Dogs and cats put a lot of miles on their feet, running and leaping just for the fun of it. Ordinary skin isn't built to withstand this pounding, which is why their paw pads are thick and springy

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Dogs and cats put a lot of miles on their feet, running and leaping just for the fun of it. Ordinary skin isn't built to withstand this pounding, which is why their paw pads are thick and springy. 

The paws get additional protection from calluses -- thick, dry skin that accumulates on the pads wherever there is a lot of pressure. Dogs that run on concrete, for example, normally have thicker paw pads than those that stroll on grass or carpet, says Patricia Ashley, D.V.M., a veterinary resident in dermatology at the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine in Knoxville. "Your pet's skin gets thicker with age, just like people's skin does," she adds. 

In some cases, however, the pads accumulate too much callus or the callus forms unevenly. Heavily callused pads lose their flexibility and the ability to absorb shock. Your pet's feet may get sore and tender. She will feel as though she is walking on stones. 

Heavy or uneven callus may be caused by the way your pet walks. "The feet can tell us if a pet has a problem with her elbow, for example, because of the wear pattern on the pad," says Dr. Ashley. In dogs particularly, being overweight can put a lot of pressure on the outsides of their feet, causing uneven calluses to form. 

Calluses on all four feet may be a sign of internal problems such as liver disease. Even immune system diseases such as lupus can make the pads thick and painful, says Charles McLeod, D.V.M., a veterinary pathologist at Antech Diagnostics in Carney, Maryland. 

Zinc is an important nutrient for healthy skin. A dog that isn't getting enough zinc in her diet may get very thick paw pads. (This problem doesn't occur in cats.) Siberian huskies and Alaskan malamutes often run low in zinc because they have a genetic defect that makes it hard for their bodies to absorb this important mineral, says Dr. McLeod. In addition, pets eating low-quality foods or taking calcium supplements can have problems getting enough zinc. 

Another problem unique to dogs, called hard-pad disease, may occur after a bout with canine distemper, says Dr. Ashley. Cats that have feline leukemia sometimes develop thick, cone-shaped calluses on one or more feet, which look like unicorn horns and often stick out to the sides. These horn-shaped calluses usually don't cause discomfort, says Margie Scherk, D.V.M., a veterinarian in private practice in Vancouver, British Columbia. 

In hot weather and cold, on hard ground and soft, they pad about on tough, flexible pads that provide incredible protection. 

When the paw pads take more of a beating than nature intended, however, they may form a thick layer of protective callus, which is much less flexible than the pad itself. And when the callus gets rough treatment, it may crack. Cracks in the pads can be very painful and are prone to infection. 

Most dogs and cats don't have a problem with callus, but dogs that work hard in harsh climates -- sled dogs, for example -- will often have problems with painful cracks. 

Callus isn't the only thing that causes paw cracks. Allergies can also be a problem. Unlike humans, who often sneeze or scratch when allergies flare, pets tend to get itchy feet. They will lick and bite and chew at their feet, sometimes for hours at time. The pads can get wet, sore, and raw, causing cracks to form.

Internal illnesses can also cause pad problems. Pets with liver disease, for example, may develop paw cracks. They are also related to zinc deficiency, which occurs in pets fed low-quality foods and in certain dog breeds with a genetic tendency to absorb too little zinc. Problems with the immune system can cause cracking as well. So if your pet is feeling under the weather and is also having paw problems, there is a good chance that the problems are related. This is especially true if more than one pad is cracked. 

If your dog's pads are particularly soft and prone to cracking, wait until they have healed and every so often (on a healthy paw) dab on surgical spirit with a wad of cotton wool.. This will harden them up. Doing this about three times a week should do the trick.

Humans are always applying lotions and oils to their skin and to their baths. It seems only right that dogs and cats should get lotion and oils especially when their paw pads are cracking. Applying fragrance-free and natural oils and lotions are best, since your dog will choose to lick off the excess. You can apply these oils and lotions while spending some quality time with your pet. You can't only treat the paw pad from the outside. You need to treat it from the inside as well. Giving your dog or cat vitamin E in their diet is one way. Another way is to give them minerals in their food. Zinc and Selenium are great healers for cracked paw pads also. 

Soften the pads with Vitamin E oil by breaking open a capsule and spreading it over the paw. If our animals weren't exposed to hot pavement, icy walkways or running in gravel, we wouldn't need to do this. But dogs will get into everything and we need to take care of their feet as we would ours.  Another reason for cracked paw pads is lack of water in their system, kidney failure and infections such as parasites. If you dog or cat has cracked paw pads and you have tried everything to heal them, then you need to take them to a veterinarian.

A home remedy for treating paw pad and other wounds: mix iodine and water to the point at which it looks like tea. Add some Epsom salt to clean out the wound and bandage it with gauze. You can also apply Bag Balm to help chaffed and injured paws heal. Put on a dog bootie or small sock to protect injured paw pads. 

  • For sore cracked pads, boil up some potato peel and use the water when cool to immerse the paw. The pad will heal in a couple of days.

  • Trim out as much of the hair between the pads as possible and dust with an anti-fungal powder.

  • Smear Vaseline on wet pads on your dog, then dust liberally with baby powder to create a covering on the pad.

  • Neatsfoot Oil (from agricultural suppliers or horse tack shops) rubbed into the paws will also soothe sore pads.

  • You can also use 1 pint of ivy leaves boiled in 2 pints of water. Allowed to cool, and add 1 dessertspoonful of Witch Hazel to every cupful of liquid. Bathe this onto the paws, then dust them with very fine oatmeal.

  • It may help to stand your dog in warm water with two or three tablespoons of Epsom Salts added for about 15 minutes twice a month.

  • If your dog gets a wood splinter in its paw, soak the area in cooking oil to soften the skin, and then apply an ice cube to deaden the paw before removing the splinter with tweezers.

  • To remove sap, tar, paint, chewing gum or other sticky things from your dog's coat, there is nothing that beats salad oil! 
    Using a a small dish or a cotton ball, thoroughly soak the area with the oil. Work the oil into the sticky or hard place with your fingers. Blot off the excess oil with a paper towel, and wash the area with dog shampoo. Repeat this procedure if there is anything left in the fur. 
    Don't let your dog walk around the house until you shampoo the area, otherwise you will be cleaning up oily smears and foot prints from everywhere you don't want them.

You should seek the advice of your veterinarian if your pet is ill as only he or she can correctly advise on the diagnosis and recommend the treatment that is most appropriate for your pet. 

In winter conditions where your dog may be walking on salted concrete you should be extra careful about cracked pads. If the cracks in the pads are minor you can apply petroleum jelly to prevent ice and snow from balling up in between the dog’s pads and refreezing. Dogs with badly cracked pads should not walk on snow or ice in winter without boots or protection- as the salt from sidewalks or roads can be agony in a deep crack. Always rinse your dog’s paws in warm water after a winter walk, as the chemicals used in ice melting products can be poison if your dog licks them off his feet. 

Dogs pads heal quickly and with a little bit of TLC your dog’s paws can be healthy within a few weeks.
Article contributions courtesy of David Tayman, D.V.M.

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