Imagine going barefoot no matter the weather or terrain. Dogs do it every day. That's why it is so important to keep Fido's feet in prime condition in every season.
Keeping your dog's toenails properly trimmed can be one of the easiest ways to keep him healthy. Ask your vet to trim your dog's nails and pay attention to what he or she is doing. If your dog is cooperative, you might be able to take care of them yourself.
Of course, not all dogs will let their owners cut their nails. If that's the case, you should work with a professional groomer.
Sara Scott of West Coast Pets, a dog trainer and groomer who specializes in helping pets and their owners to be more comfortable with grooming, knows firsthand that many dogs just can't cope when it comes to having their nails trimmed. "What is rarely explained very well, or at all, is the level of cooperation that is necessary to get from a pet or how to get that cooperation," she says.
With many dogs, cutting their nails takes more than playing with their toes while they are still young. "In my salon, I specialize in working with dogs that, for one reason on another, cannot tolerate things like having their ears touched, their coats brushed, and it is usually a given that toenails are out of the question due to having to reach for a foot -- which can be very threatening for some dogs. Just try to hold it and then apply the pressure that a nail clipper requires or the loud vibration of a Dremel sander to at least eight nails!
"However, if I am going to own a pet for potentially 15 years or more, I don't mind taking the time to help a dog through some fears ... so that we can avoid a 15-year battle with nails that typically results in overgrown nails that are crippling or occasional, expensive and traumatic trips to the vet or groomer."
If you know your dog won't cooperate with grooming or a medical procedure, help him to accept wearing a muzzle. "This is certainly not my preferred route, but it is better for the pet to be comfortable with a muzzle in advance, to avoid reacting to a muzzle in addition to reacting to a necessary, painful or uncomfortable procedure," says Scott.
If you do go to a groomer, look for one that is set up for good handling. "Evaluate the groomer and the salon," Scott says. "Are they stressed or angry? Are there too many dogs in the salon? Is it clean? What is your general impression? Another thing I recommend is that clients ask if they can stay and watch."
Even if nails are trimmed, the weather plays a big part in your pet's paw health. Summer months can be particularly perilous. Asphalt, concrete, other hot surfaces, insects in the grass and broken glass on sidewalks can cause your pet to injure, burn or cut his feet. Also, metal boat docks and truck beds can become extremely hot in the summer sun.
According to Dr. Janet Tobiassen Crosby, signs of a burned paw include limping or refusing to walk; licking or chewing feet; pads that are unusually dark in color, blistered or red; or part of a pad missing.
Dr. Louise Murray warns that winter months can also be rough on your pet's paws. "During the winter, products used as de-icers on sidewalks and other areas can lead to problems for our canine companions, potentially causing problems ranging from sore feet to internal toxicity," she says. "Pet parents should take precautions to minimize their furry friends' exposure to such agents."
Murray suggests bringing a towel to clean off paws after each walk. Always wash and dry your pet's feet to remove ice, salt and other chemicals. Check for redness between the toes and redness on the paws.
If your dog will wear them, booties sold at pet stores will help minimize contact with painful ice crystals and chemicals from ice-melting agents. Ask your vet about using a little petroleum jelly or moisturizer on your dog's paws.
If you suspect that your pet has injured or burned his feet, carefully examine them (watch out for biting if your dog is nervous, frightened or in pain) and if you can, flush them off with cool water or a cool compress. Most importantly, don't hesitate to call your vet as untreated cuts and burns can lead to infections that could cause your pet to become very ill.