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Why Is Paw Care Important For Your Dog's Health?

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While your dog's paws are an adorable feature, they also play an essential role in your four-legged companion's day-to-day activities. For example, a canine's feet allow them to walk, run, and play on different terrains. They also help with their balance, stability, and traction.  A critical difference between us and canines is that we use shoes to protect our feet. However, dog paw pads are designed to give total protection from shock, extreme temperatures, and bone and joint injuries.  Because their paws have such essential purposes, regular paw care is vital. Without it, their health and wellbeing can be affected. Thankfully, caring for your pup's paws is not too tricky.  With a bit of knowledge and a frequent routine, you can keep your furry friend's feet strong and healthy throughout their life. Read on to discover our top tips for paw care for dogs.

How Do Dog Paws Function?

Dog feet play many roles, such as bearing body weight and increasing balance and ease. Their paws also help them sprint at lightning speed and jump, dig, and play a wide range of games.  Dog paws consist of muscles, bones, tendons, connective tissue, and blood vessels. All of these work together to create a stable footing as your dog moves. In addition, dog paw pads contain fats and elastic fibers to create shock absorption cushioning. The thick outer layer of the skin protects the softer tissues within the paws, allows your dog to walk and run on hard surfaces without discomfort, and protects their joints and bones. A dog's paw pads can appear rough and calloused or smooth and soft, depending on the terrain they typically travel. For example, dogs that spend most of their time indoors will have much softer paw pads than outdoors dogs.  However, despite how hard and thick the skin on their paw pads may be, they have impressive sensory ability. A dog can tell what type of terrain they are on through their feet, and they even assist in regulating body temperature. The fatty tissues in the paws create insulation when it's cold, and the sweat glands cool your pup down when it's hot.

Dog Paw Anatomy

Each dog and puppy paw consists of five parts. These include the digital pads, metacarpals and metatarsals, carpal pads, nails, and dewclaw.  The nails (claws) serve several purposes, such as creating traction, reducing slipping, digging, and tearing prey. Some dog breeds have a dewclaw far back on their inner front feet, but not all dogs have this, nor is it vital and is often surgically removed for aesthetic reasons. The digital pads are the four rounded pads at the top of the paw, just beneath the nails. Below them, in the paw's center, is the metacarpal (in the front feet) or metatarsal (in the rear feet).  Lastly, the carpal pads are the small, cone-shaped pads located far back on each foot. All three types of paw padding are an important part of dog paw anatomy, they work together to bear and distribute weight and provide stability.

Tips For Taking Care Of Your Dog's Paws

Knowing how to care for your dog's feet will help you keep your pup healthy and happy. Here are our top tips for maintaining healthy dog paws and preventing paw injuries.

1. Create a regular grooming routine

When you think of dog grooming, you may first think about keeping their skin and fur in good condition. However, grooming also involves paw care. Regular foot grooming doesn't just keep your pup's feet looking neat; it also helps to prevent injuries and discomfort. Here's what you should include in your dog's grooming routine. 
  • Trimming their nails - Some dogs can keep their nails short through exercise and play. However, for canines who don't often walk on rough surfaces like pavements that naturally file their nails, you'll need to clip them yourself. A dog's nails should not touch the ground when they walk, so this is a good way to determine if they are too long. While it’s different for every dog, clipping your pup’s nails once a month should be sufficient.
  • Trimming the hair between their paws - Certain dog breeds have thick tufts of hair between their feet. Although this can look adorable, it can easily matt and cause discomfort when walking. Therefore, you should brush and trim this fur often, ensuring it does not extend past the height of the paw pad.  
  • Cleaning their paws - Aside from trimming, ensure that your pup's paws are clean. After every walk, clean them with dog-safe antibacterial wipes to remove mud and bacteria. Then, check for stuck debris in the hairs between their paws. You can apply some olive oil to the hair first to loosen up the debris before using tweezers to remove it gently.
You can learn how to trim dog nails by yourself; the easiest and simplest way is to use a specialized dog nail grinder or clippers. However, if you don't feel confident grooming your dog's paws, take your pup to a professional groomer instead.

2. Massage their paws

An excellent way to care for your dog's health and wellbeing while building a loving bond is to massage their feet. A paw massage has the same benefits as a hand massage; it relaxes them and stimulates blood circulation.  Massaging your pup's paws is particularly beneficial if they are recovering from a recent injury as it can relieve pain and reduce inflammation. Even if they don't have any paw issues, massaging offers you the opportunity to check for paw damage. Plus, as regular massage aids flexibility and mobility, it can also help prevent injury, which is especially important for older canines.  To massage a dog's foot, use your thumb to:
  1. Rub each pad one at a time
  2. Rub in between the pads, spreading the toes. 
  3. Massage the back of their paw in a circular motion for around 30 seconds.
  4. Repeat on all feet.

You can dry massage a dog's paws or use paw balm to moisturize them, too. And, of course, massage your dog when they are in a relaxed and cuddly mood rather than a playful one.

3. Take extra care during the winter

While their paws can provide efficient insulation and warmth during the cold season, the dry and cold air can quickly dry a dog's feet out, resulting in chapping and cracks. So, while it's beneficial to keep your dog's paws well moisturized all year round, it's an essential part of winter paw care for dogs.  Moisturizers designed for humans are not suitable for dogs. However, you can use Vaseline or a specialized dog paw balm. Apply a thin layer before taking your pup outdoors during the winter months. As well as keeping them moisturized, Vaseline and paw cream also creates a protective layer against salt and chemicals in deicers.  Pay extra attention to your dog’s paws if they are long haired and have tufts in-between their toes. Excess paw fur can collect snow and ice, which melts from your dog's body heat but can later refreeze. If this happens, it can cause a variety of problems, so ensure you’re keeping on top of their grooming regime.  Moreover, if you live somewhere that sees a lot of snow and ice, consider getting some dog booties for their winter walks. It might take them some time to get used to wearing footwear, but it’s worth the effort as they are one of the best ways to prevent cracks, blisters and sores.  

4. Don’t walk your dog in hot weather

Avoid taking your dog out for walks during the hottest part of the day, particularly in the summer months. The pavement and roads become very hot at these times. Not only do hot surfaces feel uncomfortable on your dog's paws, but they can also cause sore blisters. If you've ever walked barefoot on the pavement on a hot summer's day, you'll know just how painful it feels. So instead, walk your dog in the morning or evening when it's cooler and encourage them to walk on the grass more, too. What’s more, as with cold weather, dog booties or paw balm can offer protection from hot surfaces and prevent burns. If you notice your dog's paws are burnt or blistered, run them under cold water and bandage them up.

5. Check for injuries regularly

Dogs can easily cut, tear, or blister their paws if they walk on a particularly rough surface or over sharp objects like broken glass. What's more, paw injuries can occur from walking over a floor that has recently been cleaned with strong chemicals.  Regularly checking your pup's feet will help you prevent injuries and paw damage. For example, if you take your dog for a walk in a new area, check their paws after. This will help you determine the surfaces that are potentially harmful to your dog's feet. Moreover, if your dog has access to a garden, check that no dangerous sharp objects are present. Moreover, note that paw pads that are overly rough, thick, or crusty could be due to a medical condition called canine hyperkeratosis. Hyperkeratosis occurs when a dog produces excessive keratin and primarily affects the paws and nose. If untreated, it can make walking and standing painful for your furry friend, so book an appointment with your vet if you suspect it.

6. Introduce new activities slowly

If you've recently gotten a new dog or moved to a different location, avoid the urge to take them on long walks immediately. If dogs are used to being indoors or on soft surfaces, they will have naturally soft paw pads that can be extra sensitive to rugged terrains. Therefore, let them get used to the new land with short walks and gradually extend the duration when their paws are less sensitive.

7. Learn dog first aid

By checking your dog's feet regularly, you'll also be able to find any foreign objects lodged in their paws. Unfortunately, there are many things that dogs can get stuck inside, such as pebbles, thorns, or broken glass, and these occurrences are not uncommon.  If you find something in your dog's paw and it's not lodged in too far, you might be able to remove it with tweezers. Doing basic dog first aid like this can quickly relieve your furry friend's pain and discomfort. However, before you go prodding about in your pup's paw, make sure you have a basic understanding of pet first aid procedures.  If you do remove something from your dog's paw, ensure you remove all debris along with it. Then, thoroughly wash the wound with saline solution and apply antiseptic lotion to prevent infection. If you find any paw injuries that you cannot deal with yourself, make an appointment with your vet. Your vet will safely and effectively remove the foreign object and all its debris and ensure the area is clean of infection-causing bacteria, too.

8. Pay attention to the paws smell

One of the biggest signs of paw issues is an odd smell of corn chips. This strange scent often relates to bacteria or yeast on your dog's feet. While foot yeast and bacteria are not abnormal for dogs (their immune system usually controls it), it can signal an infection. If you notice any strong smell like this, thoroughly inspect all their paws for nails that appear brittle, soft, or discolored and swelling around the nail bed. Infections can occur from several things, including food allergies or bacteria that may have entered a tiny cut. Therefore, always get any concerns of infection checked out with your vet.

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Final Thoughts

At-home dog paw care should be part of your regular pet care routine. You don't have to be an expert to give them proper care either. Learning the basics of dog foot functioning and anatomy and following the above tips will keep your four-legged friend healthy, happy, and pain-free. And as always, if you have any medical concerns or you notice your pup's paw is causing them pain, don't hesitate to get them checked out by a licensed vet.

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