Assistance dogs are often on the go, and it’s important that they’re in tip-top shape so they can comfortably, safely, and reliably perform their tasks. Naturally, their paws are a key area of concern when it comes to getting around. Also, their feet help protect other parts of the body. The paw pads function as shock absorbers and cushions to reduce impact on the joints and bones and to keep the feet insulated from a hot or cold ground.
The paws are prone to a variety of problems, and sometimes they’re forgotten about, all tucked away down there at the bottom of the body. Attentive, proactive paw care goes a long way toward keeping your service, hearing, or guide dog happy, healthy, and efficient, though.
Dog Paw Care Tips
Here are some simple ways to properly care for your assistance dog’s>
- Take a quick look at your dog’s paws after coming in from outdoors and at the end of the day, checking for injuries, thorns/burrs/foxtails, foreign matter between the toes, and any other problems; give them a more thorough looking over during your regular home health exams
- Check your dog’s paw right away if she starts to limp or if you notice her excessively licking, chewing, or biting it; if there’s something wrong that you can’t easily remedy, or if you can’t determine the cause, seek veterinary attention
- Watch for lick granulomas or hot spots and see your vet for treatment if you find any
- Keep the hair on your assistance dog’s feet trimmed short, including between her toes; this helps prevent debris, garbage, twigs, ice, and other stuff from getting stuck to her
- Most assistance dogs wear their nails down walking across hard surfaces, but they still need to be monitored; you shouldn’t hear them clicking on the floor as your dog walks, and they shouldn’t curl downward and inward; when necessary, clip your dog’s nails (or have your groomer do it), and don’t overlook the dewclaws if your partner has them
- Paw pads can become dry and cracked, which makes walking painful and increases the risk of infections; ask your vet to suggest a canine moisturizer and about using a vitamin E cream
- Claws can also become brittle and cracked—especially in hot weather—and this too may cause pain while walking; a liquid bandage application often works well, so ask your veterinarian to recommend a product
- Keep small, superficial cuts on the feet clean and apply a topical antibacterial product (ask your vet what to use if you’re not sure); take your assistance dog to the vet to treat more significant wounds
- Your guide, hearing, or service dog’s paw pads are susceptible to burns from hot surfaces, particularly pavement, cement, and sand; avoid hard surfaces in direct sunlight when it’s hot out and feel the ground when you’re unsure—if it’s too hot for you to press your hand down for 10 seconds, it’s too hot for your dog to walk on. Dog shoes are one of the best ways to protect your dog’s paws from heat and potential injuries. If this seems like the right solution for your dog, be sure to buy shoes that have rubber soles for good protection. Be aware that not all dogs can get used to dog shoes immediately, there may be an adjustment period for your dog. When you can get your dog used to using them, nothing else offers better protection.
- Treat minor burns and blistering with a topical antibiotic; see your vet about a significant burn
- Canine socks are a good idea in the winter; they help warm your assistance dog, protect her paw pads from painfully cold surfaces, prevent problems with ice or rock salt, keep antifreeze and other toxins off the feet, and provide traction on icy terrain
- Rinse your dog’s feet with warm water after walking outside in the winter if she wasn’t wearing socks; this removes antifreeze, de-icing agents, salt, and other potentially harmful things she might have picked up and could ingest while grooming herself
- Provide your partner some physical therapy and relaxation by massaging her paws; it’s great for circulation and it feels really good, too
A Little Paw Care Goes a Long Way
Most common dog paw problems start out minor, but they can quickly become more serious if they aren’t detected and addressed promptly. Be proactive about caring for your hearing, guide, or service dog’s feet. You may spare her a good deal of pain and suffering, head off problems with her performance, and avoid some more involved, expensive treatments.
And remember, whenever in doubt, consult your veterinarian!