Interesting Facts You Didn't Know About Dog Feet

When you walk on the beach or along a muddy trail - or even when you see the footprints left by precious Sylvie across your marble floor, do you ever stop and wonder about how a dog's foot is different from our own? Do they have toes and how do they appear to endure extreme heat and cold? We refer to them as 'pads' but let's take a deeper look.

Each foot has a metacarpal pad and four digital pads (toes) with nails. Some breeds have a fifth toe on the inside of the paw that does not touch the ground known as a 'dew claw.' Dogs walk on their toes not on their soles. The whole pad is made up of a thin, pigmented, keratinized epidermis covering subcutaneous adipose tissue (phew). This thick layer of skin is covered by a rough surface crucial for traction and fast maneuvers. Dogs do feel heat and cold and the thick pads provide protection as well serving as a shock absorber.

Dog paws are anatomically the same within the species varying by breed and individual dog. When Sylvie was at the pound, I was alarmed to see her feet were slightly webbed! I was informed that this is because she is traditionally a water dog - a Field Spaniel.

Trimming your Dog's Nails

Dog nails grow just as ours do and should ideally be trimmed regularly. Sylvie jumping on your bare legs when you come down to breakfast in the morning is not always the wake up call you seek. Sometimes dog nails maintain a satisfactory length on their own from grinding down on concrete. It is best to have the nails cut by a professional - be it yourself or a dog groomer - because dog nails have a blood supply or 'quick,' which when cut will bleed. To avoid the quick, trim the dead nail tissue above the dark. Some dogs resist pedicures and only training and habit will change this.

Checking the Paws
Due to the location of the paws, they are often prone to infection.They will limp or lick themselves excessively. Look out for redness and bleeding. Also check for anything that might be stuck in the pad or between the toes. If your dog permits, push down on the paw to gauge how much pain they are suffering. If you see something obvious try and remove it with tweezers. Paws are prone to fungal infections especially if the pad is hard, cracked or injured. Have a veterinarian conduct an examination that includes blood tests and X-rays. There may be a not-so-obvious mass that will require biopsy.

Finally make sure to clean the foot well. Check carefully for further irritation and wipe away any dirt on the pads or in surrounding fur. Pads can stay wet for a few hours rendering them softer than usual so keep Sylvie away from hazardous areas.

If you want to be extra loving and give Sylvie a foot massage do not be tempted to use human moisturizers that make the pads soft. Look for special dog moisturizer at the pet store. If the pads are cracked, try to ascertain what is causing the condition. Even rug shampoos and floor cleaners can cause inflammation. Dogs may have an allergic reaction to particular food that can cause yeast infections similar to athlete's foot in humans. Some dogs chew their feet in the same way a person might bite their fingernails. Zinc deficiencies can cause the pads to develop a hard crust and yes dogs have autoimmune diseases of the skin causing the immune system to work overtime.

This attack on affected area causes pus-filled sores that break and form crusts on the pads of the paws. Some breeds are more susceptible and a good vet will run tests to determine the problem. Another such possibility is nasodigital hyperkeratosis where the tough fibrous outer coating of the foot pad grows excessively. This is an incurable condition but can be controlled.

Most foot pad infections can be treated using an oral antibiotic. More severe injuries may require bandaging and thorough cleansing.

Try to keep dogs away from contaminated areas with a lot of trash or feces. If hiking over rough terrain make sure your dog is nimble footed enough to navigate the rocks and even with an immense sense of smell be aware of rattle snakes or burrs that catch on fur or get stuck to the paws.

Dogs are hardy animals and the more fit the less lightly they are to suffer many of these canine problems. Sure, there are special dog booties that look awfully cute on Rodeo drive, but the best way to ensure healthy podiatry is to take Sylvie on lots of walks over differing terrain. Protect her from extreme heat and cold allowing her to develop healthy pads, nails and rough epidermis necessary for traction, shock absorption and mobility.

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