Your Dog’s Paws & How To Care For Them
Estimated Read Time: 9 minutes
Summary: In this blog, learn all about the importance of healthy dog paws. We’ll examine the different dog paw parts, outline what a dog paw is made up of and how they function, and why it’s essential to look out for your dog’s feet and how to provide everyday dog paw care…
Like our fingerprints, every dog’s paw is unique to them, although arguably more impressive. A dog’s paw is designed to endure even the toughest of grounds and all without the need for shoes. But, a dog’s paws do so much more than provide padding for walking…
A dog’s paws help regulate their entire body’s temperature, protect them from various terrains, provide essential stability, and can indicate the state of your dog’s overall health depending on their appearance and how they smell. That’s why they’re an important part of your dog’s body to understand and know how to care for…
Dog Paw Parts
A dog’s paw is a complex structure that is made up of small bones, tendons, ligaments, muscles, blood supply, layers of fat for insulation and cushioning, and skin. More specifically, these are then made up of collagen, keratin, elastic fibers, and adipose (fat) tissue.
The 5 main dog paw parts consist of:
Claws; Our pup’s claws provide essential traction, grip, and hold - ideal for digging and keeping control of prey. Just like our human nails, a dog’s claws are made of the protein keratin. A dog’s claws grow right from the bone of their foot (unlike how it works in human nails), and contain blood vessels and nerves. This is why, when it comes to trimming them, it’s essential you’re confident with the task or get a professional to do it as cutting them too short can damage their nerves or cause blood loss.
Digital Pads; These are the pads that appear at the end of each of your dog’s toes. These are used to support your pup’s weight and joints.
Metacarpal (front)/Metatarsal (rear) Pads; This is the heart-shaped pad that makes up the biggest area in the center of the base of your dog’s foot, used to further support your dog’s weight.
Dewclaw; The dewclaw is the claw that appears slightly higher up on your dog’s leg. Most dogs just have these on their front legs, but some have them on all four legs (like Great Pyrenees and Briards). The dewclaw is usually used for holding something like a bone or toy in place by a dog, and so is often compared to a human thumb.
Carpal Pads; this is the cone-shaped pad located just above the dewclaw that doesn’t touch the ground when your dog walks, but works similarly to a human heel. A carpal pad is usually used when your pooch runs really fast or rapidly changes direction to help turn, stop or slow them down - much like a brake!
The digital pads, metacarpal pads, metatarsal pads, and carpal pads are all made of elastic fibers and fatty tissue (known as adipose). The pads are covered by super thick skin - the thickest on a canine’s body - that is heavily pigmented and thus usually makes it the color black. The thickness of this skin is essential for protection from rough terrain, trauma, and extreme temperature (although not for long periods!). The more time your dog spends on hard surfaces, the tougher and more calloused paws they will have. The cushion-like design of the paw pad allows the paws to absorb shock and pressure as they walk, run, jump, play and stand. This protects and preserves the health of their joints and bones.
PetLab Co. Pro Tip: Despite your dog’s paw pads being pretty tough, they should not spend extensive amounts of time in extreme weather conditions. Be mindful of hot sidewalks and sand in the summer months - if you can’t hold your hand on it, your dog certainly shouldn’t be walking on it. This can cause the paw pads to become cracked and rough, or even peel. The same goes for cold and dry weather which can cause their paws to dry out. Keeping the paw clean and moist with something like a hydrating Paw balm should help in these circumstances.
Dog Paw Types
Like with human hands, dog paws come in a variety of different shapes and sizes too. These different types of dog paws are referred to as webbed feet, hare feet, and cat feet.
Most dogs will have a degree of webbing between their toes. The more webbed the paws are, the more likely the dog breed is known for retrieving, swimming, digging, and hunting, such as American Water Spaniels, Otterhounds, Dachshunds, and Newfoundlands.
Dogs with “hare feet” get their name because they sport two longer central toes and claws. These include breeds like Greyhounds, Borzois, and Whippets.
Dogs with “cat feet” are dogs with a very compact style of foot, which enhances stability and endurance that are both traits cats are known for. Working dog breeds like Dobermans, Old English Sheepdogs, and Giant Schnauzers tend to sport cat feet.
The Importance Of Nail Trimming
If you let your dog’s nails grow too long, this can affect the way their weight is distributed, the way they’re walking, and disrupt their comfort while moving around. This can put unnecessary stress on their joints and skew the alignment of the skeleton which, if not rectified, can cause long-term problems and contribute to debilitating conditions developing, like canine arthritis. Overgrown nails can also become ingrown and be at a higher risk of becoming damaged or experiencing trauma too.
A dog usually needs to have their nails trimmed every six to eight weeks unless they’re walking frequently over concrete. Concrete will wear the nails down naturally and thus take the nails longer to grow out and as a result mean longer gaps between nail trimming. However, if you walk your dog for shorter periods due to their age or the season, then nail trimming requirements may become more frequent. It’s good practice as a pet parent to check your dog’s nail length regularly.
Trimming your dog’s nails yourself is possible, but it can be a risky business. If you cut a dog’s nails too short (as we mentioned earlier), you could accidentally cut “the quick” which is the section of their nail that has blood vessels and a vein running through it and cause the nail to bleed. This can be distressing for you and your dog. Here at PetLab Co., we’d advise you to have your pup’s nails trimmed by a professional every time. This could be a reputable, trusted groomer or your vet.
Do Dogs Need Boots?
Dogs only need booties in certain situations. A dog’s paws are built to withstand harsh terrains and temperatures. However, if you’re regularly walking over ice, through cold slush, or around deicing substances like salt and grit, boots can be a great addition to your dog’s care items. If your dog is averse to boots despite these circumstances though, make sure you’re washing your dog’s paws once you get home so they don’t lick the salt or grit off themselves which could risk their health, and help reheat their paws. You may also want to apply a specifically designed paw balm in particularly cold conditions to help keep the paws from cracking or becoming overly callous.
You may also choose to use boots if you’re hiking over very rocky, mountainous terrain with your dog for extra protection and peace of mind when venturing away from civilization.
Why Do Dog Paws Smell Like Fritos?
Yep, dog paws do tend to smell like a popular chip brand! And yes, it’s normal. That smell is a byproduct of microorganisms, yeast, and bacteria that your dog picks up on their daily adventures. This scent doesn’t automatically mean your dog’s feet are dirty or there’s a problem - as long as your dog is keeping their paws wet by licking them occasionally (this is how dog’s self-clean) then it’s usually completely normal. However, if their paws become greasy, they’re licking them excessively, or the area(s) between their toes has become red or inflamed, it can indicate a health problem that most likely requires veterinarian attention.
Help prevent this from happening by keeping up with regular grooming, including bathing, nail trimming, and keeping any long hair between their toes on the shorter side.
“The Wonder of Your Dog’s Paws and How To Take Care of Them” The Farmer’s Dog, Aug 13. 2020 https://www.thefarmersdog.com/digest/wonder-dogs-paws-take-care/
Author Spaulding, Sam “The Cure For Rough Dogs” Natural Dog Company, Jun 16. 2021 https://naturaldogcompany.com/paw-soother-how-to-heal-your-dogs-dry-cracked-paw-pads/#:~:text=A%20healthy%20paw%20pad%20should,all%2Dnatural%2C%20moisturizing%20relief
Author Madson, Cathy MA, CBCC-KA, CPDT-KA “How To Properly Care For Your Dog’s Paw Pads” Preventive Vet, Feb 09. 2022 https://www.preventivevet.com/dogs/how-to-properly-care-for-your-dogs-paw-pads