Dog paw anatomy is a an important subject to understand to ensure our dog stays healthy and active. Indeed, hot summer conditions and cold winter surfaces covered with abrasives represent an important risk of injury for our beloved canine friend.
Let’s take a closer look at this important part of a dog’s body.
Important features of the anatomy of dog paws
The paw pads work as shock absorbers and protect the bones and joints of the limb. The wrist pad acts as kind of brake and helps the dog navigate slippery or steep slopes. Dogs’ paw pads contain a lot of connective tissue and fat, which have poor thermal conductivity.
Dogs keep warm on cold ground thanks to the unique circulatory system in their paws. Arctic foxes and wolves are known for their ability to withstand cold temperatures. Previous research has shown that dogs can keep their paws warm even at -35 ° C. Dr. Hiroyoshi Ninomiya and his team at Yamazaki Gakuen University in Tokyo have found that the arteries in the paw pads, which are located close to the veins, warm the blood flowing back to the heart.
Therefore, when the blood cools down when in contact with cold surfaces, heat is transferred from nearby arteries, warming the blood before returning it to the body, thereby reducing heat loss and maintaining a constant temperature in the paws. A similar mechanism is found in penguins in their beaks and in dolphins in their fins.
The paw pads also protect the dog’s legs when traveling over rough terrain. Dogs that spend a lot of time outdoors have thicker and rougher skin on the paw pads. Sedentary and stay-at-home dogs have thinner skin that can be easily injured.
The inner surface of the paws has developed sweat glands, which help cooling down the paws. These glands are also involved in territory marking and in the production of alarm pheromones. When marking the territory, dogs often scratch the ground with their claws, thus leaving marks with the secretion of the glands. It is likely that anxiety pheromones are produced during stressful situations (for example, visiting a veterinary clinic) and dogs will leave wet footprints on their paws which can leave a trace of the “energy” to other animals.
Dogs are finger-walking animals, which means that their toes, rather than their heels, take up most of their body weight when they walk.
Some dogs have dewclaws on their hind legs. In some breeds (for example, Baseron, Briard and Great Pyrenean dogs) they are fixed by the standard. The posterior rudimentary toe often lacks a first or second phalanx and is attached only to the skin. The dewclaws are believed to provide better traction, but they can be injured, which is why they are removed at at an early age in the case of certain breeds.
Some dogs have webbing on their paws. This is found in Labradors, Newfoundlands and other water dogs, as well as in northern breeds such as Siberian husky or Malamute.
A number of dog breeds have the so-called “cat paw”. This structure of the paw allows the dog to burn less energy and increase his stamina. Cat footprints are round and compact. Such paws are possessed, amongst other breeds, by the Akita, Doberman Pinscher, Giant Schnauzer, Airedale, and Finnish Spitz.
In other breeds, the paw has an elongated shape and is called “hare”. It is characterized by the fact that their two middle fingers are longer. This type of paw shape is typical in greyhounds.
Dog paws sometimes smell like chips or popcorn. This mouth-watering smell comes from Proteus and Pseudomonas bacteria and fungi, which are part of your dog’s normal microflora.
Dog paw anatomy: How to provide appropriate protection
In winter, public works of many cities will use reagents on road and sidewalks. Dogs suffer the most from this practice as the salt eats away at the paw pads. This not only hurts and takes away the joy of walking, but it can have more serious consequences.
Reagents can disrupt the natural fat metabolism of the dog’s skin, leading to deformation of the fingers and loss of balance. Many breeds are especially prone to rough and cracked paw pads. For example, Irish Terriers are more likely to have hyperkeratosis. For such breeds, it is important to protect the paws from abrasives and other similar substances. Also, special attention is required for small and young dogs.
How to choose shoes for dogs and provide appropriate training
Special soft shoes for dogs are the best option. As for humans, shoes should be the most comfortable, lightweight and practical. Try the shoes at home first, to let your dog get used to them. Start with simple shoes made of fine fabric with leather soles. And you will see that soon your dog will be happy to put them on because he will associate it with a walk. When choosing boots for a dog, note that the front and hind feet can be of different sizes. It is best to buy shoes sold in pairs rather than a a set of four.
Paw creams and waxes
If you haven’t taught your dog to wear shoes at a young age, there is a chance that he will feel uncomfortable at first. In this case, you can use a special paw wax. Its composition forms a waterproof protective layer that eliminates the negative effects of reagents and also nourishes the skin of the pads.
Fat-based creams are recommended for use in winter and spring, and water-based creams in the summer and fall. Read the reviews before choosing wax or cream because the main problem with these products is that they can heavily stain the floor at your home even after washing your paws.
The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) recommends massaging your dog’s paws to help relax and improve circulation. A periodic paw massage is in fact recommended by many dog health experts, particularly for less active and older dogs.
Periodic washing and cleaning
After each walk, be sure to inspect the paws and rinse them with water at room temperature. Veterinarian-dermatologists do not recommend hot water because it can create new cracks due to temperature changes and cause additional discomfort.
We must not forget about the interdigital skin folds, in which dirt, dust, gravel, asphalt, snow, and ice fragments can be clogged. If you do not rinse the paws on a timely basis, then your dog will likely lick the damaged area pushing harmful substances such as salt through the skin and into the body.
Dog paw anatomy: a final word
Experts have observed that salt is the most common cause of dog health problems in winter. The problem can be exacerbated by ice crusts and cause severe damage to a dog’s paw. Paw pads will get irritated and start cracking and they will become painful. Your dog will tend to want to lick the wounds and will have difficulties walking. If you experience this situation, you need to contact your veterinarian as soon as possible!