The pads on the bottom of your pups feet provide extra cushioning to help protect bones and joints from shock, provide insulation against extreme weather, aid walking on rough ground and protect tissue deep within the paw. It’s important to check your pet’s feet regularly to make sure they’re free of wounds, infections or foreign objects that can become lodged.
To keep them in tip-top shape, look for foxtails, pebbles, small bits of broken glass and other debris. Remove any splinters or debris gently with tweezers. Then, comb and trim the hair between the toes to be even with the pads to avoid painful matting.
If your dog’s pads have become cracked and dry, ask your veterinarian for a good pad moisturizer and use as directed. Avoid human hand moisturizers, which can soften the pads and lead to injury. A paw message will relax your dog and promote better circulation. Start by rubbing between the pads on the bottom of the paw, and then rub between each toe.
It’s not unusual for dogs to suffer cuts or wounds from accidently stepping on glass, debris or other objects. Wounds that are smaller than a half inch in diameter can be cleaned with an antibacterial wash and wrapped with a light bandage. For deeper paw cuts, see your veterinarian for treatment.
Winter and Summer Paw Care
As with humans, your dog’s paws will require different types of care depending on the season. The bitter cold of winter can cause chapping and cracking in your dog’s paws. Rock salt and chemical ice melters can cause sores, infection and blistering, and toxic chemicals can also be ingested by your dog when he licks his paws. Beat these wintertime blues by washing your dog’s paws in warm water after outdoor walks to rinse away salt and chemicals. You may wish to apply Vaseline, a great salt barrier, to your pet’s pads before each walk—or make sure your dog wears doggie booties.
During the summer, it’s important to remember your dog’s paws feel heat extremes. Just imagine stepping barefoot onto hot pavement—ouch! To prevent burns and blisters, avoid walking your dog on hot pavement or sand. Watch for blisters, loose flaps of skin and red, ulcerated patches on your pet’s pads. For minor burns, apply antibacterial wash to the paw and cover with a loose bandage. For serious burns, please visit your vet immediately.
Preventing Paw Problems
When starting a new exercise program with your dog, start off slow. Paws may become sensitive, chaffed or cracked, particularly when starting your dog out on hikes or runs. Be sure to keep your home and yard clear of pointy bits and pieces, and avoid hazards such as broken glass and other debris when walking your dog. Always keep this simple tip in mind—if you wouldn’t like to walk barefoot on it, neither will your dog!
As a rule of thumb, a dog’s nails should be trimmed when they just about touch the ground when he or she walks. If your pet’s nails are clicking or getting snagged on the floor, it’s time for a trim. For leisurely living dogs, this might mean weekly pedicures, while urban pooches who stalk rough city sidewalks can go longer between clippings.
Finding Nail Clippers for Your Dog
There are two basic styles of nail clippers for dogs: a scissors type and a guillotine type. They both work equally well, so choose the design that you’re most comfortable with.
If your dog finds both kinds of clippers intolerable, an alternative tool is a nail grinder, an electric tool that sands nails down. These offer great control, but take longer than clippers and some people (and dogs) find the sounds and vibrations they produce unpleasant. Ask your veterinarian or groomer for advice about what types of nail trimmers are best for your dog and how to use them properly.
Helping Dogs with Sensitive Feet
Some dogs don’t like to have their feet touched, so it’s always a good idea to get your dog used to it before you attempt to clip his nails—ideally, this should start when he’s a pup. Rub your hand up and down the leg and then gently press each individual toe, and be sure to give her lots of praise and treats! Within a week or two of daily foot massage, your dog should feel more comfortable with a nail trim.
Before beginning a pup pedicure, tire your dog out with some vigorous exercise and enlist an assistant to help you hold her down.
How to Trim Your Dog’s Nails
- Begin by spreading each of your dog’s feet to inspect for dirt and debris.
- Take your dog’s toe and hold it firmly, but gently. Hold your trimmer so that you’re cutting the nail from top to bottom at a slight angle, not side to side, and insert a very small length of nail through the trimmer’s opening to cut off the tip of each nail. Don’t trim at a blunt angle as to maintain the existing curvature of the nail.
- Cut a little bit of nail with each pass until you can see the beginning of a circle—still nail-colored—appear on the cut surface. The circle indicates that you are nearing the quick, a vein that runs into the nail, so it’s time to stop that nail and move on to the next.
- If your dog has black nails, however, the quick will not be as easily discernible, so be extra careful. If you do accidentally cut into the quick, it may bleed, in which case you can apply some styptic powder or corn starch to stop the bleeding.
- Once the nails have been cut, use an emery board to smooth any rough edges.
What to Do if You Cut Your Dog’s Quick
If you do hit the quick, your dog will probably yelp and might even struggle. This is a good time to end the session—but not before applying styptic powder or corn starch to the bleeding nail tip. Apply a little bit of pressure as you press the powder into the wound to make sure it sticks. If bleeding continues for more than a few minutes, please alert your veterinarian, who can check your dog for clotting disorders.
Helping Fearful Dogs
Some dogs show fearful or aggressive behavior when faced with nail trimming. Watch carefully for signs of distress such as panting, drooling, trembling, whining, freezing, cowering, tail-tucking, growling, snarling or snapping. Even with the most patient and gradual of introductions, there are dogs who seem unable to get over their terror.
If your dog falls into this category, do not force him to submit. See if his veterinarian or a professional groomer has better luck getting the job done!