Have you ever tried walking across hot coals? Or slipped your shoes off by the pool a little too soon on a hot summer day? Maybe you jumped in as soon as possible to keep the bottoms of your feet from “burning,” and felt the sweet relief of cool water soothing your warm toes.
Imagine taking your dog on a walk, not realizing the pavement feels just like that poolside, concrete slab, and your pup can find no relief from the heat on his bare feet. Unfortunately, such injuries are not uncommon. Understanding the anatomy of the paw is the first step in preventing and treating injury, as well as maximizing your canine companion’s foot health.
A dog’s paw can be broken down into FIVE SECTIONS
- Claws: These keratin-based growths are often referred to as “nails,” and extend from the bone outward, sharing its blood supply.
- Digital Pads: four unique pieces of exposed skin located under the dog’s foot. These pads support each of the toes.
- Metacarpal/Metatarsal Pads: large, heart-shaped pads in the center of a dog’s foot. These pads are distinguished as metaCARPAL on the front feet and metaTARSAL on the rear, and are named for the foot bones they support and protect
- Dewclaw: These unique nails are similar to humans’ thumbs. They provide important traction and grip support when dogs run or play at high speeds or on surfaces lacking friction.
- Carpal Pad: the small, singular pad located on the back of your dog’s leg (and above the dewclaw). Carpal pads, like the dewclaw, can provide support when dogs need traction while running or changing directions quickly.
Though nail care is an important component of your dog’s overall foot health, many pet owners may not be aware of the implications of their dog’s paw pad health. Here, we’ll focus on components 2, 3, and 5 of the dog’s foot (i.e. digital pads, metacarpal/tarsal pads, and the carpal pad). The pads of a dog’s foot are pieces of skin anatomically similar to their nose: they both lack hair follicles and certain glands. Their purpose is to provide protection to the bones in the foot and support for the dog’s movements. Lack of care to these locations and inattention to injury can lead to serious implications regarding your pup’s his mobility and risk of infection.
Some common causes of injuries include:
HEAT: Blistering, exposure of tissues, and infection are signs of exposure to heated surfaces. You might think, “My dog can walk across surfaces that my bare feet couldn’t handle.” And yYou might be right -. dDogs can develop a tolerance to warm surfaces over time. However, certain surfaces can hold more heat than we realize. When in direct sunlight and at 86 degrees Fahrenheit outside, asphalt can soar to 135 degrees. To fry an egg outside in 5 minutes, you’d only need pavement to reach 131 degrees.
COLD: Dogs can suffer foot injuries in cold weather situations, too. If outside in the cold for long periods of time, one of the most typical logical injuries is frostbite. More overlooked injuries include chemical exposure and and lacerations from ice. In the winter, we tend to use salt and de-icer chemicals to make travel more accessible available. Not only can paws become injured from sustained exposure to cold surfaces, but they can also scrape across ice and pick up road salt.
ALLERGENS/DISEASE:Allergies can cause excessive licking or chewing at the feet, sometimes resulting in infections like malassezia, a type of yeast infection. If your pup is licking or biting his paw pads more than normal, this is often a sign of a food allergy or intolerance. seek veterinary care to test for the cause. Other, less common diseases that may cause discomfort or enlargement of the pads include: pemphigus and canine distemper, the former an auto-immune disorder and the latter a fairly rare condition sometimes referred to as “hard pad disease.”
TERRAIN DAMAGE/LACERATIONS: Some dogs have soft pads, while others are more rough or calloused. Neither is necessarily optimal. In mild cases soft/hard pads are simply a reflection of the types of activity and terrain a dog regularly encounters. However, overdoing exposure to different types of terrain may have leave your dog with a sharp object lodged into his pad or a laceration. Chris C. Cowing, DVM., president of the California Veterinary Medical Association in Sacramento, CA, warns that laceration depth can be deceptive, and [w]hat may appear to be a small wound on the surface actually may be a tendon laceration.” He advises such injuries be treated by a vet.
You can’t stop your dog every time he runs out to the driveway or sidewalk in the summer, and you don’t want to severely limit the terrain he explores to a carpeted hallway. Ultimately, it’s nearly impossible to eliminate the potential for paw pad injury. However, there are several preventative measures you can take to lower those odds:
- Booties: these sock-like inventions were created with the intent of covering small animals’ wounds, while allowing for a sustained range of motion. They’re more than a prop for a viral video. Some booties can act as bandages, while others may even offer waterproof protection and traction control--a great option to prevent cold or warm weather injury.
- Gradual Introduction: if your dog has lived its entire life indoors and occasionally ventures to a backyard full of sod, taking him for a run on the streets in your neighborhood is sure to cause some irritation to his paws. Likewise, signing up for a six-mile hike with friends on an unpaved trail may be too tough on your canine’s pads if this is his first time on the beaten path. Try very short intervals on (slowly) increasingly tough surfaces, always checking your dog’s paws as you go and treating them if necessary.
- Be cognizant of your environment: many pet owners have heard the trick to test pavement heat--if you can’t leave the back of your hand on the pavement for 5 seconds, it’s too hot for your pup’s paws. Put yourself in your dog’s shoes. Imagine you’re going for a walk barefoot -- if it’s too hot for your bare feet, try taking your summer walks early in the morning or after the sun has set and pavement has had time to cool. Likewise, in the winter, be aware of how much time your pup has spent on his feet and in the elements to prevent cracking and frostbite.
If your dog has suffered an injury to his paw pad, depending on the severity, you can provide some relief with the below treatment methods. In general, if you notice extreme sensitivity, discoloration, infection, or a change in your dog’s behavior, seek immediate veterinary attention.
- CLEANSING: If your dog has a small, shallow laceratcion on a pad, you can wash gently with warm water. Once the wound is clean of debris, you may like to sterilize with an antibiotic ointment (which can be prescribed by your vet). Applying ointments like Neosporin is typically not a good idea>, since it is known to kill healthy gut bacteria. Licking or ingesting too much of the ointment can cause a bacterial imbalance in the gut, leading to vomiting or diarrhea in some cases. Cleansing the pad is also good treatment for exposure to chemicals; winter weather brings about salted roads and de-icers. Such chemicals may irritate your dog’s feet, and if ingested, can be toxic Washing the paws can keep pads free from irritants and avoids unnecessary ingestion.
- MOISTURIZING: You may opt to treat irritating cracks in paws (or calloused pads) with balms to prevent further cracking. Avoid using human moisturizer or moisturizing too often, which can soften the pads and make them more susceptible to injury. Apply it once or twice daily until the pad has healed and irritation subsided. Make note of how rough your dog’s pads are when he moves comfortably on a normal day, and discontinue use if you notice them softening beyond this point.
- SOAKING: For some chemical burns, once the area has been flushed, you may like to offer relief to your pet by soaking mild burns in warm water. However, you should have severe burns treated professionally. You can recognize severe burns by discoloration or exposure of tissues under the pad.
- COVERING: After determining a laceration is mild or after speaking with your vet, cleanse and treat the area with antibacterial ointment. You may like to wrap the paw in gauze and secure a dog bootie over the paw to keep things in place, prevent exposure to debris, and limit your dog’s interaction with the wound.
Though always underfoot and often overlooked, the pads on a dog’s paws are crucial to his overall mobility and health. Regular inspection and maintenance of these areas should be implemented, and always keep in mind environmental factors like extreme temperatures, chemicals, and sharp debris. Keep these tips in mind and keep your dog on his feet!