Conditioning and protection help your dog put his best foot forward
By Dr. Marty Becker and Kim Campbell Thornton
Your dog’s paws are the foundation of his anatomy. He depends on them not only to take him places, but also to provide traction on snow, ice or other slick surfaces and to help protect him from pain when he’s walking on rocky terrain or hot asphalt.
For good reason, then, paw maintenance is one of the most important aspects of grooming your dog. That includes trimming the nails regularly, trimming the hair between the toes or on the bottom of the feet, and protecting the pads from injuries such as burns and bruises.
It’s also one of the more neglected areas of grooming. Most dogs dislike having their paws handled, and put up a fuss about it. And at one time or another, just about everyone has accidentally quicked a dog — cutting into the vein supplying blood to a dog’s toenail — and the screaming and blood flow aren’t something that anyone wants to repeat: neither you nor the dog. It’s all too easy to throw up our hands and beat feet for something more fun to do, but the following tips will help you get a handle on your dog’s paw care.
If you can hear your dog’s nails clicking on the floor or ground, they are too long, and are at risk of getting snagged in the carpet or breaking off. To get them back in shape, trim just a little bit every day or so. Each time you trim, have someone feed your dog treats as a distraction. Wait a day or two and trim a little more. Continue this process until they are back at an appropriate length and then make sure they stay that way. Use a nail file to keep them smooth.
If your dog is undergoing surgery or having his teeth professionally cleaned, have the nails trimmed while he’s under anesthesia. This only works about once a year, if that, but if the nails are overly long, it’s a good way to get them trimmed without anguish on your part or the dog’s.
To help your dog walk more comfortably, trim excess hair around and under the paw. That ensures that it doesn’t pick up stickers or even small rocks, which can cause pain or lameness. Leave a little extra hair on the foot when it’s icy or snowy out; it insulates the paw pad and helps to prevent ice balls from forming. A slightly furry foot is also advantageous if your dog frequently walks over rocky areas because it improves traction.
If you’re out of paw wax and your dog is facing a slick surface, pour a little soda pop on the ground and let him walk through it. The sticky liquid will help keep him from slipping or sliding. This works best if the hair on his feet has been trimmed. You’ll need to clean his feet afterward, but it’s a useful trick in a pinch.
Toughen pads gradually by walking your dog on different types of surfaces. If all he ever walks on is soft carpet and grass, his tootsies will be aching after a hike over rocky trails.
Soothe paws during a hike by having your dog soak them in a stream if one is available. At home, give him a “spaw” soak by brewing a strong batch of tea and soaking his feet in it after it cools. (Plain teabags are fine; you don’t have to use Earl Greyhound.) The tannins in the tea help to toughen the pads.
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