is a useless appendage that should be removed. In reality, the dew claw is likely the canine evolutionary equivalent of the human thumb. A recent study in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association shows that absence of the front dew claws increases the probability of paw or "toe" injury of around 200%.
- The metacarpal pad is the load-stabilization portion of your dog's paws. Daniel D. Smeak, DVM, DACVS of Colorado State University does an excellent job of summarizing the importance and function of healthy carpal pads in his paper PAD REPAIR AND RECONSTRUCTION:
- "Paw pads of dogs and cats are durable specialized skin structures that provide cushioning, abrasion resistance, and traction. Loss or injury of pad tissue, despite an otherwise normal limb, can result in complete loss of limb function, so preserving pad function may be critical to the well-being of a small animal patient."
- The digital pads are the pads on your dog's "toes". The canine is a digitgrade species -- meaning that it walks on its toes, instead of its heels. While the metacarpal pads bear more overall weight, the digital pads bear the vast majority of force while your pup runs or walks. A cut or injured digital pad can be a serious problem for your dog's quality of life, inhibiting his or her ability to run or react quickly, causing pain with each step.
- While not retractable like cats, your dog's claws are a living organ that is vital to your pup's overall mobility. The claws are used for digging, stabilization, traction, agility and dexterity. If not properly maintained, your dog's claws can be a serious source of discomfort for your dog.
With a basic understanding of your dog’s paw anatomy, we can better determine the more critical aspects of caring for your pup’s paws. Here’s our top 10 list of paw care tips to help make sure your dog has the best possible quality of life and is mobile well into his or her golden years.
1) Inspect and Clean
When it’s bath time, make sure you take a little extra time to thoroughly inspect your pooch’s pads. Make sure you spread the toes apart to look for embedded rocks or small pebbles.
Think about the last time you had a pebble inside your shoe…it’s not pleasant. Tiny rocks, sand or dirt can get embedded in the fur surrounding your dog’s paws. Sometimes your dog can chew or lick these out (ever wonder why your dog is licking or chewing his paws?) while other times, they dig in and cause cuts, scrapes or pain.
Clean the paw pads and between the toes very well. Since your dog walks barefoot, he steps in some pretty gross stuff. Gross stuff causes bacteria and fungus to grow in the paws. Have you ever thought your dog’s paws smelled like Frito’s corn chips? That’s a sure sign of a fungus growing on the paw pads.
Also check the paw pads thoroughly for signs of calluses or cracking. This is a clear sign that your pup’s paws need moisture. More on that next….
Many people don’t understand the importance of properly maintaining and hydrating their dog’s paws. Think of it this way…if you walked barefoot for your entire life, your feet would have to develop hard calluses as a protection mechanism. With each step on rocky ground or pavement, the constant friction or abrasion would heal harder to try to prevent future injuries.
Your dog does walk barefoot. If not moisturized regularly, your dog will develop tough calluses on his or her paw pads. In a very short time, these calluses can cause problems.
Has your dog ever slipped on a hardwood or tile floor? Think of a basketball that is hard and full of air sitting on your hardwood floor. Very little of the basketball is actually in direct contact with the floor, right?
Now image pressing down with all of your weight on the same hard ball; because the ball is so hard and full of air – very little of the ball will spread out to increase the ball’s “footprint” where it is in contact with the floor. The basketball represents your dog’s paw callus. It keeps the skin from spreading out and gripping the floor.
Now imagine the same ball, but we let some air out. The ball isn’t as rigid. Now if we apply weight, more of the ball spreads out to increase the contact area, or “footprint”. This represents a well-hydrated paw pad. It is soft and supple to allow the paw to spread out and grip the floor.
What is the best way to hydrate your pup’s paws?
We recommend Baely’s Paw Shield to keep your dog’s paws hydrated and moisturized. Baely’s is made with all-natural ingredients that were sourced from FDA-Registered companies in the United States. Baely’s is completely safe for your dog to ingest. All of the ingredients are food-grade and canine-safe.
3) Massage Your Dog’s Paws
This one may sound silly, but there is a very practical reason for giving your pup regular paw massages. Your dog needs to be fully comfortable and non-defensive with having his or her paws touched.
Many pet parents have experience with their pup being snappy and aggressive when it comes time for a home claw trimming. In fact, there are countless pups that require supervised veterinary sedation for a simple puppy pedicure.
To make claw trimming a non-stressful event, it’s important to make sure your dog is conditioned from a very young age to having his or her paws touched. By using the paw massage technique, you can turn trim time into relaxation time – saving your dog a lot of anxiety and you a lot of money.
We recommend that you use Baely’s Paw Shield to give your dog a regular paw massage. Apply Baely’s Paw Shield and gently, but firmly, rub it into your pup’s paw pads and toes. The canine-safe essential oils will help relax your dog during this time, and make it a pleasant event – instead of a costly and unnecessary trip to the vet.
Watch this video to see how pleasant a paw massage can be!
Thinking of taking your furry friend for a run? That’s a great idea, especially when you consider that the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention’s 2017 study concluded that 56% of all American dogs are obese – up from 54% the previous year. Make sure you ramp things up gently, especially if your dog is older or has led a less-than-active lifestyle.
Make sure you talk it over with your vet before you begin training for your next 5K, 10K or marathon. Depending on the size of your dog, running any distance can be as much as 10 times more strenuous on your canine companion than it is on you. Smaller dog breeds face challenges when scaling the distances run compared with their human running mates, while large breeds suffer from joint problems that can be exacerbated when their paws pound the pavement.
An unconditioned dog can experience micro-fractures in the bones at the digital pads. Remember that canines are Digitigrade mammals – carrying the bulk of their weight on the toes instead of the heels. This would be similar to humans running and walking on our tip toes.
Remember High School physics? Force equals mass times acceleration squared (F=mv2) - if your dog is running, the toe bones are subjected to exponentially more force than if he were walking. Make sure your pup has had time to acclimate to any new training plan.
5) First Aid
So you’re putting away the dishes, and the cat jumps on the counter. As the snobby little fur-ball expertly navigates the freshly washed obstacles, your dog notices a squirrel outside the dining room window. Making sure to protect you and his house from the savage rodent, your dog barks authoritatively – as required by the Canine Code of Ethics Manual (section 3, paragraph 2 – Engaging a Potentially Hostile Rodent)…causing the cat to jump and dart in the middle of the last leg of the feline obstacle course you’ve graciously provided for him on the counter.
You’ve seen this episode of “Living in My House with Animals” before, so with the graceful pirouette of a svelte Russian ballerina – and, with the velcro hands of an All-Pro NFL receiver, you gracefully catch the still-warm wine glasses 6 inches before they become an extremely complex and sharp 3-D jigsaw puzzle.
Sound familiar? No? Yeah, never happens that way with me either. The story usually ends with several obscenities with the broom and dustpan in hand – telling the family to be careful in the kitchen because the #%@* cat broke another glass and that was our last matching set.
This scenario (or one very similar) is also dangerous for your dog. Remember that your pup is always barefoot…and tiny shards of glass can also cut dog paws. The same is true for many other hazards both indoors and out.
The American Veterinary Medical Association has compiled a comprehensive list of first aid supplies that are essential for pet parents. This list and the first aid recommendations emphasize the use of canine-safe medicines and supplies. For example, human Band-Aids or Bandages are not recommended for your pets. For a detailed list of how to provide the best first aid for your pup, visit the AVMA First Aid guide here: American Veterinary Medical Association.
6) Summer Care
When it comes to summer time paw care, it is very important that we make one thing clear. Black pavement can be dangerous for any exposed skin.
The color black absorbs heat. Pavement has a very high mass to volume ratio and retains heat very well. The combination of these two factors during the most intense part of the day in the summer can be painfully dangerous for any creature with exposed skin – including you and your dog.
At 5pm on a sunny 90 degree (F) day, the temperature of black pavement exceeds 145 degrees (F). Direct contact will cause burns. Unless your dog is one of the very few that will wear rubber-soled boots, do not walk or run with your dog on black pavement during the hottest part of a summer day.
For other surfaces, such as normal light-colored concrete, sand or grass, the use of a very high quality paw balm will help protect and keep your dog’s paws safe. Baely’s Paw Shield was made with a blend of high melting point beeswax that was designed to help act as a buffer between your dog’s paws and the ground.
Application of Baely’s Paw Shield prior to walks during the summer can help defend the paws from the extreme conditions while keeping them conditioned and hydrated.
7) Winter Care
During the winter, your dog’s paws come in contact with some of the harshest conditions possible. Frozen ground, ice, snow and salt cause significant damage to the outermost layers of the paws. Road salt, in particular, wreaks havoc on your pup’s poor paws.
The salt used on roads isn’t the same as the salt you use on your popcorn. Road salt isn’t just salt. In most areas of the country, road salt is combined with anti-freezing and melting agents that are toxic if ingested.
Road salts are unpurified and contain traces of highly toxic heavy metals, including lead and mercury. Additionally, as reported by US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health in 2012, to prevent caking and improve coverage, most road salt mixtures contain ferrocyanide – which is a known carcinogen.
After your dog’s bare paws run or walk on these chemicals, they are often times raw and painful. Your dog’s first reaction is to lick his paws to stop the pain. By licking his paws, he is ingesting a highly toxic mixture that can lead to severe illness or worse. Symptoms of salt poisoning include vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite, drooling, seizures, coma or even death.
Frostbite is another cold weather concern. In an interview with the Chicago Tribune, Michael San Filippo, spokesman for American Veterinary Medical Association, states that accumulation of ice in and around your dog’s paws can be very painful. This is commonly caused by the small amount of sweat that is produced between your dog’s toes. This sweat freezes and attracts the ice and snow – forming “snow paws”.
While “snow paws” may look funny, they are no laughing matter. While dog paws are more resistant to frostbite than human feet, they are not immune to frostbite. Dr. Ernest Ward, DVM states, “The paws, ears and tail are the most common tissues to be affected. If a dog is wet or damp, these areas are more vulnerable to frostbite.”
Protecting your dog’s paws during the winter is extremely important. Many pet parents attempt to use boots or booties on their dog. While this sounds good in theory, many have tried and failed. Why? Dogs do not like them on their paws. Dogs use their paws to help them sense the world around them. Many dogs find boots to be disorienting.
Baely’s Paw Shield offers your dog an all-natural, non-toxic and easy to apply alternative to boots. Simply apply Baely’s Paw Shield prior to wintertime walks. In cold weather, Baely’s will harden to form a durable barrier between your pup’s paws and the elements.
Since Baely’s is hydrophobic (meaning it doesn’t like water), it helps to repel water away from your pooch’s paws, keeping them warm and dry. The natural plant butters and beeswax blend provide a physical barrier to road salt – helping to prevent irritation and injury.
8) Prevent Injuries
“An ounce of prevention”, as we all know, “is worth a pound of cure”. The same sound advice also applies to your dog’s paws – except he or she isn’t able to predict and perceive potential dangers with the same level of sophistication that we can. The human, with all of our flaws, has a massively evolved cerebral cortex that is unrivaled in the known universe.
Our ability to predict, avoid, prevent or plan for potential dangers is what sets our species apart from all other inhabitants of planet Earth. With this ability, also comes great responsibility. Since we (as humans) befriended the canine species as our most favored life-long friend, we also have to take responsibility for their safety.
We make our dogs do all kinds of things that no one else would ever do for us – and they, without gripe, complaint, belly-ache or back-handed comment… happily do it. We make them fetch, shake, roll-over, beg, retrieve, and a litany of other commands for our entertainment.
The next time you take your dog outside for a walk, or to the park to play fetch, use some common sense to make sure your pup doesn’t get injured. A few good measures include a quick assessment of the ground to pick-up any debris like glass, sharp rocks or other debris that could cause injury. It’s also a good idea to use your hand to check the temperature of the pavement – if it burns your hand – it’ll burn your pup’s paws too.
Lynn Buzhardt, DVM provides an excellent overview of paw injury treatment and prevention in her summary at the VCA Hospitals website. Follow this link to read her recommendations: VCA Hospitals.
9) Trim Paw Hair
How many pet parents regularly inspect their pooch’s paws for tufts of fur between the toes? We would guess not very many. Why? It’s not something that is familiar for us as humans. We’ve never experienced hairy feet and can’t relate to how it affects our canine companions. It’s hard to empathize with unshared experiences.
To give us some perspective, consider the following quote from wagwalking.com:
“For your dog, walking on large tufts of hair between his toes and pads is akin to you trying to walk around with a sock that has tucked up under your foot. In other words, it is painful and miserable. Left to grow too long, the hair can make walking very difficult and could result in excessive strain being placed on his joints and muscles.”
So, image walking all day, every day with over-sized socks crumpled around and under your feet. I would imagine your feet would feel raw from the constant friction, and bruised from the uneven pressure. In other words, pretty miserable.
10) Clip Your Dog’s Claws
The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty of Animals has provided an excellent guide for caring for your pup's claws. The text of their article is quoted below:
"As a rule of thumb, a dog’s nails should be trimmed when they just about touch the ground when he or she walks. If your pet’s nails are clicking or getting snagged on the floor, it’s time for a trim. For leisurely living dogs, this might mean weekly pedicures, while urban pooches who stalk rough city sidewalks can go longer between clippings.
Finding Nail Clippers for Your Dog
There are two basic styles of nail clippers for dogs: a scissors type and a guillotine type. They both work equally well, so choose the design that you’re most comfortable with.
Helping Dogs with Sensitive Feet
Some dogs don’t like to have their feet touched, so it’s always a good idea to get your dog used to it before you attempt to clip his nails—ideally, this should start when he’s a pup. Rub your hand up and down the leg and then gently press each individual toe, and be sure to give her lots of praise and treats! Within a week or two of daily foot massage, your dog should feel more comfortable with a nail trim.
Before beginning a pup pedicure, tire your dog out with some vigorous exercise and enlist an assistant to help you hold her down.
How to Trim Your Dog’s Nails
- Begin by spreading each of your dog's feet to inspect for dirt and debris.
- Take your dog’s toe and hold it firmly, but gently. Hold your trimmer so that you’re cutting the nail from top to bottom at a slight angle, not side to side, and insert a very small length of nail through the trimmer’s opening to cut off the tip of each nail. Don’t trim at a blunt angle as to maintain the existing curvature of the nail.
- Cut a little bit of nail with each pass until you can see the beginning of a circle—still nail-colored—appear on the cut surface. The circle indicates that you are nearing the quick, a vein that runs into the nail, so it’s time to stop that nail and move on to the next.
- If your dog has black nails, however, the quick will not be as easily discernible, so be extra careful. If you do accidentally cut into the quick, it may bleed, in which case you can apply some styptic powder or corn starch to stop the bleeding.
- Once the nails have been cut, use an emery board to smooth any rough edges.
What to Do if You Cut Your Dog’s Quick
If you do hit the quick, your dog will probably yelp and might even struggle. This is a good time to end the session—but not before applying styptic powder or corn starch to the bleeding nail tip. Apply a little bit of pressure as you press the powder into the wound to make sure it sticks. If bleeding continues for more than a few minutes, please alert your veterinarian, who can check your dog for clotting disorders.
Helping Fearful Dogs
Some dogs show fearful or aggressive behavior when faced with nail trimming. Watch carefully for signs of distress such as panting, drooling, trembling, whining, freezing, cowering, tail-tucking, growling, snarling or snapping. Even with the most patient and gradual of introductions, there are dogs who seem unable to get over their terror.
If your dog falls into this category, do not force him to submit. See if his veterinarian or a professional groomer has better luck getting the job done—if not, it’s a good idea to make an appointment with a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist (CAAB), a veterinary behaviorist (Dip ACVB) or a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT) to work on the underlying issues at hand."
In the end, the paw health is critically important to canine life. With a little care, some common sense and a basic knowledge of paw functionality, we can be better stewards of our pup's health and make sure they maintain an excellent quality of life and mobility well into their golden years.