Whether your dog is web-footed, hare-footed, or cat-footed (don’t tell them about that one!), they’re almost constantly “on their toes.” But, for as many daily steps or lifetime miles our dogs’ paws acquire, most of us give little thought to their paw health and safety.
Although dog paws, by design, are somewhat rugged (with a rough and resistant outer layer, and fatty tissue to prevent freezing during cold weather), they are still vulnerable to injury. Our desire as dog lovers to involve them in every outdoor adventure has increased their likelihood of lacerations, burns, foreign objects, and other trauma.
Paw protection can be a worthwhile investment in your dog’s health and safety. Paw protection can include outerwear (such as boots and covers), products applied to your dog’s foot or nail, or healing balms to treat irritation. Let’s look at how paw protection could help your dog and what to look for when shopping for a Cinderella-perfect fit.
Does Your Dog Need Paw Protection?
Paw protection products are not solely for outdoorsy dogs. At different points in your pup’s life, they may need additional paw support, protection, traction, or insulation. Here are some common reasons to protect your pooch’s paw pads:
- Thermal burns — Hot asphalt and concrete can quickly burn your dog’s paw pads. We recommend exercising your dog during the cooler summer hours, but invest in dog boots if you must travel over hot surfaces.
- Frostbite or ice melt — Excessive cold can damage exposed tissue, including paw pads. Ice melt products can cause irritation and discomfort.
- Rocky terrain — Hiking trails and rugged environments can cause abrasions and lacerations.
- Working dogs — Working canines perform in unpredictable, often dangerous environments. Boots can help these valuable dogs avoid job-ending injuries.
- Injury prevention — Some dogs will run and play until their “feet fall off”—tearing or abrading the pads from intense friction. Dogs affected by neurological issues may need boots to prevent dragging-related injury to the tops of their feet.
- Increased traction — As dogs age, their paw pads become smooth, which, coupled with muscle weakness and reduced balance, makes senior dogs more vulnerable to falling, especially on slick floors.
- Protection from allergies — Boots or paw covers can reduce exposure to environmental allergens and make dogs less likely to lick and chew at their feet.
- Treatment for irritation — Topical paw protection, such as balms and salves, can help heal dry or irritated paw pads.
What to Look For Based on Need
Paw products can be divided into three categories: prevention or protection (e.g., dog boots or covers), traction (e.g., applied products), and treatment (e.g., paw balms and waxes), although you will find some overlap. Based on your dog’s individual needs, you’ll search for specific features when shopping for paw protection.
- Injury prevention (e.g., dog boots and covers) — This category includes protecting your dog from external forces such as dangerous surfaces, foreign objects, and terrain. Dog boots or paw covers are the easiest way to meet this need. When shopping for these items, consider the following:
- Design — Winter boots may feature an insulated top, while hot weather boots should use breathable fabric.
- Sole thickness — Like your own shoes, dog boot soles should be thick enough to prevent penetration from heat, cold, or sharp objects.
- Traction and grip — Boot soles should grip so your dog feels confident and secure.
- Fit — Dog boot fit is essential to ensure your dog is comfortable and that the boots are not constantly lost. Look for a manufacturer that offers a measuring guide and size variety.
- Ease of use — Do the boots or covers look easy to put on? What holds them up? Look for strong velcro and a strap that can wrap entirely around the ankle.
- Cost — You get what you pay for when it comes to dog boots. However, for short excursions, inexpensive boots may suffice. Paw covers, which typically look like latex balloons, are economical but are not meant for extreme temperatures or rugged terrain.
- Traction (e.g., applied products) — Paw applications are typically designed to improve senior dogs’ quality of life and enhance mobility for neurological, post-operative, or injured dogs. Traction products can restore your dog’s confidence with a sense of security without the bulk of a boot, which may confuse or frighten older dogs. Although this category is limited, product design, use, and versatility vary greatly.
- Non-toxic ingredients — When applying any product to your dog’s body or using small items that they could chew and ingest, it is crucial to ensure all portions of the product are non-toxic.
- Application process — Because some dogs resent having their paws handled, first check out the product’s application process.
- Product duration — These products require regular reapplication because of normal wear and toenail growth. Check how long each application lasts to determine if the product is convenient and economical.
- Additional benefits — Some traction products also offer protection from heat and cold, as well as improved proprioception (i.e., awareness of foot placement), which is helpful for disabled, neurological, and senior dogs.
- Treatment (e.g., paw balms and waxes) — If your dog suffers from frequent paw pad cracks, dryness, or abrasions, paw balms or waxes may be beneficial. You must recognize that while these treatments form a protective barrier for your dog’s paw pads, they are not ideal for prolonged exposure to extreme temperatures—especially heat. When shopping for a paw treatment, consider the following features:
- Ingredients — Ensure the product is non-toxic. Food-grade oils and waxes and natural ingredients like beeswax, coconut oil, or shea butter are safe for dogs.
- Breathability — Dog paw pads have sweat glands that improve traction during a fight-or-flight response. Breathable products ensure your dog’s sweating ability isn’t compromised.
- Absorbency — Look for a product that absorbs quickly, or you’ll need to keep Fido off the furniture—and your floors—until the product is dry.
- Non-staining — Protect your home—and your dog’s hair—from undesirable stains by testing the product on a small area of fabric before applying it to your dog.
Mobility is life for dogs. When they’re not sleeping, they’re busy running, jumping, swimming, fetching, playing, or making endless yard patrols. Without the naturally ingenious design of the canine foot, we’d have a much greater need for paw protection. Outfitting your furry friend with a new pair of kicks, some artificial soles, or treating them to a soothing moisturizer can help them go the distance for many dog years to come.