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As a dog parent, you know everything about your dog, from their body language to the thickness of their coat during each season. You also know that dogs like to groom themselves, especially their paws. Most pet parents don't spend too much time worrying about their dog's paws, but they might notice their paw pads seem dry or cracked from time to time. Even though dogs' paw pads protect them from rocks or sharp objects, allowing them to walk outside without shoes, they're never supposed to be rough or cracked. But, of course, some cracking is normal because of the wear and tear your dog's paws go through on a daily basis.
Most dogs that don't go on walks often and spend most of their time in the yard will have smooth paws, but dogs that enjoy going on adventures outside and taking long hikes with their pet parents will have tougher paws because they're walking on dirt, rocks, and pavement. However, your dog's paws should never crack to the point where they're causing your dog discomfort or bleeding. Causes of cracked dog paws range from regular wear and tear to underlying health conditions and injuries. This article will discuss the causes of cracked dog paws and what you can do about them to relieve your dog's discomfort and prevent infection.
- What Causes Cracked Dog Paws?
- Symptoms To Look Out For
- Do Cracked Paws Hurt Your Dog?
- When Is It Time To See A Vet?
- Tips To Prevent and Treat Cracked Dog Paws
- Cracked Dog Paws: Frequently Asked Questions
- Final Notes
What Causes Cracked Dog Paws?
Cracked dog paws are common because your dog uses their paws for a lot, including running around outside. However, rough dog paws could indicate minor to severe issues, including:
Dog paws go through regular daily wear and tear, so some dogs may have paws that are more cracked. Dogs that spend most of their time indoors will have smoother paws than dogs that spend a lot of time walking on pavement or in nature. However, everything from harsh chemicals like carpet cleaning solutions to ice outside can cause paws to crack. Contact irritation is common, but it shouldn't cause your dog distress unless they begin chewing on their paws or their paws don't have time to heal.
Dogs can get contact irritation from anything, including stepping on debris and other jagged surfaces outside, like a hiking trail with tree branches. Sidewalks can also irritate your dog's paw skin in several ways. For example, sidewalks are abrasive, which can be irritating to your dog’s skin. So even though paw pads are durable, they can still get roughed up walking on sidewalks every day.
Additionally, hot pavement and asphalt can cause cracking and burn your dog's paw pads in the summer. Therefore, it's always best to check the temperature of the pavement where you walk your dog before taking them on a walk. If it's too hot, walk them on the grass instead. Other summer activities, like swimming, can cause dry dog paws or red dog paws as well because chlorine can aggravate the skin.
Meanwhile, skin is more likely to dry in winter, leading to cracking. Your dog has to step on ice and salt during the winter, which dries out the paws and can cause them to crack and bleed. In weather that's too cold, your dog also faces the risk of frostbite, which can cause their paws to become red.
Contact irritation can affect one or all paws, depending on the cause. For example, dogs with irritated paws in the winter might begin limping as a way to give their paw relief from the cold, while in the summer, they may choose to walk on the grass because the pavement is too hot.
Allergies are another common cause of cracked dog paws because they can cause itchy, irritated skin. Dogs can be allergic to pollen, mold, mites, food, and almost anything else in the environment, causing their feet to itch.1 Dogs that engage in paw chewing may have allergies or a dog rash, and the only way they can relieve the itching is through biting or licking their paws. Unfortunately, licking this area can cause yeast infections between the paw pads, which can result in even more chewing and even bleeding paws.2
BIting their paws can be a sign of any type of allergy, and some dogs are more likely to develop allergies than others. Dogs with allergies may also scratch other areas of their skin, have dandruff, sneeze, or have watery eyes.
Lack of zinc in the diet can lead to skin disorders in dogs. One disorder, called lethal acrodermatitis, is associated with skin lesions on the face, head, and paws.3 However, this nutritional deficiency is usually most common in puppies. Therefore, if your adult dog has cracked paws, a nutritional deficiency is not likely the cause, especially if they eat a balanced diet.
Acral Lick Granuloma
Dogs with acral lick granuloma lick themselves so much that they form tiny lesions on their skin and continue to lick them until they become bigger. A dog's natural instinct when they're hurt is to lick themselves as a way to heal. However, it can also cause minor skin problems to worsen and become infected. Dogs can get acral lick granuloma at almost any point in their lives because they lick themselves to groom themselves or to stay occupied when they're bored. It may also be a compulsive behavior when they become anxious. Unfortunately, dogs can lick one spot so much they create an open wound that never heals because they won't stop licking it.4
There's no way to prevent this condition because dogs lick themselves for a variety of reasons, and you can't always stop your dog from licking their paws. Vets use surgery to remove infected tissue to help it heal. However, pet parents must protect their dogs from licking the lesion once it forms, which can include methods such as bandaging them. Most dogs with this issue will be put on antibiotics to help them heal while preventing infection. They'll also likely receive topical medications.4
Idiopathic Nasodigital Hyperkeratosis
Cracked dog paws can also be caused by autoimmune diseases, including hyperkeratosis, in which the skin becomes thickened on the pads due to an accumulation of keratin, making them crack.5 Peeling dog paws are also common because the skin is being pushed from the inside, and left untreated, it can cause fissures and infections. Hyperkeratosis can be caused by other immune diseases, fungus, parasites, or weather. However, it can also be genetic.5
Hormonal imbalances, including Cushing's disease and hypothyroidism, can cause skin infections that lead to dry or cracked dog paws.1 These imbalances ultimately affect skin and fur health, causing chronic paw dryness or lesions. Cushing's disease typically occurs in adult to senior dogs with symptoms including skin thinning that becomes damaged by regular wear and tear, along with excessive thirst and urination.1
Dogs can also experience dry or cracked paws due to a sex hormone imbalance with abnormal estrogen, progesterone, or testosterone levels.6 This disease, called hyperandrogenism, is most common in intact males, causing reproductive tract abnormalities and skin problems, including dandruff, hyperpigmentation, and cracked paw pads.6
Several autoimmune issues can cause red dog paws or cracked paws because the body begins attacking itself, with immune cells attacking healthy normal cells and destroying them.1 Dogs with autoimmune diseases have recurring cracked paws and blisters on one or more paws.
Liver disease can also cause cracked paw pad lesions that don't heal, chronic infections, crusting, thickening, and blisters.1 Dogs with liver disease may wear down their paws faster than healthy dogs, causing contact irritation wounds faster, and their paws may bleed more easily. Since the liver plays a role in nutrient absorption and metabolism, dogs with liver disease may have cracked paw pads because they're not getting the nutrients they need to stay strong and healthy.1
Hepatocutaneous syndrome is a disease that can affect the liver and skin, including the dog's lips, nose, paw pads, ears, and around the eyes.7 Although it's a rare disorder, it can cause peeling paw pads and is more likely to occur in dogs with long-term illnesses, including diabetes.7
Symptoms To Look Out For
Taking proper care of your dog's paws can help prevent cracking and infection. Consider inspecting them once a week to ensure they're healthy and our dog isn't experiencing any severe cracking or bleeding. Signs to look out for include:
- Dry, rough peeling patches of skin on paws
- Brown discoloration around paw pads
- Excessively licking and chewing paws
While cracked paws are typically due to regular wear and tear, salt or ice, or hot pavement, it can indicate a serious health problem. Dogs with cracked paws due to wear and tear may lick their paws more often or limp when their paws hurt. However, they typically don't experience symptoms of illness. If your dog experiences bleeding, lethargy, or brown discoloration, take them to the vet as soon as possible because these symptoms could indicate a serious underlying health issue.
Do Cracked Paws Hurt Your Dog?
Your dogs use their paws for a lot of activities, including walking to their food bowl, going for a hike outside, or playing in the yard. Dogs have nerve endings in their paws, making them sensitive. Even though your dog's paw pads are durable, they can still get hurt if you allow walks in nature without shoes.
When their paws are cracked, they hurt. While mild cracking may indicate your dog needs to rest and heal, wide, deep cracks are especially painful and can cause your dog to limp. In addition, cracked paws that are bleeding or have deep cracks can become infected, especially if your dog continues to lick them to try to heal them. If your dog's paw becomes infected, the pain can get worse.
When Is It Time To See A Vet?
You should see a vet whenever you're worried about your dog's paws. You know your dog best, so if their paw pads are more cracked or dry than usual, it could indicate a health concern. However, there are some situations in which immediate action is key. For example, if your dog has signs of frostbite, including cracked paw pads, discoloration, blisters, and pain, they should be taken to the vet as soon as possible.
Additionally, if your dog is licking their paw more than usual or focusing on a specific paw, it may be time to take them to the vet, especially if the behavior lasts more than a few days. Excessive foot licking can indicate a bacterial or yeast infection, so you shouldn't wait too long.8 Treatment for your dog's cracked paws will depend on the cause, so it's always best to take them to the vet whenever you're concerned to ensure they can get treatment and feel better as soon as possible.
Tips To Prevent and Treat Cracked Dog Paws
While treatment for cracked dog paws depends on the cause and whether or not there's an underlying health condition, you can prevent painful cracked paw pads. After having your dog diagnosed by the vet, always follow their care instructions. For example, if your dog has cracked paws due to allergies, you'll likely need to give them allergy medication to prevent skin irritation. Additionally, your vet will teach you how to care for cracked and bleeding paws to prevent infection. Even healthy dogs can have cracked paw pads from time to time, depending on a number of factors. Here are a few ways you can prevent it:
- Conduct regular paw checks: Examine your pet's paws to ensure they're not experiencing any cracking that could be due to an illness or injury.
- Keep paws clean, groomed, and moisturized: Paw balm can help protect and moisturize the paw to prevent the elements from irritating it. For example, paw balm can be useful in the winter after your dog has come inside from playing in the snow.
- Prepare paws for the outdoors: There are a few ways you can protect your dog's paws outside, including using boots in the winter or checking the temperature of the pavement with your palm to see if it's too hot for your dog in the summer.9 You can also increase outdoor time to help your dog's paws get used to the outdoors to prevent cracking when you're ready to go on a long walk.
- Avoid using harsh chemicals to clean the house: When cleaning the house, make sure to use pet-friendly products.
Cracked Dog Paws: Frequently Asked Questions
Is it normal for dog paws to crack?
Depending on the dog's daily activities, some cracking is normal and due to regular wear and tear. For example, dogs who spend more time outside walking on pavement, rocks, and dirt may have rougher pads than those who spend more of their time indoors. However, deep cracking and bleeding are not normal for healthy dogs. If your dog's paws are peeling, bleeding, or cracking, they should be taken to the vet as soon as possible.
Do dog paws heal on their own?
Minor cracks in dog paws heal on their own. However, if your dog is suffering from an illness that affects their ability to heal, the cracks will not heal on their own. Additionally, paw pads with deep cracks and cuts will require proper care to keep the wound clean while it heals.
Can I put Vaseline on my dog's paws?
Petroleum jelly products can help keep your dog's paws moisturized, and there are several paw balms available to choose from. However, never let your dog lick the paw balm off, as it can cause minor GI issues.
Cracked dog paws are common in dogs that enjoy spending time outside. However, even though their paw pads are durable and strong, they can still become dry and cracked. Since dogs walk on their paw pads daily, proper care can ensure your dog is able to enjoy their favorite activities without pain. If you're worried about your dog's paw pads, talk to a Dutch vet. Our vets can help diagnose and treat medical problems causing cracked paw pads and recommend products based on your dog's specific needs.
“How to Care for Your Dog's Cracked and Dry Paws.” PetMD, https://www.petmd.com/dog/care/how-care-your-dogs-cracked-and-dry-paws.
“Keeping Dogs' Paws Healthy.” AKC Canine Health Foundation | Keeping Dogs' Paws Healthy, https://www.akcchf.org/canine-health/your-dogs-health/caring-for-your-dog/keeping-dogs-paws-healthy.html.
Pereira, Ana Margarida, et al. “Zinc in Dog Nutrition, Health and Disease: A Review.” Animals : an Open Access Journal from MDPI, MDPI, 1 Apr. 2021, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8066201/.
“Acral Lick Granuloma in Dogs.” PetMD, https://www.petmd.com/dog/general-health/evr_dg_acral_lick_granuloma_a_dermatology_nightmare.
“Idiopathic Nasodigital Hyperkeratosis.” Veterinary Practice, 9 Nov. 2021, https://www.veterinary-practice.com/article/idiopathic-nasodigital-hyperkeratosis.
“Elevated Sex Hormones in Dogs.” PetMD, https://www.petmd.com/dog/conditions/reproductive/c_dg_hyperandrogenism.
Center, Sharon A. “Disorders of the Liver and Gallbladder in Dogs - Dog Owners.” Merck Veterinary Manual, 18 Aug. 2022, https://www.merckvetmanual.com/dog-owners/digestive-disorders-of-dogs/disorders-of-the-liver-and-gallbladder-in-dogs.
Dr. Jerry Klein, CVO. “Why Does My Dog Lick Their Paws?” American Kennel Club, American Kennel Club, 27 Oct. 2021, https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/health/why-does-my-dog-lick-and-chew-his-paws/.
“Summertime Safety: Tips to Keep Your Canine Cool This Summer.” American Kennel Club, 25 Oct. 2017, https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/health/summertime-safety-tips-to-keep-your-canine-cool-this-summer/.