When it comes us humans, it's hard to imagine heading out the door without shoes on. As we're constantly on the go, it's a necessity of protection and comfort that we alter based on the weather. (Even babies are provided with adorable little booties.) But when our dogs are moving just as much as we do, should they also wear shoes on their paws?
To get the answer, we spoke to Hyunmin Kim, DVM, veterinary staff manager for the ASPCA Community Medicine Department. Here's what you need to know in order to determine what's best for your dog.
Understanding Your Dog's Paws
First and foremost, dog owners should take the time to understand how sensitive their dog's paws can be. Kim explains, "The pads on the bottom of your pups feet provide extra cushioning to help protect bones and joints from shock, provide insulation against extreme weather, aid walking on rough ground, and protect tissue deep within the paw." She also notes the importance of paying attention to their paws, making sure they are wound- and infection-free and that foreign objects, like rocks or glass, aren't lodged.
While there isn't specific variation in paw sensitivity by breed, Kim mentions that dogs that tend to spend time on rough surfaces will have less sensitive paw pads. "Digital corns, which are circular, hard, painful growths found on the digital pads of dogs, in particular greyhounds, can be a significant source of paw sensitivity," she elaborates. "It's suspected that these painful corns develop due to the lack of a thick fatty layer in the pad so any dog has the potential to develop these corns."
Spotting Paw Irritation
When it comes to understanding your dog's pain, owners should become aware of what paw discomfort and irritation looks like. "Pets with paw pad burns will limp, refuse to walk, and the top layer of skin will look like it's blistering and peeling or may even be absent," Kim says. "Some animals will constantly lick at their paw pads causing secondary infections. Always check for redness between toes and cracks on your pet's paw pads."
If your dog suffers from a cut or wound after stepping on glass, debris, or other objects, Kim recommends that wounds smaller than a half inch in diameter should be cleaned with an antibacterial wash and you should consult with your veterinarian with anything more questionable.
When Does Your Dog Need Shoes?
Deciding whether your dog needs their paws covered, consider location and weather. When outdoors, it's crucial to keep a close eye on the surfaces where your dog walks. Kim noted that broken glass on city streets and jagged rocks on hiking trails can easily cut a dog's paw pads. In seasonal safety, dog boots are often a popular idea for winter in order to protect against the cold and ice melt.
"The bitter cold of winter can cause chapping and cracking in your dog's paws," Kim says, noting that "rock salt and chemical ice melt can cause sores, infection, and blistering, and toxic chemicals can also be ingested by your dog when he licks his paws." Aside from booties, another option is to apply a little Vaseline to your pet's pads before each walk since it works as a salt barrier. Kim also suggests that owners wash their dog's paws in warm water after outdoor walks to rinse away salt and chemicals.
In the summer, extreme heat becomes an issue and if asphalt is too hot for you, it's also too hot for your dog. While they can wear booties for protection, air temperature and direct sun can cause overheating. "To prevent burns and blisters, avoid walking your dog on hot pavement or sand," Kim suggests. "Watch for blisters, loose flaps of skin and red, ulcerated patches on your pet's pads."
As with cuts, minor burns can be treated by applying an antibacterial wash to the paw and covering with a loose bandage but anything more serious needs to be immediately attended to by your vet. The age of your dog can also be a reason to invest in booties. Kim explains that senior dogs with arthritis "can have a slow, stiff gait so extra precaution during cold and heat extremes is important."
More Paw Protection
To treat cracked and dry pads, Kim advises that you ask your veterinarian for a good pad moisturizer but also notes that Vaseline is an affordable and generally safe "as long as you're not applying excessive amounts that your dog will lick and ingest." Skip human hand moisturizers, which can soften the pads and lead to injury.
Another tip is to give your dog a paw massage by rubbing between the pads on the bottom of the paw, and then rub between each toe. "It will relax your dog and promote better circulation," said Kim. If you're looking for booties for your dog, we suggest the Bark Brite All Weather Neoprene Dog Boots or Musher's Secret (a longtime favorite of Martha's for her dogs).