How to Care for Your Dog’s Paws

Your dog's feet are subject to multiple, constant hazards. Here's how to keep them healthy.

Diana Laverdure  |  Mar 22nd 2013


When Chase and I stroll through our neighborhood, I can’t help but break into a wall-to-wall grin whenever Tigger, our neighbor’s Yorkie, saunters toward us wearing his little booties.

You see, Tigger doesn’t just have one pair of booties — he has a collection of them in numerous colors and styles. But as much as Tigger loves his booties, they’re more about function than fashion. According to his mom, his delicate paws were becoming cracked and irritated from romping along the hot Florida pavement.

And Tigger isn’t alone. Imagine if you walked barefoot everywhere you went, exposing your feet to harsh surfaces such as scorching asphalt in the summer and chemical de-icers in the winter, as well as rocks, sand, burrs, broken glass, and a host of other foot hazards. Given the demands placed on dogs’ paws, it’s easy to see how they are vulnerable to injuries.

Tigger’s mom provides excellent care for her pup’s paws, and you can, too. Follow these tips to keep your pooch’s tootsies in tip-top shape:

Practice proper dog-paw maintenance

Be sure to neatly groom the fur on the bottom of the paws. Longer-haired breeds especially require this step, since longer hair can mat and accumulate dirt. In the wintertime, long hair on the paws can attract snow and ice as well as hazardous salt and chemical de-icers. Use grooming scissors or grooming clippers to trim the fur on the bottom of your dog’s paws so that it’s even with the pads.

Also, trim nails regularly. Chase visits a professional each month for a wash, cut, and blow dry, but he’s never had to have his nails trimmed, because walking on the pavement does the job naturally. But this doesn’t work for all dogs, especially those that are less active, so you might need to trim them manually.

Allowing your dog’s nails to grow too long can cause a host of paw health issues, from catching and tearing the nail (which causes a lot of bleeding and pain), to splaying of the feet, to preventing the paw pads from achieving proper traction. Dogs with dew claws also need to have them trimmed periodically or they can snag and curl around into the foot, which obviously hurts like heck.

A word of caution: Cutting your dog’s nails takes skill. Do it improperly and you’ll cut into the quick (the blood vessel that runs down the middle of the nail), causing bleeding and pain. This is NOT the way to make friends with your dog! The best option is to enlist a professional to handle your dog’s mani/pedi care. If that’s not possible, consider taking a lesson before you attempt it yourself. 

Lastly, inspect your dog’s paws nightly. Check between your dog’s toes for imbedded objects such as foxtails, splinters, gravel, and other foreign objects. If the object is deeply imbedded or your dog is in pain, seek prompt veterinary attention to eradicate the offender.

Beware of seasonal dog paw hazards

  • Rock salt and chemical de-icers: These can lodge between dogs’ paw pads, causing cracking, burning, irritation, and pain. These products can also cause snow, ice, and gravel to lodge in the paws. Thoroughly wash the paws, removing all traces of the de-icer; not only are these products irritating to the paws, they’re toxic if ingested.
  • Snow and ice: These can clump and lodge between dogs’ toes. In addition to causing pain, large clumps can obstruct blood flow to the toes. Inspect your dog’s feet each time he walks in the snow and remove any traces of it.
  • Scorching pavement and sand: You don’t want to scorch your feet walking on hot pavement or sand, so be sure your dog doesn’t have to, either. When the temperature rises, opt instead for cool surfaces such as grass.
  • Insect bites: We have lots of nasty biting things in Florida, including red ants, which, if they attack your dog’s paws, cause painful bite wounds that may require veterinary intervention. If your dog licks, bites, or pulls at the bottom of his paw and you don’t notice an injury or lodged object, he may have been bitten.

How to protect the paws

A variety of paw-protecting products exist to shield your dog’s feet from the elements. You can apply paw waxes such as Musher’s Secret periodically to the pads and between the toes. It forms an invisible boot that protects the paws from environmental hazards. For the ultimate in paw protection, consider taking a cue from Tigger and investing in some dog booties, such as those sold by Muttluks, with styles for all weather conditions.

So, go ahead and pamper your pooch’s paws. He’ll be sure to show his appreciation.

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