Why do our dogs paws crack and what should we do about it? More times than not, it all starts with an outdoor play date in the backyard in the middle of winter. Imagine the dogs running and playing in the snow in the backyard.
Our dogs always loved to play in the snow. It didn’t matter if the snow was so deep that it was taller than they were, they plowed right through it like it was nothing. I was always amazed that they could really didn’t care if it was cold, blowing or just mounds of snow, nothing would stop the fun.
All of a sudden, someone spots the first sign of bloody paw prints in the snow. Although this is not something that dog owners aren’t used to seeing, but still it is not a good situation. The blood of course means that one of the dogs paws cracked and is bleeding in the snow.
Why do dogs have paw pads, and what exactly is their purpose. A paw pad is actually a layer of pigmented tissue skin that can either be pink in color or black. This skin covers the fatty tissue underneath. Fat like in most cases acts as a type of insulation.
The anatomy of the dog paw is actually made up of 5 different components:
- Claws – nails
- Digital Pads – shock absorbers
- Metacarpad Pad – shock absorbers
- Declaw – thumbs
- Carpal – act like a brake for slippery and steep slopes
Along with these 5 components, our dog paws also have bones, skin, tendons, ligaments, blood supply and connective tissue.
A dogs paw pads are designed to help protect our dogs joints by acting as a cushion or shock absorber. They help with the pressure that is put on their paws simply from standing on them, just like our feet do for us.
We all know that a dog actually sweats out through their paws. The inner layer of the skin actually has sweat glands that convey perspiration to the outer layer of skin. This helps keep our dogs cool. Naturally this process helps stop our dogs paw pads from getting dry.
Even when our dogs get nervous or excited, their paws get sweaty, just like ours do.
Reasons paws crack
There are many reasons that our dogs paws can crack and bleed. Let’s go through the list of some of the most common things that can cause this:
- Snow and ice
- Contact irritation
- Zinc deficiencies
- Excessive wear and tear
- Old age Hyperkeratosis
- Excessive paw licking
Each of these issues can definitely cause our dogs pads to crack. Snow and ice for example creates problems due to the roughness of the snow or ice itself. Ice can be extremely sharp and can actually cause cuts to the paw pads much easier than you think.
Contact irritation is something that happens if our dog walks or steps on a surface that has things like chemicals from cleaning, ice melt for icy surfaces, salt used in winter and even things like lawn chemicals. All of these items can easily transfer to our dogs pads which may lead to them chewing or excessively licking them. Any time a dog starts focusing on an area, things like cracking can happen quickly. This can even happen if our dog develops and allergy to something in their food, as this can lead them to have itchy paws. Once again that itchy feeling will lead to chewing or excessive licking and than cracking paws.
Just like in our bodies, dogs can develop deficiencies in their body. One of these can be a zinc deficiency that can lead to dry skin issues. This type of issue can be breed related, as some breeds like Poodles, Great Danes, German Shepherds, Huskies and even Beagles are more prone to this issue.
Senior dogs can develop something called Hyperkeratosis which is an overproduction of keratin, similar to when humans get corns on their feet. This will cause our dog paws to crack simply from being so dry.
We all have had those days when our feet are sore and aching from being on them the entire day. It doesn’t take long to start to develop calluses, blisters and even dry cracking feet. Our dogs feet are no different. Anytime our dog go through an excessive amount of walking on hot surfaces, cold surfaces, hunting dogs that run through rough terrain, any of these events can amount to wear and tear on their paws.
One of the last factors that we need to watch for that can cause cracking pads is from a dog that is an excessive licker. Some dogs lick more than others. If this is your dog, than you know what I mean about excessive licking. When a dog continually focusing on one specific area the licking puts liquid or saliva on their feet. The wetness this creates actually has the opposite effect to the paw, by drying out the pad.
Yes it sounds strange, but think about what you do when your lips feel dry…..we constantly lick them, which in turn makes them more raw and red leading to chapped lips. The same thing happens when a dog licks their paw.
What to do
When it comes to figuring out what is the best thing to do for your dogs cracked paws, it can depend on the underlying cause of the problem. There are mild cracks, and there are cracks that go deep causing the paw to bleed. The more severe cracks can cause your dog to limp, so you need to address these issues right away.
Aggressively treating the severe cracks is to first clean the blood of the paw gently with a warm rag. Cleaning the wound is always the most important first step. Once you have cleaned it all up, than you will want to apply something like Vaseline, Neosporn, or by choosing from an array of dog balms. Then after you have it all ready, I recommend trying to wrap the wound. You could put an old sock on their paw, wrap gauze with tape or even a tensor bandage.
Most importantly you need to keep your dog away from chewing, pulling or trying to remove the wrapping. Continue to check and treat the crack with the balm daily. Your dog also needs to rest and stay off of it if they can. That can be tough to do, but what you can do is limit any outside extra walking. Usually as the wound heals, you will also see how your dogs movement starts to improve. Their indicators they give us are important to follow. It tells us how they are feeling with the injury.
When we have just light cracking or dryness on their paw pads, than just be sure to keep their paws clean of any debris. They can get things stuck on their paws when they come from outside to back inside. Using a dog paw washer is really the easiest way to achieve this. Once clean apply a dog paw balm or Vaseline to the dry areas. Rub it in well and check on them daily.
Paw pads do heal quickly, so sometimes the cracks will just heal on their own. Again it all depends on the severity of the cracks or dryness.
Sometimes I think we forget the beatings that our dogs paws take throughout their life. A lot is asked from our dogs paws on a daily basis. The best way to keep our dogs paws healthy, is to be proactive about it.
What I mean by that is, there are little things we do can that will make a huge difference. For example, when planning our outings with our dog, it is important to think about what kind of terrain we are asking our dog to tackle that day.
A day of walking in the winter, might now include dog winter boots for your dog. If it is a tough day of hunting, make sure throughout the day to check your dogs paws. See if there are any cuts, scrapes, or anything developing. Apply a dog paw balm before you go out as a protective barrier and adding moisture to your dogs skin.
Remember when you are introducing your dog to a new excursion, that you do so slowly. Don’t decide one day to go on a hike for half a day, when you haven’t done any exercise in a while. Just like us, our dogs need us to do things in small increments to start. Their pads need time to toughen up in order to protect them. Injuries can be created from the changing environments and rough surfaces to quickly.
Making sure that we don’t introduce any type of chemicals in our house cleaning and yard maintenance can easily assure us that we are not the cause of our dog paws cracking. Using any of these products could cause our dogs paws to become dry.
My finale thoughts are for the dog owner with the excessive licker. Our boy BOO, at times, was guilty of licking a lot. Sometimes that licking would be on his paws. As I mentioned early, we don’t want our dogs licking to cause their paws to become dry and crack.
For us, we were committed to stopping that bad habit, just to make sure he didn’t cause issues to his paws. We both agreed to distract him every time we would catch him focusing to much on his paws. The constant correction did stop him from doing it eventually.
Now sometimes our dogs just won’t leave things alone, than we are of course forced to be dramatic with putting on the dreaded cone. Yes we do need to be the bad guy. Ultimately though, we do these things to let their wounds heal, so a few days of sad dog face is worth it.
With most things that we end up talking about when it comes to our dogs is that we are the responsible party here. Pay attention to your dog and more importantly their paws. Regular checking of your dogs paws can nip any issue early enough to avoid a bigger problem from developing.
♥ LOVE THEIR PAWS