Have you ever wondered, “Why does my dog lick his paws?” If it happens for more than just a few minutes, it could be an indication that something is amiss.
Dog paw pads are meant to be tough; “They protect your dog’s joints by absorbing shock, and they allow him to enjoy time outdoors with his favorite people,” says Dr. Kelly Ryan, DVM, Director of Veterinary Services at the Humane Society of Missouri’s Animal Medical Center of Mid-America. “While some cracking of the dog paw pads is normal, if your dog’s paws start bleeding, or his cracked paws seem to be causing him pain, it’s time to call your veterinarian.”
What to Look For
Cracked paws occur when cracks or fissures appear on the surface of the dog paw. “For example, if you look under your dog’s foot, you may notice that one of the pads has a crack or opening in it that may cause the dog to limp or lick at the area,” explains Dr. Tiffany Margolin, DVM, CVA.
While some cracking might be a normal result of just walking around on uneven terrain, once the cracks get deeper and you see your dog starting to show signs of discomfort, it’s time to do something about it.
How Wear and Tear Play a Part
Perhaps one of the most common causes of cracked paws is wear and tear. “Harsh chemicals, like ice melt and floor cleaners, can cause your dog’s paws to become irritated and cracked,” says Dr. Ryan. “Additionally, walking on hot pavement can cause paws to blister, and rough, rocky terrain can cause cuts in the pads.”
You can help protect paws from salt and snow by applying Four Paws Paw Guard with Lanolin before heading out. For daily care and to keep pads moisturized, use NaturVet Tender Foot, Foot Pad & Elbow Dog Cream.
If you have a dog who spends long periods of time playing in the snow, running on concrete, or hiking on abrasive terrain, dog paw wear and tear are certainly a possibility. Exposure to rough surfaces can cause contact irritation, where the paws feel funny or itchy or inflamed, which can lead to further damage by self-mutilating, explains Dr. Margolin.
“Usually the contact irritation turns into cracked paws because of the dogs over-chewing or licking at the paws due to the sensations,” Dr. Margolin says. “Licking and application of saliva is the only way a dog knows to soothe and accelerate healing of their own body.”
Underlying Health Problems
A number of immune diseases can cause cracked paws. “Cracked paws can also be part of a problem called Hyperkeratosis, which means that the skin is thickened on each of the pads, predisposing them to cracking,” says Dr. Margolin. “This can be caused by immune or metabolic diseases, or fungus or parasitic causes, and sometimes it’s strictly weather or genetic related.”
If the paw pad is injured and doesn’t seem to be healing, Dr. Ryan adds that certain types of liver disease and dermatologic conditions could also be to blame. “All of these conditions can look similar and often need a biopsy to confirm a diagnosis,” Dr. Ryan says.
In addition, because the pads are an extension of your dog’s skin, Dr. Margolin suggests looking at other areas of your dog’s body, including the face and ears, to see if the cracking and irritation is part of a more widespread problem. If you see similar symptoms somewhere else in the body, this could indicate that something else is going on with your dog’s body that needs to be addressed by a veterinarian.
If there’s a chance that there’s an underlying medical issue causing the cracks, Dr. Ryan says your veterinarian will order a full chemistry and complete blood panel as a start.
“This blood test would look at kidney, liver and thyroid function, as well as red and white blood cell count,” says Dr. Ryan. “Based on these findings and your pet’s response to therapy, further diagnostics—including a skin biopsy—will likely be recommended.”
Dog Paw Home Care
If the cracks in the dog paw don’t seem very deep and are not bleeding, you can try treating them at home and see how they respond.
“Clean the pads with a washrag, warm water and antibacterial soap,” says Dr. Ryan. “Pat them dry, then apply petroleum jelly, making sure the petroleum jelly is rubbed in well so your dog doesn’t lick it off, causing more irritation and an upset tummy.”
Dr. Ryan also suggests putting socks or bandages on your dog’s paws so he can walk more comfortably while the cracks are healing.
“There are many different types of healing and moisturizing topical creams that can be found to soothe the paws, but you need to make sure to put an Elizabethan collar on your dog so they do not lick the salve right off,” says Dr. Margolin.
To further protect pet paws and speed up healing, Dr. Ryan suggests limiting the length of walks.
“Also, avoid walking on chemicals, rocky ground and hot surfaces,” Dr. Ryan adds.
Products like the Tomlyn Protecta-Pad Paw Pad and Elbow Cream for Dogs and Burt’s Bees Care Plus+ Paw & Nose Relieving Dog Lotion are great options for ongoing moisturizing protection against cold and hot surfaces once the pads have healed.
Want to know other ways to protect your pet during colder or hotter months? Check out:
- How to Get Your Pup Comfortable in Dog Boots for Winter
- Cold Weather Safety Tips for Pets
- How to Protect Your Pet’s Paws in the Heat
Diana Bocco is a full-time writer and adventurer who has written for National Geographic, DiscoveryChannel.com, Yahoo! and Marie Claire. Diana has lived in five countries and taken her rescued dogs along to each one of them.