A dog's paw pads protect the joints and bones of its body by providing cushioning. Dogs use their paws all the time, putting them through all kinds of conditions. Over time, your dog's paw pads can become injured, dry and cracked and must be treated. Dogs instinctively lick their paws when they hurt or itch but this behaviour poses a threat because your dog is ingesting what is on their paws. Proper care of your dog's paw pads can keep him healthy in more ways than one.
Check your dog's paw pads frequently for cuts, cracked skin or foreign objects that have become embedded in the skin. If the skin is cut, wash the paw gently with soap and water, dry thoroughly and dab on a little antibiotic cream such as Neosporin.
Moisturise your dog's paw pads with a pet-safe moisturiser (do not use human lotions). Dryness and cracking are usually caused by overuse or walking on rough pavement but can also be a sign of an underlying problem such as allergies. If your dog is also licking his paws frequently and scratching his ears, suspect allergies and take him to the vet for treatment.
Alternate walking locations so that your dog isn't always on pavement. Take your dog walking in grassy areas or on dirt and try to avoid small gravel, as it can become stuck in your dog's paw pads and cause pain and irritation. If the weather is particularly hot, don't walk your dog on blacktop or cement because it can literally become hot enough to burn. Sand can also become too hot and can cause injuries because of its instability. If you take your dog to walk on a beach, walk him near the water's edge, where the sand has a bit more stability and the water cools it down.
Have your dog's nails trimmed regularly. Nails that are too long will make a clicking noise when your dog is walking and, if left untrimmed, can catch on fabric or cause gait problems. Nails that are left to grow too long also break off more easily and bleed because the vein inside the nail also grows longer without regular trimming. Get your dog used to nail trimming and paw handling early on, so that it's easier for you or your groomer to maintain his paws and less stressful for your dog.
Wash your dog's paws frequently, especially if he has been walking on salt-covered surfaces. If your dog is prone to allergies, washing his paws will prevent allergens from being ingested through licking and will keep them out of the house. In the winter, consider using dog boots to protect your dog's paw pads from both the elements and salt. Your dog will probably be more open to wearing boots if you get him used to wearing them when he's young.
Stay aware of the ground when walking with your dog. Check for potential hazards such as glass and other sharp objects. If your dog is limping, favouring his paw or licking it a lot, take him to the vet. In many cases, very small objects become embedded in the paw pad and need professional tools to extract them.