How I Met My Dog

4 Things You Should Know About Your Dog’s Paws

There is so much going on underneath the fur of a dog’s paw that you may have never realized. Paws are a fascinating part of a dog that can easily be overlooked. Understanding how your dog’s paws operate and how to best maintain them is critical for your dog’s overall health and well-being. Proper care of paws will help prevent injuries, lead to healthier joints and prevent your dog from being in pain that you were never aware of.

Here are four key things to know about your dogs paws.

#1. The Basics

To fully understand the intricacies of a dog’s paw, let’s first start with the basics. A dog’s paw consists of five different parts working together with unique functions. The nails on a dog are referred to as the claws, and below the claws are digital pads, one for each claw. In the middle of the paw and underneath the digital pads is the metacarpal pad. The little claw off to the side that looks like it could be a thumb is called the dewclaw. However, not every dog will have a dewclaw. The final component of a dog’s paw is the carpal pad, which acts as a heel in human terms.

The primary purpose of the carpal pad is to give a dog an opportunity to throw on the breaks if necessary when running around or going down a slope. If you’ve ever thrown a ball to your dog which took an unexpected bounce, your dog may have used its carpal pad to make a quick pivot towards the toy.

Together, the digital pads and metacarpal pad support most of a dog’s weight when walking or running around. These pads are important for absorbing the weight of a dog’s body which helps to keep stress off their bones and joints. The pads are made up of thick fatty tissue on the inside which acts well as both a cushion, and for insulation in the cold.

Winter is a time to pay even more attention to your dog’s paws. The fatty inside of a dog’s pads will help to fight off the cold, but paws are still susceptible to becoming frozen if left outside for too long depending on the breed. Dog booties can be a fun way to combat this issue.

You’ll want to make sure to wipe your dog’s paws off when they come inside from the cold. There is de-icing salt that is safe for dogs, but many other de-icing agents contain chemicals that can cause burning and irritation to your dog’s paws. Make sure to check for salt or ice clumps that may have gotten stuck between claws. To help stay safe from the elements you can use a plant-based wax like Musher’s Secret on the bottom of your dog’s paws.

Also, don’t forget how hot asphalt and concrete can become in the warmer months. Hot pavement can burn your dog’s paws, especially if they’ve been inside for most of the colder months and haven’t built up a toughness on their pads. An easy way to tell if its too hot is to hold your hand to the concrete. If you can’t hold it there for more than a few seconds, it’s too hot for your dog to comfortably walk on.

To avoid hot surfaces, try walking your dog when it’s cooler outside in the morning or in the evening. If you’re already out on a walk and realize the surface may be too hot, try to make sure your dog walks mostly in the grass. The versatile Musher’s Secret wax can also be used as a preventative option on your dog’s paws before going on a walk.

#2. Your Dog Needs a Mani-Pedi More Often Than You Do

Taking proper care of paws is essential to your dog’s wellbeing. Nails can break, pads can get scraped, and the skin between your dog’s claws can be susceptible to damage or infection. One of the recurring maintenance items that can be tricky is keeping your dog’s nails trimmed.

Some dogs will naturally wear down their nails from frequent walks on concrete sidewalks, but if your dog primarily gets their exercise outside, their nails may need to be trimmed as much as once a week. A dog’s nails will grow just as fast as human nails and if not trimmed with enough frequency there is a greater risk of them breaking off, in addition to a variety of other problems.

Long nails can be painful for dogs. When a nail is repeatedly hitting a hardwood floor or concrete surface there is a force being exerted back into the dog’s nail bed which not only causes pain but is also bad for your dog’s toe joint. By leaving nails untrimmed a dog’s weight distribution can be thrown off, which makes injury more likely. If a nail is left to grow for an extended period, in extreme cases it can become an in-grown nail which is incredibly painful for the dog.

The problem for some dog owners is the fear of nicking the “quick” while trimming. The quick is the soft part of the toe underneath the nail and nicking it can cause bleeding that becomes hard to stop.  While this is a scary possibility, if you don’t trust yourself to cut your dog’s nails then it becomes an extra errand to run, and an additional expense for your pocketbook.

To further the problem, the combination of cost and time can lead to not cutting your dog’s nails as much as you should. Therefore, it’s much nicer for your dog and more cost-effective for you to just dive in and learn how to properly trim nails. To learn how to trim nails safely and easily, read our nail-trimming article by clicking here.

If your dog can get used to it, using a Dremel is an effective way to trim nails without the possibility of cutting the quick. A Dremel is typically used as a sanding device, but they offer one that is made specifically as a nail trimmer. An alternative to the Dremel which features the same concept of gentle grooming is the is the Hertzko Electric Pet Nail Grinder.

Some dogs are too fussy to sit still for an electronic nail trimmer, so if that is not an option for you there are a variety of nail clippers available. The most popular nail clipper on Amazon is the Dog Nail Clippers and Trimmer by Boshel. The advantage to using a traditional nail trimmer is that once you and your dog get the hang of it, trimming nails becomes a quick and painless process.

#3. Always Be on the Lookout for Allergies and Infections

If you have an active dog that likes to run around outside and mixes it up with rocks and dirt, be on high alert for allergies and infections. Whether it’s seasonal pollen, fungus in the dirt, or a cut from a rock, the more time your dog spends outside the more likely it is that their paws may develop an issue.

If your dog is constantly biting or licking their paws, check to see if there’s excess redness or swelling. Your vet should be able to diagnose the cause of the issue and provide treatment options. The causes of irritation can range from bacterial and fungal infections, to outdoor seasonal allergies, or allergies from your dog’s diet.

#4. Massage and Moisturize Your Dogs Paws

It’s funny to think about this next one, but just like a human’s hands will sweat, dogs also get sweaty paws. The bottom of a dog’s paw pads will secrete perspiration for a variety of reasons including to cool down, in times of stress, and when their pads are dried out. This is where you come in.

If your dog’s paws remained dried out, you can help them out by moisturizing to avoid a painful crack in the pad. Using the same wax that helps to keep paws safe from the hot and cold elements, you can also moisturize your dog’s paws. I think we’ve officially discovered what Musher’s Secret really is.

If you’re going to use the wax, you may as well go all out and give your dog a paw massage while you’re at it. Intentional touch not only helps your dog to relax and feel safe, it also helps a dog’s body to heal by starting up the lymphatic system and increases the flow of fluids and circulation. Combine the moisturizing wax with a relaxing massage and you have one happy dog.

Pawsitive Reinforcement

If there's something that your dog is not comfortable with (e.g., massaging paws, cutting nails) do it in short spurts and reward your dog with praise and treats. As your dog gets more comfortable, you can increase the length of these sessions. Using treats and positive reinforcement can turn an activity that your dog previously disliked, into one they love.

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