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Dog paws: They’re not just for walking

Dogs shake paws, do high fives with paws, walk, swim, leap, and play … all with their paws.

These anatomical marvels allow a dog to walk on very cold or hot or rough surfaces. Dog paws contain sweat glands that cool dogs off when they are hot. They contain fatty tissue that insulates their feet from extreme temperatures.
In short, dogs’ paws are an integral and amazing part of their anatomy. If you take a close look, a dog’s paw is made up of five components: claws, digital pads, metacarpal pad, dewclad and carpal pad.

The four digital and one metacarpal pad on the bottom of the paw form the cute ‘pawprint’ motif and act as shock absorbers for the dog. The carpal pad at the back of the heel area acts as a brake and helps maintain a dog’s footing on slippery or steep slopes. The dewclads are thought to be vestiges of thumbs; they are always found on the front paws and occasionally on back paws. Claws contain nerves and blood vessels and are attached to the bones at the end of a dogs’ toes. Claws are used for grabbing and holding prey by dogs.

Here are a few interesting facts about dog paws:

  • Dog paws often smell like corn chips or popcorn. This is normal; it’s because of bacteria that grow on paws.
  • Dogs bear most of their weight on their toes and not their heels.
  • Some dog breeds, like Dobermans and Greyhounds, have cat-like feet, which are small with higher arches. These light paws allow them to excel in endurance.
  • Newfoundland dogs have the largest paws of any breed and the longest toes. Labrador Retrievers are second when it comes to toe length. Both breeds have webbed feet, which makes them good swimmers. Other breeds with webbed feet include the Portuguese water dog, field Spaniel, German wirehaired pointer and Cheapeake Bay retriever. 

So, given the importance of paws, how can a dog owner best care for and protect his/her best friend’s feet? Here is some advice from the experts:

When it comes to walking your dog in the summer, be wary of hot asphalt or sand. If it is too hot for you to go barefoot it is too hot for your dog. Pad burns, blisters, tissue loss and pain are possible. Take walks during cooler times of the day in the summer if possible or stick to grassy areas.

In winter, watch out for ice and don’t stay out too long in extreme cold. And remember to wipe off your dog’s paws at the end of a walk. Ice, snow, salt and other chemicals used on roads can be harmful to your dog. Booties can help protect your dog’s paws, if you can find some that are easy to put on and stay on … with your dog’s permission.

It’s important to keep your dog’s nails trimmed. It is a good idea to practice handling your dog and puppy’s paws early on so they become used to their paws being touched and handled. It makes nail trimming and checking for irritation or injury easier.

If the skin around a dog’s paws is red, it could mean an infection is starting. Many dogs will chew or lick their feet in response to anxiety, allergy, dry skin or injury. It is always a good idea to consult a vet to ascertain the cause. So there you have it. A dog’s paws are a beautiful thing. Next time you walk your dog, marvel at the amazing resilience and performance of ‘paws.‘

Further reading:

1 comment

  • Love this, Margaret!

    Jeanie Johnston

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