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Nathalie Sari - Tiertraining & Verhaltensberatung

This article was written by TOBALIE in cooperation with Nathalie Sari - Tiertraining & Verhaltensberatung

Dog paws don’t just look super cute, healthy and well-maintained paws are essential for dogs. Any pathological change, injury or wear and tear to the paws can mean immense losses in terms of freedom of movement. Read this article to find out what makes a healthy dog paw and how to care for your dog’s paws properly.

Anatomy of dog paws

First, let’s look at the anatomy of a dog’s paw, as this is the only way to ensure that abnormalities can be detected. Paws consist of bones, joints, muscles, tendons, nerves, pads and claws. In structure, a dog’s paw is similar to a human hand, with obvious differences of course.

Bones, joints and cartilage

The skeleton -all the bones in the paws – provides support and gives them the appropriate shape. As a rule, dogs have 5 toes on their front paws and 4 toes on their hind paws (exception: polydactyly). This is also the reason why the front paws are usually larger. 

The toes are connected to the metatarsals. Above the metatarsals is the tarsal joint. At its level on the front paw is the pea bone. On the hind paws, the heel bone and the hock bone are located at this point.

Muscles, tendons and ligaments

These are there so that your dog can move its paws, for example bend and stretch. Tendons connect the bones to the muscles, ligaments in turn connect two bones.

Pads

If you have ever looked closely at a dog’s paws, you will have noticed that each toe has its own pad (front paws 5 and hind paws 4). In addition to the toe pads, each paw has a ball of the hand and a carpal bunion at the front to help with braking.

Pads have a relatively thick horny layer that protects against injury. Underneath is a thick layer of fatty tissue that acts as a shock absorber to protect the joints and also provides thermal insulation. 

Claws

Each toe arises from the claw bone and has a claw which, unlike in humans, grows directly from the bone. Care should be taken when cutting the claws! Healthy claws are enormously important for the dog and ensure optimal grip on the ground as well as the ability to dig. 

A special feature is the so-called dewclaw – also called wolf’s claw. These are located on the hind feet, at the level of the metatarsal bone and have no other function. Not every dog has a wolf’s claw, it is a remnant of the ancestors of our domestic dogs.  

Blood vessels and nerves

There are countless blood vessels and nerves in the paws of our faithful companions. Nerves have the task of sending electrical signals to the brain so that our beloved four-legged friends can also perceive various stimuli. 

Interesting facts about dogs’ paws

  • Dogs are so-called toe-walkers, we humans are sole-walkers. All their weight is transferred to their toes.
  • Paws often smell like popcorn. This is due to certain bacteria that cause this sweet smell. More about the dog smell.
  • There are receptors and proprioceptors in the paw pads. This allows your dog to sense how he is standing in space and he can feel touch, vibrations, floor texture, etc. This helps him to orientate himself.  
  • Some breeds have longer middle toes. The so-called rabbit’s feet are found mainly in running dog breeds and help them to run fast.
  • Some dog paws have webbed toes, which come in handy when swimming, running through snow and mud, or digging.
  • Dog paws adapt to the conditions. If they are used a lot, they become more resistant. Slow acclimatisation is important to prevent injuries. 
  • Dogs have scent glands on their paws with which they spread their individual scent. 
  • Sweat glands are also located on the dog’s paws.
  • In addition to sweat, a special secretion is also produced, which makes the paw surface grippy and provides a good grip.
  • Many dogs have ticklish paws.
  • Unlike cats, you can also see the claws in the dog paw print.
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What do healthy dog paws look like?

You should check your pet’s paws for possible injuries at regular intervals. But what makes a healthy dog paw?

Free from foreign bodies: After a walk, you should check your dog’s paws. There could be various “souvenirs” – such as awns, stones, splinters – caught between the toes. Some of these foreign bodies can also bore into the skin and cause painful inflammation. Of course, parasites such as ticks, grass mites, etc. can also spread in the spaces between the toes.

Soft and smooth pads: Rough and cracked pads also harbour an increased risk of inflammation and infection.

Unrestricted movement: For example, as soon as a dog experiences pain in its paw, it will instinctively try to put less weight on the paw and take more care of it. So if your dog suddenly lifts his paw, it could be a sign of an injury or something like that. Also, if the dog licks his paws regularly, this could be an indication of an illness (e.g. allergy, food intolerance, foreign body, etc.). If you notice any abnormalities in movement (limping, stumbling, creeping, wobbling, etc.), this can also indicate pain in the musculoskeletal system or various diseases.

Skin and coat inconspicuous: As soon as you notice that your dog is losing hair in certain areas of the paw and/or the skin is reddening, you should become alert. It is also time to react if you notice swellings, punctures or growths. There are many reasons for this and only a veterinarian can make an accurate diagnosis. 

Healthy claws: Too long claws can cause posture problems and also pain. If your dog’s claws reach the ground when standing, they are definitely too long. Furthermore, healthy claws are neither soft, brittle nor deformed.

Tip: If a piece of paper fits under the claws when your dog stands, they are just the right length. 

How do you care for your dog’s paws properly?

Dogs’ paws are exposed to a lot of stress during the day. Not only do the paws have to bear the entire weight of the dog, they are also subjected to a lot of strain. Walking over hill and dale, romping around with dog friends, walking on asphalt, all these activities put a lot of strain on the paws. In summer the sometimes blazing hot ground, in winter the salt-covered paths and the bitter cold, seasonal conditions also put a strain on our dogs’ sensitive paws. 

So it is obvious – in this case on the paw – to pay special attention to the care:

  • Check and clean the paws after every walk and look for possible foreign bodies, injuries and the like. Does your dog show any signs of pain when you touch his paw or bend his toes, for example? Remove the unwanted items. Small splinters or plant parts can be removed easily with tweezers, ticks with special tick forceps, for example.
  • If you notice any injuries, consult a veterinarian about what you can do. Leave the treatment of larger wounds, such as deep cuts or burns, to a medical professional. And always remember: never give your dog medication from your medicine cabinet!
  •  Make sure your dog’s paws are dry. A warm, moist environment is the perfect breeding ground for various pathogens and parasites. This is especially important if your dog is wearing paw shoes or a bandage. Shorten too long hairs between the pads, so they can’t become matted. It also makes it harder for snow to stick. The hair should be about as long as the pads.
  • If the claws are too long, they should be shortened regularly.  
  •  Stressed paws benefit from a paw balm or similar, which should ideally be applied daily. If the skin on the pads is rough and cracked, you can do your pet good with a grease cream. However, pay attention to the ingredients. Products such as coconut oil, deer tallow and ingredients such as calendula have proven to be particularly effective. Milking grease or Vaseline are usually based on petroleum and should not be licked off. 
  • Avoid asphalted paths in high summer.
  • Avoid places where there is a lot of muck, there is a risk of broken pieces on the ground.In winter, avoid ice-covered paths. 

Summary

Healthy paws are immensely important for dogs, as their whole weight rests on them. Any (painful) injury and/or pathological change in the paws can mean restrictions for the dog in terms of movement and enjoyment of life. For this reason, regular care of the paws is important.