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The Essentials

  • Not every dog’s feet are the same — Depending on the breed, dogs may have webbed, cat-like, or hare feet.
  • Dog paws require special care — Both hot and cold weather pose a danger to your dog’s paws. Shoes and balms are some of the best ways to tackle problems on both ends of the thermometer. 
  • Incorporate a quick paw check into your daily routine — Allergies, foreign objects, cuts, and sores can lead to injuries and infections. It’s a good idea to end every walk with a quick paw check or get in the habit of looking at their feet at least once a day.

Your dog’s paw health may be easy to take for granted, but the truth is, they don’t get enough attention. Canine paws are unique body parts similar to human feet, but tougher on the bottom to handle contact with rough surfaces. Without these durable paws and their (adorable) toe beans, our dogs wouldn’t be who they are today.

From different types of paws, paw health tips, and what else to watch out for, we’re getting into the nitty gritty to keep you informed so you can best care for your pup.

The different types of dog paws

Did you know that not all dog paws look the same? For example, the Great Pyrenees and the Great Dane have two different types of feet that were adapted based on their original breeding purpose. The Great Pyrenees mostly worked as a herding dog who required a little bit of webbing on their paws to help them navigate diverse types of terrain. The Great Dane, however, was bred to prioritize speed and actually has hare feet similar to a rabbit’s foot. 

Webbed paws

All dogs have some webbing in between their digital pads or “toe beans” as they’re affectionately called. Some breeds have more webbing than others. These dogs are usually bred to excel at swimming, sledding, or walking over different types of terrain. Most sled dog breeds like the Siberian husky, Alaskan malamute, and Samoyed have webbed feet, as do water retrievers like the Newfoundland, Labrador retriever, and standard poodle

Cat-like paws

Compact, rounded paws are referred to as “cat-like” paws. Doberman pinschers are one of many breeds with this type of paw. These dogs are usually bred to highlight strength and endurance. 

Hare-like paws

The world’s fastest dog breeds, like the greyhound and the whippet, typically have hare-like paws with two long central “toes,” and a relatively wide separation between the digital pads. Their large paws enable them to cover ground very quickly, but typically not for long distances since they burn more energy when they run.

dog paw anatomy

Anatomy of a dog paw, by betterpet

What are paw pads and why do they matter?

Dog paws are made up of four small digital pads connected to a larger central pad with varying levels of webbing, depending on the breed. The larger pad is called a metacarpal pad when it’s on their front paws and metatarsal when it’s on their back paws. 

Canines commonly have dewclaws on their front two paws, but not all do. Even if they were born with them, breeders frequently remove them shortly after birth. A dog’s front paws also have a carpal pad above their dewclaws (if they have them). The carpal pads aid in balance. Occasionally, their back paws may have tarsal pads on their back legs (same as a carpal pad, except on the hind feet), but this is rare.  

Fatty adipose tissue provides the cushion in your dog’s squishy toe beans. This tissue protects their paws from harsh weather and rough terrain and functions similar to a shoe insert you might use to comfortably walk long distances. In layman’s terms, they’re shock absorbers. This feature is super helpful since dogs are digitigrade creatures who walk on the tips of their toes, not on their heels like humans do.

Common paw and paw pad problems

If you notice your dog excessively licking or chewing on their paws, you should inspect them to make sure they aren’t injured or infected. Some paw problems can be treated at home, but others might require a visit to the veterinarian for medicine. 

Paw infections

Due to the naturally occurring bacteria that grow between their toes, it’s very common for healthy paws to smell like corn chips. However, a soured smell like stinky socks or sourdough bread can indicate that they have a bacterial, fungal, or yeast infection. Paw swelling, redness, discomfort, and itchiness are common signs of infection . If your dog has an infected paw, you’ll need to take them to the vet to determine what caused the infection and how it can be treated.

Injuries and wounds 

Since your dog’s paws are usually exposed, it’s easy for them to accidentally injure themselves by stepping on something sharp or getting something lodged between their toes. If you notice your dog limping or licking their paws, inspect their pads for any foreign objects or overgrown nails. Take them to the vet immediately if you find something stuck in their paw so they can have it removed safely. 

Allergies affecting paws

Food and environmental allergies can trigger itchiness and other discomfort in your dog’s body, which might prompt them to chew on their paws to try to relieve the itchy feeling. Flea allergy dermatitis has become more of a problem in recent years, and can be spurred on by a single flea bite. Making sure your pets are on parasite prevention can help keep them safe from itchy flea bites and possible allergic reactions.  

Although food allergies account for less than 10% of all allergy cases in dogs , your veterinarian might suggest a limited ingredient food trial if they suspect a food allergen could be a problem.

How weather affects paws

Your dog’s paws may be one of the toughest parts of their body, but ironically, they’re also one of the most sensitive. Some dogs don’t like their feet to be touched because the tops of their paws have sensitive nerves due to the large number of blood vessels. If your dog offers their paw to you, consider it to be the ultimate extension of trust! 

Extreme temperatures negatively impact your dog’s paws in ways that their anatomy isn’t prepared to handle. Our air conditioned pups aren’t acclimated for the bleakest winter days or the peaks of summer heat. Here are some ways you can keep your dog’s toes safe no matter what’s going on outside. 

Caring for paws in hot weather

Hot pavement holds heat longer than the surrounding air, making it much warmer than the current temperature. Urban asphalt jungles where concrete buildings and large populations are condensed into small spaces put dogs (and humans) at risk of accidental burns and heat stroke. Even on a mild 75℉ day, asphalt may register at nearly 130℉. To put that number into perspective, that’s about the temperature of a kid’s hot chocolate. While it’s not quite blistering, it can still burn! 

During the summer, make sure to walk your dog at times when it’s not so hot outside. Consider taking a walk early in the morning and then again after the sun has set. If you’re not sure about the temperature, checking the pavement with your fingers can let you know if it’s too hot for your dog. 

If you prefer to go outside while the sun’s still high, you might want to invest in a pair of dog shoes to protect their paws from burns and blisters. Always give them plenty of fresh water and monitor them in the summer for signs of heat stroke, such as panting excessively, pale gums, and trouble breathing. 

Caring for paws in cold weather

Most dogs should wear boots to protect their paws from frostbite if they’ll be heading out to plow through snow drifts, or from discomfort from the cold if they’re taking a long walk in temperatures below 45℉. Dogs with webbed paws, like the Siberian husky, are an exception. They were built for cold weather and might not need snow boots, which can actually get in their way. Some special breeds, such as the French bulldog, have sensitive paws coupled with thin skin that wasn’t designed for harsh climates. A Frenchie will need a coat and boots if they go outside for a walk in the cold, even if the temperature isn’t low enough for ice. 

Regardless of breed and type of paws, all dog paws are prone to cracking during the colder months because of the dehydrating effects of cold air. You might want to invest in one of these dog paw balms or waxes. Alternatively, you could save money and try a DIY home recipe for natural dog paw pad cream.

Tips for paw care

Regular paw checks

Regular paw inspections can help you spot foreign objects or irritation before the issue has the chance to progress into an infection. Most dogs don’t like their feet to be touched, but can be trained to trust you. 

To earn your dog’s trust, you might want to begin by teaching them how to shake. Once they’ve mastered “sit,” give them the command “shake,” and reach for your dog’s paws. Make sure to hold their paw lightly and give them a treat and lots of praise if they let you touch their paws. If they growl at you, reassure them and try again in a minute. 

With patience, persistence, and a few treats, most dogs will at least oblige for a few moments. Incorporating the sit and shake trick as part of your daily routine allows you a quick opportunity to check their paws at least once a day.  

Paw cleaning and grooming

Wiping off your dog’s paws after they come inside from a walk can help dislodge small objects such as pebbles that they might’ve caught between their digital pads (this will protect your furniture, too). Inspecting your dog’s paws at the end of a walk is one of the best things you can do to take care of their feet because you can wipe away dirt and debris while checking for cuts and sores. 

Dogs with long coats or fur that doesn’t shed will also need the hair between their paws trimmed regularly. This hair becomes a nuisance to them if it gets too long, and they’ll often try to bite or pull at their paws, which can lead to sores and infections. 

Preventing paw problems

Taking proactive measures, such as limiting walking times to the cooler times of day during the summer and protecting their paws with balms and other safe moisturizers in the winter, can be a good way to prevent problems like burns and cracks. Regularly inspecting your dog’s paws at the end of a walk is also a great way to literally keep them on their toes.

Frequently asked questions

How can I take care of my dog’s paws during winter?

Dog boots can protect their paws during cold weather and are essential during icy conditions, unless your dog has webbed feet. All dogs benefit from paw balm and other moisturizers to help prevent their paws from painfully splitting open as the result of cold, dry air. 

Do all dogs have the same type of paws?

There are several dog paw variations. For example, most dogs have dewclaws on their front paws. On rare occasions, a dog might even have rear dewclaws. Not all do, however, and even if they were born with them, breeders often have them removed shortly after they’re born. While all dogs have some webbing in between their digital pads, the breeds that have more than average are considered to have webbed feet. 

Some dogs like the Doberman pinscher have cat-like feet which are more rounded and compact. Breeds that were built for speed, such as the greyhound, often have two long central toes and are said to have “hare feet.” Other than those distinctions, most dogs have similar paws, with four small digital pads on each paw, metacarpal pads on the front paws, and metatarsal pads on the back.

How can I protect my dog’s paws in the summer?

As resilient as they are, dog paws weren’t designed to brave modern asphalt jungles. Avoid walking your dog on pavement when it’s hotter than 75, unless they’re wearing shoes to protect their feet from burns. 

Why doesn’t my dog let me touch his feet?

The bottom of a dog’s paw is rough and calloused to withstand various terrain. The tops of them, however, are one of the most sensitive parts of their body. Most dogs don’t like their feet to be touched, but you can usually ease them into it over time with a lot of patience, praise, and treats. 

What should I do if my dog’s paw looks irritated?

Swollen, red, or otherwise irritated paws may be the victim of an allergy or injury. Take your dog to the vet if they’re limping, or if the problem persists.