A pedicure may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think about your pet’s grooming routine, but pampering the paws is an essential part of caring for your furry friend.
Like humans, dogs and cats can get blisters and sores on their feet. They can also get torn or burnt paw pads from walking on rough terrain or hot pavement; debris or matted hair in the fur between the toes can also be painful and lead to infection. Fortunately, proper paw care is pretty simple, and injuries are relatively preventable.
What Are Paw Pads?
Paw pads (affectionately referred to as “toe beans” in cats) are a layer of pigmented skin, typically pink or black, on the bottom of the paw. They provide insulation and protection from cold or rough surfaces and help with balance, traction, stability, and shock absorption to protect the joints—kind of like built-in shoes.
Dogs and cats also sweat through their paw pads, which is typically not noticeable unless they’re feeling exceptionally anxious or need to get out of the sun ASAP. Sweating through the paw pads isn’t enough to cool off dogs completely, which is why they also pant.
Paw Pad Maintenance
Some pets need more paw maintenance than others. For example, a dog who regularly hikes on rougher terrain will have more calloused paw pads than pups who mainly stay indoors or play in the grass; an outdoor cat will be more exposed to debris than an indoor cat.
If the paw pads are dry, cracked, or peeling, you can moisturize them with a pet-friendly moisturizer. One option is to use coconut oil, which is hydrating and non-toxic, as a DIY paw balm. Avoid using human lotions or anything that contains substances that are toxic to dogs or cats, especially since there’s a good chance those paws will be licked.
Any time the fur between the toes is long enough to poke out, you’ll know it’s time for a trim. This is especially important for dogs who regularly dig and explore outside, as this excess hair can attract foreign objects such as thorns, pebbles, glass, and, in the winter, ice. If you do happen to find any foreign objects, use tweezers for careful removal.
Trim the nails, as well. You shouldn’t be able to hear any clicking and clacking as your pet walks around on a hard surface. If you have an appropriate scratching area, such as a scratch pad or scratching post, you may not need to trim your cat’s nails since she’ll maintain them on her own through scratching.
Trimming fur regularly also helps for easy paw investigation, since you’ll be able to identify debris more efficiently. Check the paws regularly for foreign objects between for toes, and for any swelling, cuts, or discoloration on the paw pads. Gently press on the paw pads to check for any signs of pain, too.
In addition to monitoring the paws, be sure to check out any area for potential hazards before letting your pet walk around. If you have used any chemical cleaners in the house, make sure to keep your furry friend away to prevent him from ingesting harmful substances if he licks his paws. Clear any playing areas of debris such as pieces of metal or broken glass. If you wouldn’t walk around barefoot, your dog shouldn’t, either.
During hot weather, avoid going for walks on hot pavement with your pooch. You can briefly test the pavement by either placing your hand on the ground for about 10 seconds or standing barefoot. If it’s too hot for your hand or bare feet, then it’s too hot for your pet’s paws.
This doesn’t mean you have to avoid exercise if the weather isn’t ideal. Keep walks short, walk on the grass, stay in the shade, and stay hydrated to keep your pup feeling cool. There are also plenty of ways to wear your dog out without leaving the house when staying indoors sounds extra appealing.
During the winter, you may want to provide your pet with extra paw protection by using paw pad wax or even covering the feet with booties. Soothe dry, cracked paws with paw balm, and check for potentially painful ice balls between the toes.
If your four-legged friend struggles with seasonal allergies, we recommend wiping down his paws with a cloth before coming inside. That way, you can be sure to keep the allergens outside instead of bringing them into the house.
For dogs of all ages dealing with seasonal allergies, Pet Honesty’s Advanced Allergy SkinHealth Chews can help to soothe allergy-related issues.
When to Talk to Your Vet
While at-home paw care is relatively simple and straightforward, there are times when it’s best to seek the advice of a vet. Consult a vet about treating any deep cuts, tears, burns, or infections to the paw pads.
Additionally, while occasional licking is a normal part of self-grooming, be aware of intense licking. This could be a sign of allergies, parasites, stress, anxiety, or even pain—all of which are good reasons to call your vet.