Lets talk dog paws. Quite possibly the most hardworking part of your dogs body.
As a quick guide your dog is a digitigrade - meaning he walks on his toes as opposed to the flat of the whole foot as we do.
Most dogs have 5 toes on the front paws and 4 on the back. The dew claw on the front paw is technically a toe. There are also some breeds, notably herding dogs that have 5 toes front and back and the Norwegian Lundehund has a spectacular 6 toes on each foot thought to assist with climbing over rocky crags. There are even a few breeds that have webbed paws to assist with swimming.
Toes and pads
Each 'toe' has a paw pad and the larger area of pad in front of all the toes is called the metacarpal pad. All the pads act as shock absorbers, protect the foot, and give grip. To a lesser degree they also assist with cooling - this being because your dog has no sweat glands other than in his paw pads.
The rough surface also assists with traction and grip. It is also interesting to find that the skin on your dog's paws is extremely specialised and cannot be repaired by skin transplants from other parts of the dogs body.
What about dew claws? Well they may seem like largely useless appendages but if you observe your dog with a bone or toy of sort you will see they can be used to lightly 'grip' . Although they do move a lot your dogs dew claws are generally attached to the bone and do also offer some use when turning at high speed for example. There are exceptions to this where it is apparent that they are simply attached by way of a flap of skin. The use of these appendages is less clear.
There are occasions when your dogs dew claws may be more bother than you feel they are worth, I used to have a collie that ripped them on a regular basis and in the end we had them removed but on the whole they should be left alone
The majority of dogs have dew claws on the front but not the back legs however I have seen them front and back and some also have double dew claws. There are a number of breeds for which double rear dew claws are breed standard, and indeed some herding dogs on rough terrain will still use them to assist in navigating the rocky surfaces.
Concentrating on the fleshy digital and metacarpal pads, your dogs paw pads are unique, they contain a special fatty tissue - which does not freeze as easily as other tissue - and the skin on your dogs paws is far thicker than any other part of his body, but that does not mean his paws are indestructible.
Finally each toe has a claw which unlike our nails is directly attached to the bone. Like our nails, these grow throughout the dog's life and often in our modern lifestyle need clipping just like our nails. Unless your dog does a lot of road walking you may well need to have them clipped several times a year. This is a task you can do yourself if you are confident to do so, but if not a dog groomer will do it as part of the service if you use one or failing that the veterinary nurses offer a nail clipping service. I would urge you to really keep a close eye on the dew claws if you own a longer coated breed as it is not uncommon for them to grow long unnoticed and actually curl right round and embed themselves in the pad which is not only incredibly uncomfortable for your dog but can lead to infections.
Whilst they are hard wearing, your dogs paws are far from indestructible.
Walking on hot pavements can cause blistering and rock salt and chemicals to dissolve ice can cause sores and infections.
I often hear of dogs who suffer from irritated feet in the spring and summer, there is a theory that this could be the shoots of stinging nettles and other irritants pushing up through the soil. Many dogs also suffer from allergies at this time of year which is virtually impossible to narrow down.
Itchy paws lead to chewing on them to relieve the discomfort which can lead to soreness and therefore a pattern can develop.
Lots of dogs suffer from yeast problems with their feet and where you have owners talking of their dogs paws smelling of popcorn it is often yeast that is to blame, and again this can lead to nibbling and chewing.
Grass seeds - the bane of every dog owners life if you enjoy field walks in the summer. Grass seeds can only be described as small but dangerous. I hear stories every year of a single seed that has entered the paw and tracked up through the leg unnoticed before finally being identified. It is not unheard of for them to track in to the lungs or other equally difficult places. More often than not however they will sit in the paw and cause pain and irritation which your dog will chew at. The best way to reduce the risk is to keep your dogs paws free of fur, mud and dirt. Many breeds such as spaniels, shih-zhus, cockerpoos will need help with this, your groomer will clip or trim paw pads out as part of their groom and if you groom your own dog please do keep this in mind. On a separate note arm pits are also at risk of becoming grass seed entry points, keep these matt and tangle free and check regularly in the summer season.
Dogs that often swim in the sea or do little road walking will be more susceptible to damaged pads than those who do not so it is important you keep an eye on your dogs pads and deal with any abrasions, cracks or sores quickly.
Split Paw Pad Disease
I didn't want to leave this blog without giving a mention to this terrible disease. I had never heard of it until I was contacted by Toby's owner over at @tobyandskye on Instagram. Toby the black lab had recently been diagnosed and his owner was looking for a balm to try and help him. I was shocked to find there is very little information and little is known about what causes it and how to treat it.
In a nutshell the surface of the pad appears to break down and then peel off which needless to say is extremely painful and limiting for the dog whilst this is in progress, Toby's owner tells me his tend to go from black to white and then mushy before peeling to show the redness. His paws do heal and he will be okay for a period of time and then it will flare up again.
We did try my Soothing Salve which is generally an incredible salve for healing and calming minor cuts and grazes etc but sadly it was not the magic cure I was hoping for in Toby's case, whilst I am sure it would help soothe and possibly speed up any recovery time a little, this is thought to be a disease for which a method of prevention is needed as opposed to a treatment once the paw is going through the different phases. If anyone has any experience of this subject I would love to hear more, it really is something we need to learn more about in the hope treatment can be improved.
And finally, what can you do to look after your dogs paws?
It goes without saying that keeping an eye on them on a regular basis is invaluable especially if you have been exercising on rough terrain or more than usual.
An application of paw balm will go a long way to keeping your dogs pads in tip top condition by moisturising and soothing cracked and damaged pads and The Dog and I balm is also perfect for using on dry and crusty noses and dry skin such as elbow calluses. Handmade from natural butters and oils it also contains Hemp Oil which contains Omega 3 and 6 both of which are extremely useful for skin health.
Getting in to a routine of a regular application of balm will also give you the perfect opportunity to check your dogs paw pads.
It is worth mentioning that I also sell a fantastic Nose, Paws and Sores Kit which contains one of each of the balm/salves and is available in bothe large and small sizes. These also make a great gift for dog owning friends and family.
Keep nails trimmed and as previously mentioned ensure the pads are kept clear of long fur to minimise the risk of foreign bodies becoming embedded and also t aid traction for your dog, This also assists with cooling as it allows the sweat glands to operate efficiently.