Your four-legged friend’s feet play an important role in his daily life. They provide insulation to keep him warm in cold temperatures, contain sweat glands to cool him off in the heat, absorb shock, provide traction and balance, bear the majority of his weight, and allow him to run to greet you at the end of a long day.
Unfortunately, this means they also endure a lot of wear and tear. Watch out for these paw problems—and catch any issues early by regularly checking your dog’s digits.
Protect Them from the Elements
It’s important to be especially mindful of your dog’s paws during the summer and winter months, when temperatures tend to be most extreme.
Paw pads are sensitive and can burn easily on hot surfaces—including pavement, concrete, and even sand—when the sun is out. Not sure how hot is too hot? Test the surface with your hand. If it is too hot for your palm, it is too hot for your dog’s paws.
Signs of pad burns include:
- Redness or discoloration
- Limping or reluctance to walk
- Licking or holding up the paw
You can avoid burns by walking your pet in the morning or evening when the temperature is cooler, walking on grassy surfaces or dirt paths, or using protective booties.
Of course, winter weather can wreak havoc on your pet’s paws as well. Booties and balms can help keep paw pads safe from ice, salt, and other harmful chemicals (like antifreeze), but you should always be sure to wipe your dog’s feet thoroughly with a clean, dry towel before coming back inside.
Watch Your Step
Whether you’re setting out on a rigorous mountain hike, a sandy stroll on the beach, or a quick walk around your neighborhood loop, it’s important to keep your eyes open for any potential hazards.
Thorns, glass, and other sharp objects can easily cut or become embedded in paw pads during a walk. Foxtails—pointy-tipped grasses that commonly grow in weedy areas around roads, paths and fields—are especially dangerous as they can burrow into the skin between the toes.
Signs of a foxtail injury include excessive licking, redness of the toe web, and in some cases, a visible bump or draining tract. In addition to causing pain, localized abscesses, and infection, foxtails can also migrate and lodge in the lungs and other internal organs, making major surgery necessary. Even then, foxtails are not visible on X-rays and may be impossible to surgically locate and remove. (Source)
The skin between your dog’s toes is also a favorite hiding spot for ticks. Unlike fleas, ticks are unable to jump and instead find their hosts through a behavior called “questing.” Questing ticks perch on leaves or blades of grass with their front legs extended, waiting to climb onto a host that brushes past. They can easily grab a hold of your pet’s fur as he travels through particularly grassy, bushy, or wooded areas. The tick then burrows down through the hair where it attaches to the skin. While feeding, ticks can transmit numerous bacterial diseases to your pet, including Rocky Mountain spotted fever, Lyme disease, anaplasmosis and ehrlichiosis. (Source)
Always examine your dog thoroughly after hikes or other outdoor activities, taking care to check between the toes for any small bumps or ridges. If you suspect your pet has a foxtail or tick, it is important to remove it as soon as possible. If you are unsure or unable to remove it yourself, please see your veterinarian for assistance.
Avoid Overgrown Nails
Keeping your dog’s nails short does more than just make him look good. Overgrown nails can dig into the paw pads, causing pain and discomfort. They are also more susceptible to splitting, tearing, and infection—and over time, can even result in deformity.
In addition, the longer the task of trimming is put off, the longer the quick—the nail’s blood vessel and nerve supply—grows, making the nails even more difficult to cut to an appropriate length.
To trim your dog's nails at home, start slowly by introducing him to having his paws handled. At a time when your dog is calm and relaxed, gently practice touching his feet and nails. The next step is to familiarize your dog with the trimming tools. Once your dog has had a chance to explore the clippers on his own, try pressing them to his nails for a second or two without trimming and reward him with a treat. This process may take a few weeks.
Once you are both comfortable, you will want to trim the tips of your dog’s nails while avoiding the quick. Be sure to use a sharp pair of clippers and have styptic powder or cornstarch on hand to stop the bleeding in case you accidentally cut too short.
If your dog has light nails, you will be able to see the pink of the quick through the nail; however, this is not the case with dark nails, so it is best to go slow and trim only a very small portion of the nail at a time until you reach the desired length.
Remember, accidents happen—if you cut into your dog’s quick, stay calm and apply styptic powder or cornstarch to the nail with a damp cotton swab to stop the bleeding.
If you are a first-time trimmer, ask your veterinarian for a demonstration at your next appointment. This will give you the opportunity to ask questions and allow you to feel more comfortable performing this task at home. Alternatively, you can leave the nail trimming to a veterinary or grooming professional instead.