What does your dog or cat step on every day? Humans have podiatrists and take care of their feet, and so we must also do with pets. Common sense, simple foot examinations and routine paw/nail care can help keep your furred friend motoring on in comfort.
Watch Where You Walk
Avoid areas with broken glass or other hazards on the ground. When out for a hike or in a field, try to avoid areas with foxtails (grasses with seeds that can penetrate feet). If hiking on excessively rocky areas, try small booties.
Avoid Hot Pavement
If it’s too hot for you to place your hand on the ground, it’s too hot for your dog to walk on! In the summer avoid asphalt and other very dark ground types. Grass is best, dirt is second-best. Heat can burn feet, resulting in blisters. These can appear as mushy pads, sloughing of the paw pad and red patches. If noted, apply a small amount of an antibiotic ointment and give us a call.
Winter Isn’t Great Either
Prolonged exposure to cold can lead to drying out of paw pads and subsequent cracking or chapping. Salt and many other products used for deicing can cause localized burns, lead to discomfort and be toxic if licked off the pads. After walking during winter, wipe down your pup’s feet with a moist cloth. For extra-sensitive animals, consider small booties. They may look silly but can protect against the cold and salt. If you need to use salt on walkways, we have pet-safe salts at both hospitals.
On a weekly basis, look at your pup’s feet and nails. Inspect where the nails meet the toes. Look for swelling, discharges, masses or other problems. Be sure there are no objects stuck between the toes and the paw pads. I have personally pulled acorns, pebbles, tar, gum, small pine cones, hard candies, poop, Jelly Beans and other things out of these areas! Look for signs of infection, including redness, odors or discharges. Be sure the pads look normal. If the pads are dry and cracked, ask us what kind of moisturizer to use.
Nails are designed to naturally wear down with use. Small problem: many dogs live in carpeted areas or do not get enough exercise to properly cause natural nail wear. If you hear the nails clicking when walking, they may be too long. This is especially true in smaller dogs, as their nails grow quickly but they lack sufficient weight to cause decent wear. Routine nail trims may be needed. Discuss with your veterinarian or groomer.
Take It Slow
Wanting to exercise your sedentary dog? Work up to running or jogging. Too much exercise in a short period of time can lead to excessive wear on the pads and nails and cause bleeding and ulcers. The ulcers are painful and can take several weeks to heal. Also, your dog may not be physically fit enough to exercise at an intense level so quickly. Excessive wear can also happen quickly on tennis-court-type surfaces.
Inspect your cat’s feet routinely as above. Be sure there isn’t caked up litter. Look at the nails and have them appropriately trimmed. As cats age, they do not wear down nails well, and nails can even grow in a circle, penetrating the paw pad. If this happens it’s time to see us. Always have a clean litterbox. If your middle-aged or older cat is accumulating litter on the feet, it may be a good idea to have a veterinary exam. Some conditions, including diabetes, can cause urine to be very sticky, leading to clumped-on litter. See if the pads have ulcers or have a mushy feel or appearance. Several autoimmune conditions can cause the pads to swell and become uncomfortable.
Getting Used to Foot Exams
For both cats and dogs, routinely play with their feet so that they become accustomed to your examining them and trimming nails. My advice is to rub the feet several times per day as an adult and 30 times per day as a puppy or kitten. Few animals like when you simply grab their feet, but if they have been desensitized to foot exams, they usually go without a hitch.
Happy paws from all of us at District Vet Eastern Market and District Vet Brookland!
Dan Teich, DVM, is the medical director of The District Veterinary Hospital, 240 Seventh St. SE, firstname.lastname@example.org.