Dog paws are tough, but not indestructible. The pads on the bottom of the paw are in constant contact with the different surfaces dogs walk, run, play and climb on. All of this exposure and wear can lead to injuries and dryness that may cause a dog’s pads to develop cracks. Illnesses, allergies, irritants, autoimmune disorders and nutritional deficiencies can also cause cracked pads. With proper treatment, uninfected paw pads typically heal within a week or two, depending on the dog and severity of the injuries. Deep or infected cracks heal more slowly.
Inspect your dog’s footpads if she shows signs of pain, such as lifting a paw, licking her feet or limping. If you notice an injured or cracking paw pad while you are on an outing, turning back is the best way to avoid further injury.
Check your dog’s feet when you arrive home from outdoor adventures. She might have scraped or otherwise damaged her paws, even if she does not seem uncomfortable.
Examine paw pads for punctures or cuts. Try to determine if glass, thorns or other sharp objects have pierced the pad.
Feel your dog’s feet to determine if stones or burs are stuck in her paw pads or between her toes. Check carefully for dry grass bristles called foxtails, which may cause infections.
Take your dog to the veterinary clinic if she has an injured paw pad. Unless the injury is severe and needs more intensive care, the vet will clean the wound with chlorhexidine or povidone iodine before applying a removable bandage. Your dog might need a protective device such as an Elizabethan collar to prevent her from bothering her wound.
Change your dog’s bandages frequently for either minor or severe paw injuries. Because dogs sweat through their feet and pads, moisture accumulates under the bandages that are covering foot injuries. Damp bandages may delay healing and increase the likelihood of paw infections.
Keep the cracked pad clean. Clean the paw pad gently with a mild soap and water or a mild antiseptic, such as chlorohexidine or an iodine scrub. After washing the paw, be sure to dry it thoroughly. Do not use hydrogen peroxide on cracked paws, because it can cause harm to exposed tissues.
Follow your veterinarian’s prescription for applying cream or ointment. Unless otherwise instructed, do not continue to apply the ointment after the cracked pad heals. Footpads need to be tough and flexible; too much cream or ointment can soften them, leaving the pads more vulnerable to injury and splitting.
Take your dog to the vet if she has dry, cracking paws and refuses to stand or walk. Your dog is probably in pain and may have an infection, so she needs professional care and treatment.
Ask your veterinarian how to determine if footpad cracks are infected. Even minor infections can delay healing, so your vet may apply a topical antibiotic and bandage the foot to protect it while it heals.
Be aware that cracked, bleeding and inflamed pads may indicate a major infection. Your vet may give your dog an antibiotic injection and prescribe oral antibiotics. The doctor will also apply a topical antibiotic under a bandage and instruct you about home care.
Apply a triple-action antibiotic cream to the paw pad, and change the bandage according to the veterinarian’s instructions. One easy bandage and covering consists of lightly wrapped gauze and a dog bootie. You can also cover the footpad with a child’s or infant’s sock and secure it with vet wrap that is not too tight.
Diseases and Allergies
See your veterinarian if you notice your dog’s cracked or dry paw pads are bothering her. Certain diseases cause pads to become inflamed and cracked. To determine if a disease is causing this, your veterinarian may need to do blood tests or schedule a biopsy.
Check your dog’s paws to see if the outer covering of the paw pads seems thicker than usual, a clue that your dog may have nasodigital hyperkeratosis, an ailment affecting an older dog’s nose and footpads. Hard, cracked pads with overgrown keratin are indicative of this illness, which may make walking painful. Hyperkeratosis cannot be cured, but a veterinarian can control it by trimming excess keratin and showing you how to hydrate the footpads at home.
Ask your veterinarian what other diseases can cause footpad cracking and how these illnesses should be treated. One condition, Pemphigus, is an autoimmune disease that affects some dogs' footpads. Treatment with immunosuppressants may control the immune system’s attacks on normal skin cells.
Discuss nutritional issues that may contribute to your dog’s cracked pads. Yeast infections, often a result of food allergies, can lead to cracked footpads. Your veterinarian may treat the yeast infection with antifungal medications. A nutritional zinc deficiency may lead to cracked paw pads, and can be treated with a zinc/selenium supplement. Selenium boosts immunity, and zinc toughens skin and speeds up healing. Always consult your vet before using any supplements or medications.
Alert your veterinarian if you suspect your dog may have allergies or sensitivities to something in her environment. Dogs tend to react to allergy symptoms, including sore, inflamed paws, by chewing their feet. Constant licking and chewing may cause cracked paw pads. Figuring out the precipitating factor and keeping the dog away from it should reduce discomfort. If allergy symptoms continue, the veterinarian may recommend allergy shots to stimulate your dog’s immune system.
Winter Paw Dangers
Be vigilant about examining your dog’s footpads during cold winters. Dry, cracked paw pads are common when dogs spend time walking on ice or in snow.
Bathe your dog’s feet with warm water when you return from your outing. The salt on icy sidewalks and roads can stick to her feet, damage her paw pads and cause pain if it gets into the footpad cracks. Make certain you remove all the salt, as well as toxic chemical ice-melting products from your dog's feet.
Treat paws before they have cracked so your dog will not be in pain and so dirt will not enter the cracks and cause infection. Check with your dog’s veterinarian before treating her paws with non-toxic softening products, such as moisturizing cream made especially for dogs, bag balm or shea butter.
Items You Will Need
- Mild antiseptic
- Mild soap
- Soft absorbent towel
- Gauze or veterinary bandages
- Topical antibiotic ointment
- Dog bootie or child's sock
- Zinc/selenium supplement
- Moisturizer for dogs
- Basin of warm water
- Dogster: Why are my Dog's Foot Pads Sore and Cracked?
- The Bark: Protecting Your Dog Against Foxtails
- PetPlace.com: Footpad Injuries in Dogs
- American Animal Hospital Association Healthy Pets: Pet Care
- VetInfo: Cracked dog paw pad?
- Lowchens Australia: Paw Conditions
- DogTime.com: Dogs cracked paws?
- VetInfo: Pemphigus
- The Whole Dog: Yeast Infections In Dogs
- paw image by pusti from Fotolia.com