Monday, September 6, 2010

Good Dog Health Includes Healthy Feet

By Linda Cole

We don't always realize how important our feet are until something causes them pain. A dog's feet are equally important for them. Their paw pads and feet are pretty special and without healthy feet, a dog would have trouble getting from one place to another. It's important to pay attention to a dog's feet to make sure they stay sound. Healthy feet can make a big difference to a dog's wellbeing.

Dogs don't walk on the soles of their feet like we do. They walk on their toes, which is one reason why it’s important to keep their nails trimmed to maintain healthy feet. Their feet act like shock absorbers and give them the traction they need to do all kinds of things. The rough paw pads are extra shock absorbers that help dogs make quick turns, leap for Frisbees and run or sprint with enough endurance to finish their task. Each foot has four pads, and each pad makes contact with the ground.

Toenails that are left untrimmed can cause the dog to slide back on his paws more, putting more strain on his legs. When they don't set their feet properly because of long toenails, it interferes with how they walk and their gait will be off. Toenail biting generally means the nails are too long and need to be trimmed (for detailed instructions, see How to Give Your Pooch a Pedicure. Nails should also be inspected to make sure there are no injuries to the toe that might have caused an infection. It's possible for dogs to break a toe or a bone in their foot. We can accidentally break a dog's toe if we step on their foot.

A dog's healthy feet need attention from us to help keep them in good shape. Dogs that do a lot of hiking, running and activities where they make sharp turns or jumps can damage their paw pads. Cuts, sharp rocks, rough terrain, rock salt, cracked pads, slivers of glass, splinters, burrs, fleas, insect bites, bee stings, scrapes or tiny rocks that get caught between the pads or toes can all turn a dog's healthy feet into painful ones. Even a slow walk around the neighborhood gives dogs a chance to step on something that can cut their paw pads. Regular inspection of their feet will catch most pesky injuries before they can become infected and cause problems.

Matted hair can bother dogs, especially ones who have long hair between their paw pads. Small rocks, frozen snow or ice, rock salt and other foreign objects can become caught in the hair. The long hair also makes it harder for the dog to get good traction. As a responsible pet owner, you can help by keeping the hair trimmed even with their paw pads.

Minor foot injuries are simple to take care of at home with over the counter medications made for dogs that can clear up minor cuts and infections. However, any time you find a wound on your dog that's become infected and is warm to the touch, swollen or painful, it needs to be taken care of by a veterinarian. Prescription medication or ointments may be needed.

A dog's paw pads are pretty tough, but even healthy feet are no match for asphalt or cement on a hot day. Since we usually have on shoes, it's easy for us to not even notice how hot asphalt or cement is. A dog's pads can be burned if they walk on these hot surfaces. Keep your dog in the grass on hot summer days to help protect their pads. Metal on a hot day can also be dangerous for a dog's feet, and can burn their pads.

If your dog is limping, refusing to walk, licking at his feet or chewing, or if you see redness or blisters, part of a pad missing or the pads look darker than they should, these can be signs your dog has burned pads. It's always a good idea to have a vet evaluate burned pads to make sure they don't require antibiotics or other medications. If the burn is deep, infection can set in.

Winter snow and ice can cause injuries to a dog's paw pads too. Read Winter Paw Care for Dogs for information on how to take care of your dog's feet during the winter months.

Good dog health includes healthy feet. Limping, whining, chewing or signs of swelling indicate something is wrong with your dog's foot. Careful inspection can usually tell you what's bothering your dog. Quick and responsible action is needed to keep a simple cut or minor infection from becoming a problem. It’s important to pay attention to your dog's feet to help keep them (and him!) in tip top shape.

Read more articles by Linda Cole


  1. Aside from maintaining vigilance, I'd love to know if there was a way to actively *toughen* up paw pads. Our shiba's suffering from a variety of health problems right now, but one of his obsessions (and a symptom of the discomfort he is feeling from hypothyroidism) is licking his own feet until they get swollen and infected. He's been living in a cone for practically two months now. It's really sad, but as soon as we let him out, he chews his feet rotten, and it's back to the vet we go. We've been back for hundreds of dollars of antibiotics so far (literally). It's become a frustrating cycle that we're trying to break.

  2. No, there's no way I'm aware of to toughen up their pads. The best thing I could recommend would be to get some dog booties he can wear. Try to find some that come part way up his legs to keep him from chewing on his leg if he can't get to his feet. You can find them online. That would at least get him out of the cone once in awhile. You would probably still have to watch him for awhile until he got used to the boots to make sure he doesn't pull them off to get to his feet. Can he chew on rawhide chews alright? Try to find something he likes to chew on to refocus his attention away from his feet.

    The other thing you could try would be to talk to your vet and see if he/she could recommend a product you could put on his feet that doesn't taste good that might keep him from chewing on himself. I'm reluctant to make any suggestions because of his health concerns and your vet could best help you with that. Don't want to suggest something that might interfere with his thyroid medication.

    Has he developed any skin allergies because of the hypothyroidism? And, since you've had him back to the vet for antibiotics, have you had a discussion with your vet concerning his foot chewing? Or did he/she just give you the antibiotics without looking at your little guy?

    You could consult with an applied animal behaviorist who might be able to help. Your vet should be able to recommend someone in your area if you're interested.

    I hope that helps.


  3. I just had a thought if his paws are itchy. (I was just at your web page. You have a couple of cuties.) I use plantain tea on my dogs with hot spots. It's natural and works really good to stop the itch. Plantain is considered a weed and grows all over the country in yards, but it's healthy and good for us to eat. If you google plantain weed, you should be able to find a good picture so you know what to look for. I put a big handful in about a quart of water and bring it to a boil, take it off the heat and let it simmer for about 20 minutes-just like making tea. Let it cool and then dab the tea on his paws and in between the pads. You can leave it sitting out on the counter out of the sun or you can store it in the frig. Before you put it in the water, wash it first to get rid of dirt and other debris that might be in it.

    You can also make an ointment from the tea. Talk to your vet before trying the tea or ointment. I don't think it would interact with any meds, if he's taking any, but it's always best to talk to your vet first if your dog is on medication. If you need more help, please let me know.


  4. I thought this might help!

    This cream is excellent for paws, cracked pads, or the claws of cats and dogs. It is used for a range of skin problems such as small cuts, scrapes, wounds, skin irritation and hot spots. It relieves itching and soothes the skin. The extracts of Neem and Propolis further strengthen the antiseptic and antifungal properties of the cream which are required for speedy healing.

    I use it on my cat :)


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