"Canine chiropody - Paw, pad and claw injuries and how to prevent them
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"Canine chiropody - Paw, pad and claw injuries and how to prevent them

Dogs
Health & Safety

The pads, paws and claws of our dogs’ feet are not something that we usually pay much attention to, as they generally don’t require much maintenance and tend to take care of themselves! However, problems, injuries or sores on the paws, or issues with the claws can be very uncomfortable for dogs, and it is important that every dog owner gains a basic understanding of preventative paw care for their dogs, plus how to check the feet and claws over to identify any problems that might arise.

All about the pads, paws and claws

Your dog’s feet consist of one main central cushioning pad, and four toes, each with their own padding on the base. As well as the claws extending from the toes, dogs generally also have an additional claw known as a ”dewclaw” situated on the inside of the front legs, and occasionally on the back legs too. The dewclaw is the equivalent of a thumb, although on dogs it doesn’t actually serve any purpose!

The pads of the paws provide cushioning for the delicate bones of the foot, and act as a shock absorber for the bones of the leg. The pads of the paws are supple in order to move freely with your dog’s movement, and have a hard but flexible surface in order to stand up to the rigours of walking over different types of terrain; rather like the soles of our shoes.

Paw and claw problems and injuries

Generally, the paws and claws of dogs do not require an undue amount of attention, and many dogs live out their entire lives without ever suffering from any incidents or problems with the feet. However, some dogs have much more sensitive paws than others, and may be prone to problems, and of course any dog can potentially injure their paws or claws along the way while going about their normal lives.

Here are some of the most common problems that arise with the paws and claws of dogs:

  • Abrasions and sores on the pads due to walking on hard or rough surfaces, or walking for prolonged periods of time without recovery
  • Foreign bodies lodged in the pads of the feet
  • Cuts, puncture wounds and other injuries that can occur from stepping on sharp objects
  • Burns to the pads of the paws when walking on hot surfaces in very hot weather
  • Chilblains and even potentially frostbite from walking in ice or snow
  • Damage to the delicate bones of the foot from impact or trauma
  • Ingrown claws
  • Claws growing abnormally, such as in a twisted fashion
  • Overlong claws
  • Claws becoming damaged or ripped out due to trauma

Preventing injuries to the pawand claws

Most injuries of the paws and claws, and damage caused by trauma, can be avoided by spending a little time thinking ahead about potential sources of problems and environments that can prove risky when your dog is out and about.

  • Make sure that your dog’s claws do not grow overly long; the claws normally wear down naturally due to contact with the ground, but many dogs will also need to have their claws trimmed occasionally to prevent them getting overly long.
  • Think about the surfaces that you walk your dog on; very hard surfaces, and abrasive surfaces such as gravel can all cause damage to the paws over time, particularly if your dog is running about energetically and getting involved in high-impact play.
  • Consider the effects of temperature on the ground when you walk your dog. Take care to avoid any surfaces that are likely to be baking hot in the sun, and avoid walking in snow and ice for prolonged periods of time. You can actually buy winter “boots” for dogs, to protect their feet from ice and snow!
  • Think about any hazards that might be present on the ground, such as nails, glass or anything else that might cut or puncture your dog’s feet.
  • Some dogs are more prone to problems with the pads and paws than others; small, delicate dogs such as the Chihuahua tend to have very thin pads with little cushioning, and may be particularly sensitive to walking on hard or rough surfaces.

Checking on the pads, claws and paws

It is a really good idea to get into a routine of giving your dog’s paws a quick glance over every time that you come back from a walk, to make sure that the paws are in good condition and uninjured.

Keep an eye on the growth of your dog’s claws, and make sure that they are trimmed down if they are overly long. If you can hear your dog’s claws clicking on the ground when they walk, they are probably too long! Also, keep a lookout for any abnormalities such as missing claws, split claws or claws that are not growing straight, as these might need intervention to correct.

Examine the pads of the paws visually and with your hands, checking for anything lodged in the paws, and of course any cracks or sore areas and any injuries.

If your dog has simply overdone it on a hard surface or developed a couple of small, localised sore patches on the paws, this will normally heal itself providing that you take care to let your dog’s paws rest, and keep them off any hard or abrasive surfaces while they are healing.

Puncture wounds, anything that draws blood and any conditions of the claws that appear to be causing your dog pain will normally require veterinary intervention, as infections and secondary problems due to the fact that your dog will be unlikely to be able to rest an injured paw entirely can sometimes occur.

If your dog has particularly sensitive paws and is often at risk of trauma simply due to walking on normal ground and surfaces, there are a couple of products that can help to make their lives more pleasant.

Special canine booties can be used on your dog, both when walking in the cold and snow and all year round. These can help to protect sensitive feet from injury or soreness.

Another product to consider is paw wax, which helps to harden the pads of the paws and provide protection from harsh and abrasive surfaces as well as making walking more comfortable for your dog.

Happy walking!

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