If you’re like me, then your dog’s paws might just be one of your favorite doggy features. They are warm, squishy, and smell just like chips.
But dog paws are so much more than just the cutest part of your dog’s foot. And unless you have an incredible amount of time on your hands, chances are you haven’t really given your dog’s paws a whole lot of thought outside of their adorableness.
Until now, that is.
So, what is it about dog paws that is so special and unique, and how can you keep your dog’s paws as healthy as possible? That’s what we’re here to learn.
Let’s get started!
Dog Paws – A Brief Overview
Dog paws serve a number of purposes for dogs, and it’s important to give them the proper care they need.
Nothing is more adorable than a cute set of toe beans on a dog paw. But these incredible pads are so much more than eye candy for the canine enthusiast. In fact, beneath that warm paw is an incredible and complicated system of tissues, nerves, bones and muscles that help make your dog’s paws simply pawsome.
But what exactly are dog paws made of? Well, in some ways they are similar to human feet. Dog paws consist of small bones, muscles, tendons, fat layers, skin, tissues, and proteins including keratin, adipose tissues and collagen.
This combination allows for your dog to move comfortably through a variety of different terrains and withstand different climates and weather conditions.
However, some dog paws can be different depending on the breed or mix of dog you have, and not all dog paws are built with the same level of functionality or ability. That said, all dog paws are made up of five parts.
And with that noted, it’s time to talk about dog paw anatomy.
Dog Paw Anatomy – The Five Fabulous Parts Of Your Dog Paws
A dog’s paws are complex and made up of five unique parts.
Dogs have five parts that make up their incredible paws. Each part is as important as it is unique, and each part is worth learning about.
So let’s start with the most famous part of your dog’s paws – his claws.
Dogs have four claws on each paw that some people like to refer to as nails. And while your dog’s claws are made of keratin, which is the same protein your fingernails are made of, your nails and your dog’s claws are not one in the same.
Fingernails grow from the cuticle of your finger, and while it can be painful if a nail breaks or rips, it typically doesn’t lead to anything worse. A dog’s claws, however, grow directly from their phalanx bones inside their paws.
If a dog’s claw breaks, it can lead to serious pain, infection and even long term damage to his paw as a whole.
It’s so important to take care of your dog’s claws as they are a vital part of his paws and overall well being. Dogs use their claws for digging and scratching, but claws also help create friction when your dog is walking or running.
Furthermore, for some working dogs like hunting dogs and sled dogs, claws are an intrical part of their day to day duties.
The Digital Pads
The digital pads on dog paws can be compared to the toes on your feet. These are the four, front squishy pads just below your dog’s claws. These pads work together with the Metacarpal Pad to support your dog’s weight and help your dog move more comfortably around different terrain.
The Metacarpal Pad
The Metacarpal Pad is the pad directly below the Digital Pads on dogs paws. This pad could be compared to the heel of your foot, but it’s a bit more complex than that for dogs.
Made of the same tissues as your dog’s Digital Pads, the Metacarpal Pad works alongside the Digital Pads to provide support, cushion, friction and comfort while your dog moves about both inside and outside.
If your dog had a thumb, it would be the Dewclaw. This mysterious extra claw an inch or so up on your dog’s leg is surrounded with controversy, with experts arguing about it’s overall purpose and function.
Some suggest that the Dewclaw doesn’t have a definitive purpose, though many theories exist.
Some experts speculate that Dewclaws played a vital role in the survival of ancient breeds, and as dogs evolved they had less and less use for them. This would account for the fact that not all dogs have Dewclaws, or that some dogs only have Dewclaws on their front or back legs.
Other theories suggest Dewclaws are still useful today and provide dogs with an extra appendage to grip toys, bones and food.
The Carpal Pad
And last, we have the Carpal Pad. This is that small bit of padding behind your dog’s foot that rests a few inches off the ground.
While the Carpal Pad doesn’t necessarily spend most of its time on the ground with it’s other paw pad counterparts, it does play an important role when it comes to dog paws and dog paw anatomy.
The Carpal Pad helps provide an extra bit of support and security for your dog, especially if he’s moving fast. Think of these pads as shock absorbers when your dog runs and emergency breaks when he stops abruptly.
Carpal Pads also help your dog balance in difficult terrain, providing an extra bit of friction and grip when walking on slick, rutted or unsteady surfaces.
Dog Paws Were Made For Walking – And So Much more
Your dog’s paws help to regulate his body temperature and keep him healthy.
Yes, your dog’s paws were made for walking and running, but they are also vital to your dog’s overall health.
Dog paws help regulate your dog’s body temperature. In fact, while dogs don’t sweat all over their bodies the same way humans do, they do have the ability to sweat a small bit through their paw pads.
But that’s not all.
A study conducted by scientists and published to Reuters highlighted the amazing fact that dogs actually have their own unique circulatory system in their paws. This circulatory system helps keep their blood pumping and their paws warm, protecting them from the elements of both cold and hot weather.
But this circulatory system doesn’t only protect dog paws. It helps regulate your dog’s body temperature to keep your dog’s entire body warm.
That said, some dogs are more equipped for certain weather conditions than others. Huskies, for example, are bred and born sled dogs originating from Siberia. A Chihuahua, on the other hand, hails from Mexico and is very small.
Both of these dogs may contain an amazing circulatory system in their paws designed to protect them from certain weather conditions, but they will not be able to withstand the same temperatures safely.
So, while all dog paws are amazing, not all dog paws are created equally.
Weird Facts About Dog Paws You Probably didn’t Know
Did you know that there are three different shapes of dog paws and that one of them is called cat feet?
We bet you never gave so much thought to dog paws until this very moment, but now that you know a little bit, you want to know it all. Who knew dog paws were so complex and interesting?
So, in the spirit of education, let’s look at a few weird facts about dog paws we’re pretty sure you didn’t know.
There Are Three Different Shapes Of Dog Paws
These shapes include:
- Webbed Feet
- Cat Feet
- And Hare Feet
And yes, the term “feet” is not a mistake or a lazy name we are giving to these dog paw shapes. These are actually what these different types of dog paws are called.
Webbed feet in dogs is pretty common, and you may look at your dog’s paws right now and consider them webbed. But the truth is, real webbed feet in dog paws is pretty evident. Webbed feet is most common in dogs bred for working purposes like water retrieving dogs and hunting dogs.
However, there are other dogs with webbed feet that may surprise you, like Dachshunds, for example. Bred digging dogs, webbed feet once helped Dachshunds dig their way into badger dens.
These dog paws are designed for grace, with the paw pads built closer together and toes arched. They are most commonly seen in working dogs bred for endurance or who hail from colder regions or regions with rougher terrain.
Hare Feet is the last of the three shapes when it comes to dog paws. And, just as you might expect, hare feet look just like that – hare feet. A dog with hare feet may also appear to have longer paws because dogs with hare feet have longer middle toes.
Take the Greyhound, for example, who is a quintessential example of a dog with hare feet dog paws. Hare feet provide dogs like the Greyhound with the ability to run at great bursts of speed without utilizing too much energy when lifting their legs from the ground.
These types of dog paws also provide dogs with a better sense of traction and balance. Some breeds with hare feet dog paws, aside from the Greyhound, include the Standard Poodle, the Whippet, and the Borzoi.
Dog Paws Are Super Sensitive To Heat
While dog paws are weatherproof and designed to withstand different terrains and colder weather, they are not designed to withstand heat. It is a common misconception amongst many dog owners that dog’s can withstand hot sidewalks, asphalt or flooring.
In actuality, dog paws are just as sensitive to heat as human feet are. The best way to ensure your dog’s paws are safe and to avoid paw burns is to test hot surfaces yourself before your dog walks on them.
Veterinarians remind us that if a surface is too hot for us to put our palm on for more than five seconds, then it is too hot for dog paws.
Dog Paw Prints Are Unique, But Not As Unique As Your Fingerprint
Here’s an adorable fact – every dog paw print is unique. However, they are not as unique as you may think. In fact, if you’re looking for a way to distinguish your dog from others, you’re better off using his nose print as opposed to his paw print.
Studies have found that dog’s nose prints are far more complex and unique to each individual dog in the same way that human fingerprints are. How cute is that?
You’re Not Crazy – Your Dog’s Paws DO Smell Like Dorritos!
This smell is a result of microorganisms that attach themselves to dog paws when dogs are out and about throughout the day. These microorganisms result in a buildup of bacteria and yeast, which produces a smell that is undeniably reminiscent of one of our favorite snack foods.
For the most part, this smell is a normal and healthy part of dog paws. However, there are times when there can be an overgrowth of bacteria and yeast, which can lead in infections and other issues. Look for abnormalities in your dog’s paws like swelling, a greasy residue, or dogs who are excessively licking.
This could be a sign of an issue with bacterial overgrowth, an injury, infection or allergies.
And speaking of these health concerns, let’s talk about some common symptoms you should watch out for when it comes to dog paws and their health.
Symptoms Of Dog Paw Problems And When To Contact A Vet
Keeping an eye on changes in your dog’s paws can help you catch underlying health issues in your dog.
Since dog paws play such an important role in your dog’s health, happiness and mobility, it’s important to take care of them.
Unfortunately, dogs can be hard on their paws, especially if they like to dig, run, or play rough. Climate and weather conditions can also have an impact on dog paws, as can diet, illness and stress.
With that noted, let’s take a look at some common symptoms you can watch out for that may alert you if something isn’t quite right with your dog’s paws.
Limping or Favoring Of One Leg or Paw
Dogs are experts at hiding pain. This is an instinctive trait carried on from dogs’ wild ancestors as a means of survival. However, dogs can’t very well hide paw or leg pain, especially if they are relatively active.
If you notice your dog limping or favoring one leg over the other, pay attention. Investigate his paw carefully and get into the crevices of his digital pads. Sometimes the catalyst for the limping may simply be a thorn or small pebble that got stuck in your dog’s paw.
However, there could be more serious reasons behind your dog’s limp that may require veterinary care.
Burns, Blisters or Scrapes
We now know that dog paws are sensitive to heat. Unfortunately, it’s a lesson learned too late for many well-meaning dog parents.
Dog paw burns are some of the more common injuries veterinarians see, especially during the summer months. Dog paw burns are not always obvious to owners, but they can be dangerous and cause serious damage to your dog’s paws if left untreated.
Burns often look like blisters or scrapes on your dog’s digital pads or metacarpal pad, and will often be red, pink or brown in color. It may even appear as if your dog’s paws have been scraped or as if the outer layer of the paw is peeling away.
If you notice injuries that look like blisters, scrapes or burns, contact your veterinarian for care instructions. Just like humans, dog paws can be susceptible to serious infection from untreated burns, so it’s important to take action quickly. Furthermore, burns are painful, and quick care can help to alleviate any pain your dog may be in.
Excessive Chewing Or Licking
Dogs have a natural instinct to lick a wound, so if their paw is burnt or cut, they’ll likely be spending a lot of time licking the injured area. If something is stuck in your dog’s paw, you might find him licking and chewing his paws excessively.
We should note that excessive licking and chewing of dog paws may also be a sign of allergies or even stress. So how do you know for sure?
If your dog is excessively licking or chewing one specific paw, check it out. There may be an injury or something may be stuck in your dog’s paw that is irritating your dog.
However, if your dog chooses different paws to chew or lick, he may be experiencing allergies or stress.
Some common signs of allergies in dogs include other issues like dry coat, excessive itching, sneezing and food intolerance.
When it comes to a dog licking his paws due to allergies, the most common culprit is a food allergy. You can help alleviate itchy paws by putting your dog on a limited ingredient diet dog food free of poultry.
If your dog is stress licking, you may notice other behaviors like pacing, excessive shedding, drooling, whining or panting. Try changing your dog’s environment, getting him out for a walk or run, or putting him in a safe, dim room where he can quietly decompress.
If your dog continues to lick or chew his paws excessively, it would be a good idea to contact your veterinarian for further investigation.
Swollen Paws, Feet Or Legs
Swollen dog paws may be a sign that something is stuck inside of your dog’s digital pads. However, swollen dog paws can also be caused by insect bites or bee stings. More serious causes could include broken or fractured bones in your dog’s foot, a puncture wound you may have missed, or even chronic licking and chewing.
As we mentioned above, if you notice swelling in your dog’s paw or leg and can’t find the culprit, it is best to contact your veterinarian as soon as possible.
Cracked, Crusty Or Broken Paw Pads
Like humans, dog paws can be sensitive to changes in weather. Colder, dryer seasons like winter can lead to an increase in cracked or crusty pads, as can allergies, excessive licking and chewing, or even over exertion during play or exercise.
However, there are some instances where dry, cracked or crusty dog paws can be a sign of an underlying illness, so don’t ignore them.
Cracked, Broken, Split or Ingrown Claws
As we learned earlier in this article, dog claws are very different from human fingernails. Since they grow directly from the bones in your dog’s toes, a cracked or broken claw can lead to serious pain, infection, and even long-term damage.
Ingrown claws pose similar risks, so it’s vital you keep an eye on your dog’s claws to ensure they are not getting too long. Keeping your dog’s claws routinely trimmed or ground down will help reduce the chances of dealing with claw issues.
If you do notice that your dog’s claw is broken, it’s important to get to the veterinarian. While most broken or cracked dog claws can be fixed, some need to be removed and this process requires surgery.
Tips On Keeping Your Dog’s Paws Healthy
While your dog’s paws are able to withstand a lot, they still need plenty of TLC.
Your dog relies on you for everything, but who knew his paws would need so much of your time and attention too?
The good news is that, with routine care and some basic grooming tools, you should be able to keep your dog’s paws in ship shape.
Here are some ways you can go about ensuring your dog’s paws stay looking and feeling their best.
Trim Your Dog’s Claws Regularly
Don’t turn your nose up to giving your dog a nice pedicure now and then. On average, dog claws should be trimmed or ground down at least once every two weeks or so. Unfortunately, trimming the claws on dog paws is easier said than done.
Dog claws have a quick in the center of their claws that is similar to our cuticles. However, these quicks are filled with blood and nerves, so trimming your dog’s claws too short is not only a painful experience for your dog, it’s also a bloody one.
While accidentally cutting your dog’s claws too short isn’t going to be life threatening, it can be unpleasant for you and certainly for your pup. If you’re worried about trimming your dog’s claws, you always have the option of going to a professional groomer.
Otherwise, we suggest investing in a doggy claw grinder, which can help reduce the chances of cutting your dog’s claws too short.
Boot Your Dog When It’s Appropriate
Dog booties aren’t just a cute accessory for your dog. In fact, quality dog booties are actually designed to help protect your dog’s paws from the elements. That said, not every occasion is going to be appropriate for dog booties, and it’s important you know when – and when not – to use booties on your dog.
While booties can help reduce paw pad burns during hot weather, they can also increase the risk of heat stroke in your dog. Remember, dogs sweat through their paws and their paws help regulate their body temperature.
Covering dog paws on especially hot days may lead to overheating. Still, if you’re only going to be out and about for a little bit, it should be safe to use booties for a brief time to protect dog paws from pad burns.
You might also consider booting your dog when going on long adventures like intense hikes, or when the weather is particularly cold. This is especially true for dogs who are not equipped to handle colder weather, like smaller breeds or mixes.
Stay Vigilant for Injuries or Infections
Routine grooming not only helps keep your dog looking and feeling his best, but it also provides you with a hands-on look at your dog’s body from nose to tail. Take this time to investigate your dog’s paws, even when he’s not exhibiting any symptoms of discomfort.
Catching things early often reduces the chances of your dog having to make a visit to the vet, which not only saves your dog from stress and pain, but it can also save you money.
Offer Your Dog A Paw Massage
Remember that cool circulatory system we discussed earlier? Experts say that a good paw paw massage can actually help keep that circulatory system healthy and active.
Massaging your dog’s paws regularly can help increase the health of dogs paws overall, aiding in blood flow, regulation of body temperature and more.
Of course, not all dogs enjoy having their paws touched. You can also help keep dog paws healthy by keeping your dog active. Routine exercise and daily walks are a few other great ways to ensure dog paws stay in ship shape.
Contact Your Veterinarian If You Notice Signs Of Infection or Injury
If you notice that something is off with your dog’s paws and don’t feel you can adequately treat it yourself, don’t wait to contact your veterinarian. Oftentimes, the sooner you catch things and intervene, the better off your dog and his paws are in the long run.
Top Products We Love For Dog Paws
Keeping your dog’s paws in ship shape means investing in the right products.
Pet Nail Grinders
Since clipping your dog’s nails can be nerve wracking, we recommend investing in a doggy nail grinder. These grinders are super easy to use and make cutting too far down nearly impossible.
You can use the above nail grinder on both dogs and cats, and it’s suitable for dogs of most sizes and ages. It’s even recommended by veterinarians!
Deodorizing Paw Wipes
Wiping your dog’s paws after walks or outings is fine, but if you don’t have the proper wipes you could be causing more harm than good. For this reason, we suggest investing in hypoallergenic grooming wipes that are specifically designed for dogs and cats.
The above wipes by BIGA are hypoallergenic, organic, and made with all natural ingredients that will not harm dog paws.
Last but not least we have this organic Paw Balm by the Bodhi Dog Store. Like humans, dogs can get dry and cracked paws when the weather changes. This balm helps soothe dry paws and heal cracks and cuts. It’s like a lotion for dog paws, and it is perfectly safe for dogs to lick off.
And that’s it!
Now you know more than you probably ever thought you would about dog paws. So, what do you think now that we’ve covered it all? Do you see dog paws in a totally different light?
Let us know what you think about dog paws by dropping us a comment in the comment section below.
Jen Jones is a professional dog trainer and behavior specialist with more than 25 years of experience. As the founder of ‘Your Dog Advisor’ and the ‘Canine Connection’ rehabilitation center, she applies a holistic, empathetic approach, aiming to address root causes rather than merely treating symptoms.
Well known for her intuitive and compassionate approach, Jen adopts scientifically-proven, reward-based methods, encouraging positive reinforcement over punishment. Jen specializes in obedience training, behavior modification, and puppy socialization. Her innovative methods, particularly in addressing anxiety and aggression issues, have been widely recognized. Jen has worked with many of the world’s leading dog behaviorists and in her free time volunteers with local animal shelters and rescue groups.