Your pup's paws are designed to take the brunt of what Mother Nature dishes out, but they still need a little TLC.
"Thankfully, pets' paws have evolved to survive quite a bit of action, and they are pretty low-maintenance. Amazingly, there isn't much you need to do to take care of paws," says veterinarian Justine Lee, author of "It's a Dog's Life ... but It's Your Carpet: Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Your Four-Legged Friend."
Canine paws provide cushioning and act as a natural barrier to infection, disease and parasites. They're built tough, but with walks, playtime and just bumming around the house, your pet's paws can take a beating. So pamper your pooch for healthy feet.
*Take It Easy
Watch where your dog walks. Those pads may be strong, but they're no match for broken glass, jagged rocks, frigid snow or hot pavement. If you wouldn't want to walk on it barefoot, chances are your dog won't, either. Likewise, you wouldn't run a marathon without training first, so let your dog ease into new exercise regimens.
"If your dog is not used to running a mile a day, don't suddenly take him out to run on pavement. The paws need to toughen up," says veterinarian Mark Newkirk.
Even typically hardworking dogs with healthy paws can have problems, so keep an eye on them. Minor cuts and scrapes can be treated with antiseptic, but if your dog shows signs of extreme discomfort or if the paw surface is burned, bleeding or swollen, schedule an appointment with your veterinarian.
"If a pet owner is exercising a dog a lot, some dogs will lose part of their paw surface; it erodes away. This does grow back slowly, but it can be painful," Lee says. "Often, removing the dead paw tissue that is falling off, cleaning the area and applying moleskin to the area can be helpful, but this should be done by a vet."
*Keep 'Em Clean
Wipe your dog's paws after each walk, and give his feet the once-over. Check for cracked pads, debris between the toes, splinters, burrs and torn or ingrown nails. In the summer, be vigilant about cleaning abrasive beach sand from the paws. In the winter, remove ice, snow and rock salt, paying special attention to the areas between the toes.
"During cold and ice, people often use ice melters, which are salt. These can be drying and irritating to the skin and paws," Lee explains. "Make sure to use a damp washcloth to remove the excess salt so your dog doesn't ingest it and it doesn't irritate the paws."
*Trim Those Toes
Neglected nails can be extremely uncomfortable for dogs and lead to unnecessary injury, so make time for routine manicures.
"Nails are part of four-leggers' paws. Too many animal owners forget this," says Cal Orey, author of "202 Pets' Peeves: Cats and Dogs Speak Out on Pesky Human Behavior." "During winter months, dogs can break nails that are too long. This can be painful and can end in surgery to remove the entire nail."
Nails should just touch the ground when a dog is walking. If you hear clicking as your dog walks across linoleum or if his nails get stuck in the carpet, it's time for a trim. Use the right clippers for the job. For small dogs, notched scissor-style clippers work well. For larger dogs, opt for the guillotine-style trimmers. Avoid nail clippers designed for people, as they can crush canine claws.
"If you can't or don't want to keep the nails clipped yourself, go to a pet groomer or vet tech and have it done on a regular basis. An ounce of prevention is worth a dog pound," Orey says.
In the winter, trim the fur between the toes, as well. The fur should be even with the bottoms of the pads. Any shorter will leave your dog's paws overly exposed.
"Make sure all the excess hair and feathers are shaved off to prevent ice ball formations while walking in the snow or ice, as these can be irritating and pull on the hair and skin," Lee says.
*Do Away With Dry Skin
Occasional dry skin is normal, usually the result of frequent bathing or repeated exposure to frigid winter air. Consult your veterinarian; your dog may benefit from a moisturizer, such as Bag Balm or Udderly Smooth, both developed for animals but so effective they're now sold in the "people aisle."
A bit of moisturizer massaged into the pads before an outing offers an extra layer of protection and helps heal chapped paws, but use caution. Too much moisture can be just as dangerous as dry, cracked paws. The pads on dogs' feet are supposed to be tough, not soft and supple.
Persistent paw problems may be symptoms of an underlying medical issue, Newkirk says. If your dog experiences chronic dryness or cracking, make an appointment with your veterinarian.