A red and white cattle dog lays amongst the bushes and trees around her.

Whatever a dog or other pet might be doing, they tend to literally jump in with both (or all) feet. Their paw pads help grip surfaces and balance, and also provide traction, stability and shock absorption. They are made of layers of fat, connective tissue and leathery skin. Whether they are walking, swimming, playing or chewing, their paws are a significant part of their activities. Paw pads also play a critical role in regulating body temperature. It’s so important to ensure their toes are properly maintained so they can continue enjoying their best lives!

Dogs tread across so many different types of turf. The more extreme the surface, the more their foot pads will be affected. Hot asphalt, ice, rocky terrains and salt-covered sidewalks are all common ground that can put their paws at risk of ailments. Some issues may be genetic, too. While their rough appearance is normal, damage can still occur that may need veterinary intervention.

Minor issues such as dry skin can be easily treated at home, however.

How do you know?

The best way to is to talk to your veterinarian. Some things they might look for include:

• Canine distemper (hard pad disease) – a contagious and serious virus that occurs in unvaccinated animals. It can cause footpads to thicken and harden.

• Demodicosis (demodex) – also known as “mange”, this parasitic disease is caused by mites that live within hair follicles. It can cause hair loss, infections, scaling, and inflammation all of the body. It can affect foot pads, nail folds and nails.

• Hyperkeratosis – the body’s response to excessive pressure, inflammation or irritation to the skin is to produce extra layers of keratin to protect the damaged areas. This can cause calluses and hardening of paw pads.

• Pemphigus – an autoimmune skin disease in cats and dogs that cause pus-filled blisters. These blisters can burst and cause paw pads to crust and peel. Immunosuppressive therapy may be needed.

Signs of Paw Discomfort

Watch for signs of discomfort or distress. This might include itching, chewing on the paws, limping, unusual withdrawal of paws when touched, or other unusual behaviors. Some dogs do not show signs of discomfort until the issues progress, however. It is a good habit to check paws regularly for irregularities. Things to look for include cracked nails or nail beds, irritated webbing between the toes, pus discharge, foreign objects imbedded in their paw pads, and lacerations or punctures. Unhealthy skin and infections will often have a different smell. You can take a page out of your pooches book and give their paws (and ears and mouth, for that matter) a good sniff to try to detect abnormalities.
Dry skin can be common in many dogs, especially during winter. While paw pads are the most commonly afflicted areas, dry skin often appears on noses, elbows and ears, as well. Keeping these areas clean and moisturized can help relieve the itch and irritation associated with dry skin. Moisturizing can also help prevent loss of fur and skin thickening, which can reduce dog elbow calluses and similar conditions.

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