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Paw balms in the lab

Testing eight paw balms in The Lab

Balms protect dog paws against the elements and can help heal dry, cracked paw pads. For pet parents shopping online, it’s hard to determine which balms stay on paws or stain fabrics. So, our team tested the most popular paw balms on the market. We reviewed these products ourselves against the following criteria: ingredients, smell, lickability, application, staining, and packaging.

Paw balms we loved

Our vegan pick

Paw Soother is a vegan paw balm that’s made entirely in the USA. Using dog-friendly ingredients, this balm moisturizes and heals irritated, cracked paws. We like that Paw Soother comes in several sizes and is easy for pet parents to apply. One downside — we didn’t love the yellow residue that this balm left behind when we tested it on fabric. So you shouldn’t apply Paw Soother to your dog’s paws on your white sofa or rug.

  • Ingredients. Paw Soother contains organic, vegan ingredients that are safe for dogs. The balm hydrates with coconut oil, mango butter, and jojoba oil. Paw Soother’s formula also includes chamomile and natural vitamin E to heal and soothe.
  • Smell. The product has a pleasing herbal scent.
  • Lickability. While it wasn’t the most lickable balm that we tested, the smell definitely piqued our dogs’ interest. We give it a high to moderate score on the lickability scale.
  • Application. Thanks to the balm’s handy stick container, pet parents can place their dog’s paw directly on the stick to apply. You can also remove the product from the container with your fingers and then apply.
  • Staining. Paw Soother leaves a yellow residue on fabrics. In our test, it was most apparent on white fabric. But, it washes off easily with soap, water, and light rubbing.
  • Packaging. It comes in a clear stick container that twists up, like a container of deodorant

What our vet thinks

Dr. Irish was concerned about reviews that said Paw Soother has tea tree oil as an ingredient. But after further research, we learned that Natural Dog Company removed tea tree oil as an ingredient from Paw Soother in 2017. Tea tree oil can be toxic to dogs when used in high concentrations. While Natural Dog Company used it in low concentrations, they removed it because of their customers’ concerns. If you have a pre-2017 Paw Soother, it’s best to toss it and buy the new formula.

Our cold weather pick

Musher’s Secret is a simple, no-nonsense wax that protects dogs’ paws against wintery and dry conditions. For dogs in cold climates, this wax creates a barrier between paw pads and salty streets. In our “at first glance” analysis, it also has the lowest price per ounce of all the balms on our list. Our product researcher and vet both agree that Musher’s Secret is a must-have for winter.

  • Ingredients. Musher’s Secret is made with an all-natural wax blend. It’s safe and nontoxic for dogs. It hydrates paws with three waxes: beeswax, carnauba, and candelilla. It also contains vitamin E to soothe paws.
  • Smell. Musher’s has a light waxy smell.
  • Lickability. This balm has a moderate lickability score. Because of the wax’s subtle smell, our dogs weren’t dying to lick it off their paws.
  • Application. It’s fairly easy to scoop this wax from the container. Just rub it between your fingers before applying it to your dog’s paw pads.
  • Staining. When tested on cloth, this balm initially left residue. But it seemed to disappear after a few minutes.
  • Packaging. It comes in a basic blue and white plastic container. The lid is easy to twist on and off.

What our vet thinks

Of all the balms we tested, Musher’s Secret is our vet Dr. Irish’s favorite. She likes the product’s long track record and notes that the wax is a preferred remedy among Canadian sled dog owners.

Our organic pick

For the eco-conscious dog owners, Paw Nectar is our favorite organic balm. During testing, we liked that this balm left zero stains on our fabric swatches. The balm has a light lavender scent that’s very appealing to dogs. It may be a little challenging to keep on your doggie’s paws, so try to distract them with a treat or toy after applying to allow the balm’s hydrating ingredients to take effect.

  • Ingredients. Made with organic ingredients that are safe for dogs (in case they lick it). Paw Nectar hydrates with cocoa and shea butter and heals with vitamin E and aloe vera. Rosemary seed extract and lavender oil give this balm its light scent.
  • Smell. It has a light lavender scent that isn’t overpowering.
  • Lickability. Due to its yummy smell, Paw Nectar does have a high lickability score. Our dogs were very interested in licking this balm off of their paws.
  • Application. To apply, we rubbed a little bit of Paw Nectar between our fingers, then rubbed the formula on our dogs’ paws.
  • Staining. When rubbed between your fingers, it leaves some residue behind. But this residue didn’t show on white or gray fabric.
  • Packaging. This balm comes in a small metal tin that’s easy to store. 

What our vet thinks

Dr. Irish likes the convenient tin and is a fan of QualityPet’s money-back guarantee. One word of caution from Dr. Irish: She doesn’t like that the balm advertises using this product to avoid a vet visit. Paw balms are designed to treat minor cases of dry paws. Keep that in mind when deciding whether your dog needs a paw balm or has a more serious issue.

The best absorption

With ingredients like wheat germ oil and unique sources of vitamin E, this nontoxic paw saver heals and protects paws. In our tests, Vets Preferred Paw Balm absorbed into paws better than other balms. It has the right malleable consistency but isn’t too greasy or waxy. If you’re unsure whether your dog will tolerate a balm on their paws, this is a good starter option for pet parents to try out before investing in the fancy stuff.

  • Ingredients. This option contains dog-friendly ingredients to hydrate and soothe paws. It’s made with mineral oil, waxes (paraffin and beeswax), and three kinds of butter (cocoa seed, shea, and cocoa).
  • Smell. The balm has a light, clean aroma, with subtle hints of marjoram and patchouli.
  • Lickability. This balm has a low lickability score. Our dogs weren’t very interested in licking this product off.
  • Application. It rubs and absorbs into dogs’ paws nicely. The absorption may also be why dogs were less interested in licking this balm off — there wasn’t much left behind.
  • Staining. It left no residue in our fabric swatch test.
  • Packaging. The balm arrives in a simple metal tin.

What our vet thinks

Dr. Irish likes that this balm is made in the USA. She’s also a fan of the ingredients and believes they’re safe and effective.

Our no-scent pick

If your dog is a super-smeller, Dermapaw’s Skin & Paw Treatment is a good option for them. Dermapaw is our only no-scent pick. While it has lavender oil in its ingredient list, we couldn’t smell it. There’s only one thing we didn’t love about this balm: Because of its thick consistency, it was a little challenging to apply to wiggling paws.

  • Ingredients. Dermapaw has a short ingredient list, and each one is safe for dogs. This balm hydrates paw pads with a blend of beeswax, carnauba, and candelilla. It also contains vitamin E, an essential ingredient for soothing. For dogs with allergies, it doesn’t contain any nut, soy, or flax oils.
  • Smell. This balm has no smell despite having some lavender oil in its formula.
  • Lickability. Dermapaw has a low lickability score because of its lack of scent.
  • Application. This balm is thicker than others on this list. We discovered in testing that it’s best to rub some between your fingers before applying it to your dog’s paws.
  • Staining. It left no residue or stains behind on our fabric tester.
  • Packaging. The balm comes in a small container with a twist-off lid.

What our vet thinks

Dr. Irish wishes this balm had a more detailed product description on Amazon for pet parents looking for additional information about it.

Easiest to apply

Our favorite on-the-go balm, Handy Hound’s Paw Butter is the perfect size to slip into a purse or backpack. Pet parents can also easily apply the product with its twist-up stick. While it has a thick buttery consistency, it absorbs nicely into paws.

  • Ingredients. It’s formulated with vegan, dog-safe ingredients, like coconut oil, candelilla wax, and cupuacu butter to hydrate. We like that this balm also contains hemp oil and calendula oil for their antifungal and healing properties.
  • Smell. It has faint hints of lemon and lavender, but the smell isn’t overwhelming.
  • Lickability. This balm has a moderate lickability score. Dogs were interested in the smell but didn’t rush to lick the balm off.
  • Application. This balm was thicker than most on our list. But it’s easy to swipe on paws — and it absorbs nicely!
  • Staining. During our fabric swatch test, Handy Hound left no residue behind.
  • Packaging. This balm comes in a roll-up tube, making application a breeze.

What our vet thinks

Dr. Irish would recommend this balm because of its safe ingredients and the ease of use for pet owners.

Our dual-purpose pick

4-Legger Nose & Paws Healing Balm is designed to hydrate paws AND noses. We love that the brand responsibly sources shea butter from land that also houses a hippo sanctuary in West Africa. In our tests, 4-Legger did leave residue on test fabric but rubbed into dog paws easily. One note for pet parents: Don’t be alarmed if it leaves your dog’s toe fur slightly yellow. We noticed this went away after a few minutes.

  • Ingredients. The ingredients in this balm are safe for dog paws (and licks). The balm gets its color from organic hemp oil, which soothes skin. 4-Legger also hydrates paws with organic shea butter and carnauba wax.
  • Smell. It has a grassy, hemp smell.
  • Lickability. 4-Legger’s balm has a moderate lickability score. The scent does seem to entice dogs but also won’t have them licking it off right after application.
  • Application. It rubbed into our dog’s paws nicely, but it did leave the fur on their toes slightly yellow for a bit.
  • Staining. This balm left yellow-green residue on our fabric tests.
  • Packaging. It comes in a small clear container with a twist-off lid.

What our vet thinks

Dr. Irish likes the effective ingredients in this balm but believes the USDA-certified label is a little misleading. The USDA certifies organic ingredients, but the FDA approves the use of products for pets.

Most affordable

Pet Head’s Oatmeal Paw Butter is the most affordable balm on our list — but there are a few drawbacks. The packaging was a bit cumbersome for our team. The balm had made its way onto the seal, so our hands were very greasy after opening it. Because of its warm, oatmeal scent, our dogs were also very interested in licking it right off of their paws. However, we do like Pet Head’s ingredient list.

  • Ingredients. While Pet Head has the most ingredients of all the balms on our list, they’re all safe and nontoxic to dogs. Some of our favorite healing ingredients in this balm are vitamin E, aloe vera, and cupuacu seed butter.
  • Smell. It has a fairly strong but pleasant smell, like oats and honey.
  • Lickability. This balm has the highest lickability score on our list. Our product researcher’s dog immediately wanted to eat this balm and attempted to lick it off right after application.
  • Application. It’s easy to apply but greasy.
  • Staining. This balm left some residue behind on our gray and white fabric test. But it disappeared after a few minutes.
  • Packaging. Some of the product was on the balm’s seal. Our hands were very greasy after trying to open the container.

What our vet thinks

Dr. Irish said, “I’d recommend it but would need to ensure that the dog is distracted while it dries so they can’t lick it off.”

Our research process

Why you should trust our reviews

  • Dr. Erica Irish helped us formulate this list — She reviewed each product on this list to check for safety and effectiveness. Dr. Irish assisted us in developing rankings and shared her candid opinions about each balm.
  • We ordered and paid for these products — None of these balms were sponsored or gifted to us. Our team used our resources to buy these products so we could review them objectively.
  • We sent them off with our product researcher to test in the field — Our product review expert, Sara Ondrako, reviewed and tested each of these balms with her dogs.
  • We trialed and tested these products in The Lab — Our team put our hands on each product to give accurate feedback and reviews. We smelled, opened, and tested every paw balm on this list.

How we picked

Testing paw balms on fabric

Testing Handy Hound on fabric

We scoured the internet for the most popular paw balms for dogs. We skipped over any product that contained highly-debated ingredients (synthetic fragrances, silicones, PUFAs, formaldehyde releasers, etc.). Dr. Irish helped us narrow down our list before we ordered the balms and sent them off to our product reviewer, Sara. After reviewing each balm, Dr. Irish and Sara helped us choose the best dog paw balms for each of the categories above.

After testing, we believed all these balms are safe and effective — and we liked and disliked elements about each one. The best balm for your dog depends on a.) what your dog needs the balm for and b.) what extras matter to you as a consumer (smell, vegan, organic, USA-made, etc). Learn more about each of the six criteria we graded these balms against below.

At first glance

On paper, here’s how these eight paw balms stack up against each other when it comes to price, amount, and price per ounce. 

Balms ranked according to price per ounce, from lowest to highest

Product Smell Price* Amount Price per ounce
Musher's Secret Wax $24.99 9.12 ounces $2.74
Pet Head Oats and honey $7.48 2 ounces $3.74
Handy Hound Lemon and lavendar $16.97 3.99 ounces $4.25
Dermapaw No smell $13.87 2.9 ounces $4.78
Vets Preferred Hint of marjoram and patchouli $11.99 2 ounces $6.00
Paw Soother Herbal scent $17.95 2 ounces $8.98
Paw Nectar Lavendar $16.99 2 ounces $8.50
4-Legger Grassy smell $18.98 2 ounces $9.49

*price at the time of our review

How we tested these products

Our team collaborated with Dr. Irish and Sara to determine the criteria for our paw balm tests and reviews. For paw balms, we chose these six criteria to test against:

  • Ingredients. We reviewed the ingredients list on every balm to ensure all formulas were dog-friendly and nontoxic. If a balm used natural ingredients, that was an added bonus. While we hope your dog doesn’t lick off their paw balm, we want them to be safe in case they do!
  • Smell. We sniffed each balm to give pet parents (and their dogs) an idea of what smell to expect. Strong smells can make dogs more interested in licking, while odorless products tend to be less interesting to them.
  • Lickability. We coined the term “lickability” for this review. Lickability refers to how likely a dog is to lick the product off of their paws. High lickability = very likely to lick it off. Low lickability = not as likely to lick it off. We tested this by observing how quickly dogs tried to lick the balms off of their paws.
  • Application. Pet parents are going to rub these balms on their dog’s paws, so we reviewed how easy it was to apply each of these products.
  • Staining. Because balms go on Fido’s paws, we wanted to see whether they stain fabric. We rubbed balmed paws on white and gray fabric, looking for extra residue and staining.
  • Packaging. Containers keep balms fresh and play an important role in application. We looked at each container to see how easy they were to open and close to get the product out.

What else should pet parents consider?

Does your dog need a paw balm?

Paw balms are a great way to prevent dry skin and protect against irritants. If your dog frequently walks on icy, salty sidewalks, paw balms act as a barrier between your dog’s paw pads and the ground. Paw balms also soothe itchy and dry paws — so if your pup suffers from allergies or hyperkeratosis, balms can give them relief. And if your dog’s paws are feeling rougher than usual, balms will hydrate them like lotion. But if your lucky pup has healthy, smooth paws, they probably won’t see any change with a balm.

How to choose the right paw balm for your dog

Some balms are best for snow, while others are designed for very dry paws. Some are vegan, some are made with organic ingredients, and some might even stain your carpet. These are all important considerations when choosing a paw balm for your dog. We highlighted key features and uses for each of the balms we tested so you can decide what factors matter most to you.

The six most common causes of dry, cracked paw pads

  • Cold weather and wintery conditions can quickly dry out your dog’s skin. On top of that, the rock salt and other chemicals used to deice roads during wintery conditions can cause severely irritate a dog’s paws
  • Hot pavement can burn and blister a dog’s paws much easier than you think. Burned paw pads may look swollen, red, or blistered. If the sidewalk or pavement is hot to the touch, then it’s too hot for your dog.
  • Allergies are a big cause of skin problems for dogs. When dogs have itchy paws, they bite and lick for relief, which can make things worse and even lead to a secondary bacterial or yeast infection.
  • Cuts, punctures, and abrasions are part of life, but if left untreated, can lead to secondary infections. Make a habit of checking your dog’s paws for blood, foreign objects, and loose flaps of skin when you’re going in or out of the house.
  • Hyperkeratosis is a health condition that causes the skin on a dog’s paws (or nose) to thicken and crack. (It’s also referred to as “hairy paw.”)
  • Pemphigus is an autoimmune skin disease that usually occurs later in a dog’s life. The severity and frequency of symptoms can vary wildly, but the one commonality is that dogs often experience blisters and scabs on their face, nose, and paw pads.
  • Zinc-responsive dermatosis is a rare disorder that prevents zinc from being absorbed into a pup’s body. The most common symptoms are crusty skin lesions around the eyes, mouth, and scrotum, as well as skin abnormalities, digestive issues, and a host of other problems for your dog.

🚨 If your pet has prolonged irritation despite using a balm or salve regularly, it’s time to call your vet.

Benefits of using dog paw balms

We all want what’s best for our dogs. Here are the four biggest benefits of regularly applying balm to your furry friend’s paws:

  • Balms protect your dog’s paws against daily wear and tear — Dogs’ paws weren’t meant to run on concrete. If you and your canine have an active lifestyle, balms will help keep your dog’s paw healthy and strong.
  • Balms protect against cold weather and chemical irritants — Nothing dries out skin like the cold weather. Plus, chemicals used to deice roads and sidewalks can irritate your dog’s paws. Balms help protect against both by trapping moisture inside the paws and keeping chemicals out.
  • Balms can be used all over your dog — Just because a product says “paw balm” doesn’t mean you can’t use it on your pooch’s nose or hot spots. All our favorite paw balms are safe to use anywhere on your dog (except their eyes, of course).
  • Balms soothe irritation and damage — Thanks to all-natural healing ingredients, paw balms are perfect for treating blisters, cracks, hot spots, cuts, burns, and irritation due to allergies.

How to apply dog paw balms

  1. Rub or dab the balm onto the surface of the paw with clean hands or a gentle cloth.
  2. Immediately reward your dog with a treat or distract them with a toy to keep them from licking the balm off.
  3. Wait a few minutes before letting your dog play or run around the house. If your home has hardwood or tile floors, paw balms may make their paws slippery until the balm fully absorbs.

If you notice a crack or irritated spot when examining your dog’s paw, balms and waxes are a great way to help moisturize and heal the skin. However, if the crack or irritated spot is large or continues to get worse after several weeks of treating it, call your veterinarian.

Remember:
Never clean your dog’s paws with rubbing alcohol or hydrogen peroxide
Apply a balm a couple of times throughout the day and, most importantly, every night before bed.

👉 Want to make a paw balm at home? Here’s how to make a DIY dog paw balm.

Some dog paw balms work on the snout, too

If you’ve ever been in windy, cold weather, you know your face can get chapped. Dog’s noses are similarly affected by blustery conditions. The good news is that any of our favorite paw balms will work just as well on your dog’s nose. Apply one to your pup’s skin before and after going out into the cold to help soothe their snoot.

Here’s why: Nose balms aren’t that different from paw balms. Regardless of what the label says, all dog balms, lotions, and waxes work pretty much the same. There’s a base mixture of water and oil, called an emulsion, that creates an occlusive layer on the skin. Filled with ingredients like essential oils and vitamins, that protective layer traps moisture in your dog’s skin to help keep their skin strong and healthy.

The reality is that your dog is going to ingest some of the balm no matter where you put it. Brands have to keep this in mind when they create skin and coat products. As long as the balm or wax is labeled all-natural or certified organic, you can use it anywhere on your pup’s body. The only exception is if a product contains some sort of medication. If it does, ask your vet before applying the product to a body part that isn’t specified on the label.

Booties are another great way to protect your dog’s paw pads

It might take a while for your pet to get used to them, but booties work incredibly well. Plus, they’re super cute. If you live in a cold climate, they’re a no-brainer. These fleece boots from Ethical Pet are a sub-$10 option (at the time of publishing) that are great for casual walks, or if you just wanna see how your dog reacts before investing in tougher booties. Check out something like the XSY&G Dog Boots if your dog is extra active or frequents rough terrain.

Frequently asked questions

Can you use paw balm on a dog’s nose?

Yes. Most paw balms work great on dogs’ noses, too. As long as the product is made with all-natural ingredients, it’s safe to use anywhere on your dog’s body. (This applies to all our favorite balms.) It’s almost impossible to keep a dog from licking at least a little bit, which brands have to keep in mind when making dog products. If a product is medicated, though, you should speak to your vet about when, where, and how often to use it. 

Can I use Vaseline on my dog’s rough paws?

Vaseline is technically nontoxic for dogs, but we don’t recommend using it. Dogs seem to really enjoy eating Vaseline. And according to our vets, it has a reputation for causing tummy aches. It’s not an exact science, but most vets will advise you to bring your pet in for an examination if you think they’ve eaten a decent amount of Vaseline.

👉 There’s no good reason to use Vaseline instead of another pet product. We recommend avoiding it altogether.

Can I use olive oil on my dog’s paws?

Yes. Olive oil is a perfectly safe treatment for your dog. But is it effective? For hair, yes. For paws and skin, probably. Olive oil is rich in antioxidants, vitamin E, and fatty acids that work wonders for your dog’s coat. The thing olive oil doesn’t do very well is retain moisture in the skin.

While olive oil is technically an occlusive agent (think of it like saran wrap for your skin), it’s not nearly the best one to use on your dog’s skin. It’s rich in oleic acid, which can create tiny holes in the outer layer of your pup’s skin, allowing moisture to escape.

👉 If you’re dead set on using oil from the grocery store, use argan oil. It’s high in linoleic acid and a much better moisturizer for both humans and dogs.

Can I use Clorox wipes on my dog’s paws?

Do not use Clorox wipes on your dog’s paws or anywhere else on their body. The chemicals in wipes like these can be irritating to your dog’s skin and toxic if your pup were to lick at the wipe or their wet paws. Dogs are going to lick their paws no matter what, so using a Clorox wipe is never a good idea when there are so many other options available, including a quick rinse with warm soapy water.

But what if I want the peace of mind of knowing my dog’s paws are sanitized? We get it. Still, we don’t recommend using Clorox on your dog. Here’s why:

  • Dogs have a much stronger stomach and immune system than humans — Their bodies can handle way more than you can. The average bacteria don’t stand a chance in your dog’s gut.
  • There are other, safer ways to disinfect your dog’s paws — If you’re concerned about tracking bacteria into the house, rinse your dog’s paws with warm soapy water before letting them in the house. Distilled vinegar is another good option since it’s a natural antifungal. Finally, there are all sorts of dog-safe wipes available on Chewy and Amazon that are powered with natural antibacterial oils and ingredients.

Can I put coconut oil on my dog’s paws?

Yes, coconut oil is safe to use on your dog and is found in almost every paw balm on the market. But coconut oil alone, without the benefits of other essential oils and ingredients, isn’t your best option.

Like olive oil, coconut oil is high in oleic acid. Oleic acid makes for shiny, sleek hair, but doesn’t contain complimentary moisturizing agents, meaning it can create microscopic holes in the outermost layer of your skin and even induce dog acne. Instead, you should use an oil that is high in linoleic acid, which is a much more effective moisturizer — and moisture is the key to healthy paw pads. Argan oil and grapeseed oil are two of the best options you can swipe on your next Target run.

If my dog licks the paw balm off, will it make them sick?

This depends on the type of balm you use. Ingesting a little all-natural paw balm or wax is no big deal. Those products are designed for dogs. If your dog eats Vaseline or some other human product, there’s a good chance your furball’s in for a stomach ache. That’s why we recommend sticking with certified organic balms with all-natural ingredients. It’s a fact: Dog’s are going to eat some of what you put on their body.

Do I need to wash paw balm off after applying it?

No, you shouldn’t wash paw balm off. But you shouldn’t leave gobs and gobs of it on your pooch either. Here’s a tip: It’s like putting a lip balm on your lips. You want just enough product to make a nice even coating, but that’s it. Apply generously to your dog’s paw at first and wipe the excess away with a soft rag or paper towel.

When should I talk to my vet about my dog’s feet or nose condition?

It’s always appropriate to talk to your pup’s veterinarian if you have any concerns. However, if your dog’s paws are cracking, you’ll want to go in for a visit.

Can I use human products on my dog’s feet?

No. Balms and moisturizers designed for humans often contain chemicals that are toxic to dogs, which your pup will ingest when they lick their paws. Also, human skin and dog skin have different pH levels — among other things. Don’t use human products on your pup without checking with a vet first.

How often do I have to reapply dog paw balms?

If you’re going for a short walk, you’re probably fine to just apply it before leaving home. If you’re worried, take the balm with you in case it wears off. You can also apply a balm after a walk to soothe your pup’s tired feet.

Should I worry if my dog’s nose is dry?

Not necessarily. We often hear that dogs’ noses are supposed to be wet. This is true to a degree, but a dry nose doesn’t signal poor health. If the skin is irritated or discolored, however, then you’ll need to talk to your vet.

Are parabens OK for dogs?

Parabens are generally considered carcinogenic for dog owners, so why take the risk with dogs. There’s no research about the effects of these chemicals for dogs specifically, but we recommend avoiding products that contain any type of paraben, including methylparaben.