Sophie Jackson is a dog lover and trainer living in the UK. She competes in agility and obedience with her four dogs.
Do I Need to Worry About My Dog's Paws?
Paw care in dogs can be easily overlooked by pet owners, especially in short-haired breeds where there is no need to regularly trim their feet. Often, the only time an owner tries to look at their dog's paws is the moment when there is an emergency—a torn nail or cut pad, for instance. At which point, the dog is stressed and in pain, and if it is already sensitive or not used to having his or her paws handled, then this can only add further tension to the situation.
Dogs that are worried about their feet being touched, when suddenly thrust into an emergency situation, will yank their paw away and maybe try to hide, snarl, growl and even bite. They are not bad dogs, they are simply scared and hurt.
Such a situation need never occur if you have taken the time to train your dog to be happy with his paws being handled. It will not only make your life and your vet's life easier, but it will also be so much better for your dog.
A dog's paws go through a lot of wear and tear over the course of a lifetime, and at some point, most dogs will suffer an injury to a paw. These are usually minor but will need treatment to prevent the problem from developing. For instance, a ripped claw, if not treated swiftly, can turn into an infected nail bed, and chronic infection can result in a toe having to be amputated.
Whether your dog has long hair or not, whether he only walks on a lead or runs free, whether he has dewclaws or not, it is important you can handle his feet. Here are some of the reasons why you may need to touch your dog's feet:
- Thorn in paw pad
- Snow, ice, or mud clumping on feet
- Broken claw
- Torn, cut, or split paw pad
- Sores or lesions between toes (this is one to be highly aware of, as it can be the first stage of the deadly disease Alabama Rot)
- A broken or sprained toe
- Arthritis in toes
- Infection in toes/nails
- Grass seeds (these can burrow into a paw and travel up the leg. They often need to be removed under anesthesia if not caught in time)
- Burns to the paw
- Toxic substances (i.e. paint) that needs to be removed from the paw before the dog licks and ingests it.
- Environmental or food allergies that cause the dog's feet to itch
- Drawing blood (requires a vet to hold the dog's paw if they are taking blood from a leg)
- Symmetrical lupoid onychodystrophy (SLO), an autoimmune disease that affects the dog's nails
But My Dog Hates Having His Paws Touched
Many dogs are sensitive about their paws being handled, some can even be ticklish, just like humans. Sensitivity about their paws does not necessarily mean they have ever suffered a bad experience, or that they have not been handled as puppies, though with a rescue dog that could be a factor.
Some people's response to a dog that does not want its paws to be touched is to force the animal to comply, arguing that they just have to get used to it. While this may work with some dogs, who will end up tolerating the situation, maybe even accepting it, with others it can make things worse. Dogs may bite grooming tools or even the person handling them.
Equally, handing the problem off to a professional groomer is not an adequate solution. While they may be able to groom your dog's feet for you, they will not be there if an emergency arises, such as a cut pad.
A far better solution is to use positive reinforcement to make paw handling something your dog enjoys. You can even reach a stage where your dog willingly offers a paw to you and will be so relaxed about them being handled, that you can do anything you need to.
Using the games listed below, you can teach your dog to be happy having their paws touched. Remember, be patient and kind during these games and let your dog learn at their own pace. You are aiming to grow trust and confidence in your dog, and that takes time.
Paw-Handling Game 1: Give Paw
To teach a dog to be comfortable with having his paws touched is not as difficult as it might seem at first, but the time it takes will vary depending on the nature of the dog, how sensitive they already are about having their feet touched and if they already have a problem with their feet. If a dog already has sore paws, then they are going to resist them being handled, so take that into account when training.
For this game, pick a reward that is super high value for your dog. For most dogs this can be food—try cooked chicken or cheese. It needs to be something more exciting than kibble. For dogs that are not keen on food, find a toy they really love and use that as their reward. Now you are ready to play 'give paw'.
Clutch a piece of food in your hand (or a small toy) and fold your fingers over it so your dog cannot immediately eat it. Hold your closed hand low and wait to see what your dog does. He may press your hand with his nose to reach the treat, what you are looking for is him to scratch at your hand with a paw. As soon as he does this, open your fist and reward.
Work this on both sides of the dog, so he offers his right and left paw. Most dogs will have a dominant paw (like us being right or left-handed) and you will soon notice which paw he prefers to offer. Encourage him to offer the other paw by holding your hand nearer that one.
Once your dog is scratching your hand with both paws as soon as you offer your closed fist, remove the reward from that hand, and in the future, only reward with food from your free hand. This is to teach the dog to continue the behaviour, even though the reward is not in the hand they touch. Be patient with this and still offer your closed fist, rewarding each attempt to scratch at your hand.
Next, start to slowly open your hand. If you fully open your hand at once, your dog may not understand the game anymore, so take your time. Reward always with your free hand.
Once you can offer your open hand and your dog will place his paw in it, increase the time before you reward him. This needs to be done in small increments, or your dog will pull his paw away. Start by counting to 1, then giving the reward, then count to 2, then to 3. Vary how long you ask for them to keep their paw in your hand, sometimes going right back to 1 second. If your dog pulls his paw away before you have finished counting, then you are asking for too much.
The final stage is to close your fingers around the dog's paw and hold it. Again, take this slowly, closing your fingers a little at a time. When you first fully hold your dog's paw, make sure the pressure is only light, he may pull his paw away - let him. You want him to have confidence in you, so never force this.
Ultimately you can build this game up to examining the paw, looking between the toes and even gently wriggling them (this is a good warm-up exercise for sports dogs). Practice this regularly, at least once a week, and you will have a dog that offers their paw as soon as you show them your hand.
Tips for Success
- If your dog always uses his nose to touch your hand, then put your hand down by his paw. Any movement of his paw open your fist and give the reward. Gradually wait for more movement of his paw before you reward. Aim to only reward when he moves his paw towards your hand, not away. You might also find that the second game idea (below) works better for your dog.
- If your dog scratches too hard at your hand, try rewarding as soon as they start to touch your hand, and don't reward when they scratch hard.
Paw-Handling Game 2: Touch My Paw
Give paw is great for front feet, but working with the back feet can require a different approach. Also, for dogs that are very sensitive about their feet, or perhaps have a problem that makes their paws sore, it may be necessary to take things back a step before trying to ask them to give a paw.
If your dog hates hands near his paws, this game will help to build trust. Remember, if your dog is in discomfort, he will need to see a vet to resolve the problem before attempting to touch his paws.
- Start with high-value rewards, food usually works best for this, but you could use a tug toy or ball. It will just take longer as you will have to reset the dog between each reward.
- Sit down on the floor near your dog and place your hand near their paw. Make sure it is not so close that your dog moves their foot away as a result. Toss them a piece of food. Do this a few times, then move your hand closer.
- Over the course of several short sessions, move your hand nearer and nearer, until it is just touching the dog's paw. You are always aiming for success, so don't push your dog to the point where they move their foot away. Be patient.
- Work up to rubbing a finger lightly over the dog's paw, touching each claw, or stroking their leg. Eventually, you can try gently cradling a paw, working up to lifting and holding it, and then examining it as mentioned above.
Tips for Success
If your dog is so sensitive that even a light finger touch is too much, try using a soft paintbrush, or a feather to lightly stroke their paw to begin with.
Paw-Handling Game 3: Distraction Toys
Sometimes it is not that our dogs dislike their paws being touched, but they dislike grooming tools being near them, such as scissors or clippers. They might not like the sound these tools make, or they may have had a bad experience, such as a claw being cut down to the quick. In this case, a distraction toy may help to build their confidence.
Distraction toys are usually something you fill with food and that engages the dog while you work. This might be a snuffle mat which is covered in strips of cloth you can hide treats among or a plastic lick mat that you can coat with soft food like squeezy cheese or peanut butter. It could be a Kong or a similar toy that can be stuffed with food.
Find an item that works best for your dog and then fill it with high-value treats. Offer this to your dog and give them a chance to focus on it before you do anything. The next step is to gradually introduce tools around your dog's feet. With very sensitive dogs, who react to the sound of the tool, it may be necessary to begin with the tools to one side. Open and close scissors to make their noise and let your dog get used to it. Turn on clippers or claw trimmers and let them adjust to the sound.
Slowly come closer with the tools and work up to trimming fur (it may be easier for your dog if you start with the back feet first). Initially, avoid handling your dog's feet, or lifting them, just try trimming around the edges. With a claw grinder, you can gently touch the claw for a couple of seconds, then take it away. What you want is for your dog to be so focused on their distraction, they take no interest in what you are doing. If your dog pulls its foot away or looks at what you are doing, take a step back.
Once you can trim around a dog's paw, it is time to try gently lifting it up. Again, don't hold the foot for long, build up the length of time your dog is happy with being handled.
Claw clipping or grinding is often easier to do when a dog is resting on their side or sitting in your lap. If your dog is allowed on the furniture, you can work on claws when they come for a cuddle. Still offer the distraction toy, and begin by only cutting a small piece off one claw. If they are ok with that, try doing another. With hind feet, it may help if you can have a second person petting the dog and offering them the distraction toy, while you handle their rear paws.
For smaller dogs, you can employ a grooming table so you are in a better place to see what you are doing with their claws. With big dogs, you may need to remain on the floor with them and work on lifting up their paws so you can cut their claws.
When a dog gets comfortable with the process, you might be able to teach them to lie down on their side while you trim their claws, but this will take time and patience to achieve, and some dogs may never be confident enough with their paws being handled to do this.
Tips for Success
Clipping nails can become a nightmare for dog owners, especially when a claw gets 'quicked' (it is cut too short and bleeds). Switching to a claw grinder can reduce the stress of this process. There are many on the market, but I suggest buying one that is low noise, as the whine of a grinder can sometimes worry dogs.
© 2020 Sophie Jackson
My Dog Has Paw Sore, Do I Need To Go See A Vet?
Well, the decision to do this must be taken by the dog owner as regards the circumstances. While the dog’s injuries may heal following the application of a first aid or self administered treatment, it is advised to contact the vet following any injury.
A visit to the vet may not be necessary, but listening to the experienced advice of a vet is surely of good help. Some cuts are quite manageable but others may be too deep and might require a stitch, in such cases going to the vet is the best option for the dog after a first aid treatment.
Nevertheless, instructions or recommendations from the vet must be followed strictly to achieve best results.
Dog Grooming Tips
Have you ever watched your dog roll on the ground, lick her coat or chew at her fur? These are her ways of keeping clean. Sometimes, though, she’ll need a little help from you to look and smell her best. But don’t worry, we’re here to help. Read on for ways to keep your dog’s fur, skin, nails, teeth, ears and paws healthy and clean.
Bathing Your Dog
The ASPCA recommends bathing your dog at least once every three months, but some may require more frequent baths if he or she spends a lot of time outdoors or has skin problems. Here are some steps to help you get started.
Dogs with loose facial skin or wrinkles—such as Shar Peis and Pugs—will need special attention. To prevent dirt and bacteria from causing irritation and infection, clean the folds with damp cotton. Always thoroughly dry the areas between the folds.
Bathing a Puppy
Some pups think that bath time is a perfect time to act goofy! Young puppies especially will wiggle and bounce all over the place, and tend to nip at bath time. If this sounds like your pet, put a floating toy in the tub with her so she can focus on that rather than on mouthing you.
Choosing a Shampoo
Using a shampoo formulated for pets is best. Human shampoos aren't toxic to pets, but some may contain fragrances or other substances that can irritate your pet's skin. Select a product that's specifically formulated for your species of animal, as some ingredients may be harmful when applied to different types of pets. It's always smart to talk with your pet's veterinarian to make sure you're selecting a shampoo that will meet your pet's needs.
Protecting Your Dog’s Eyes and Ears During Bath Time
Since shampoos and soaps can be major irritants, ask your vet for a sterile eye lubricant to use during bathing—this will help protect your pet's eyes from shampoo. You can also use a sprayer or a showerhead with a long hose, allowing you to control water flow during rinsing. Avoid shampooing your pet's head altogether by simply using a wet washcloth to gently remove any dirt or debris from his or her face.
Protect your pet's ears, too, by placing a large cotton ball in each ear until the bath is over.
Brushing Your Dog
Regular grooming with a brush or comb will help keep your pet's hair in good condition by removing dirt, spreading natural oils throughout her coat, preventing tangles and keeping her skin clean and irritant-free. Plus, grooming time is a great time to check for fleas and flea dirt—those little black specks that indicate your pet is playing host to a flea family.
The way you brush your pet—and how often—will largely depend on his or her coat type.
Smooth, Short Coats
If your dog has a smooth, short coat (like that of a Chihuahua, Boxer or Basset Hound), you only need to brush once a week. Use a rubber brush to loosen dead skin and dirt and follow with bristle brush to remove dead hair. Polish your low-maintenance pooch with a chamois cloth and she's ready to shine!
Short, Dense Fur
If your dog has short, dense fur that's prone to matting, like that of a retriever, brushing once a week is fine. Use a slicker brush to remove tangles and catch dead hair with a bristle brush. Don't forget to comb her tail!
Long, Silky Coats
If your dog has a long, luxurious coat, such as that of a Yorkshire terrier, she'll need daily attention. Every day you'll need to remove tangles with a slicker brush. Next, brush her coat with a bristle brush. If you have a long-haired dog with a coat like a collie's or an Afghan hound's, follow the steps above, but also be sure to comb through the fur and trim the hair around the feet.
Long Hair That's Frequently Matted
For long-haired pooches, it's a good idea to set up a daily grooming routine to remove tangles and prevent mats. Gently tease out tangles with a slicker brush, and then brush your pet with a bristle brush. If matting is particularly dense, you may try clipping the hair, taking care not to come near the skin.
Although shedding old or damaged hair is a normal process for dogs, the amount and frequency of hair shed often depends upon their health, breed type and season. Many dogs develop thick coats in the winter that are then shed in the spring. Dogs who are always kept indoors, however, are prone to smaller fluctuations in coat thickness and tend to shed fairly evenly all year.
Steps to Minimize Shedding
While you cannot stop a healthy dog from normal shedding, you can reduce the amount of hair in your home by brushing your dog regularly. Ask your veterinarian or groomer to recommend a specific type of brush or comb that will work best for your dog’s hair type.
Excessive Hair Loss
Shedding is a normal process for pets. Excessive shedding can also be circumvented with proper nutrition. Quality pet-food manufacturers work hard to include the right amount of nutrients so that supplements are not needed, but pets with allergies or sensitivities might need to experiment with different brands to discover which food works best for them.
However, excessive hair loss or bald patches may be due to one of the following:
- Parasites (fleas, lice or mites)
- Fungal or bacterial infections
- Inhalant- or food-related allergies
- Kidney, liver, thyroid or adrenal disease (including Cushing’s)
- Pregnancy or lactation
- Certain medications
- Self-induced trauma due to licking
- Immune disease
- Contact with irritating or caustic substance
If you notice any of the following conditions, consult with your veterinarian for treatment.
- Skin irritation, including redness, bumps, rashes or scabs
- Open sores of any kind
- Bald spots or thinning of coat
- Dull, dry hair that pulls out easily
- Constant foot licking or face rubbing
Your dog’s skin is an indication of her overall health, so it’s important to keep it in prime shape. When a skin problem occurs, your dog may respond with excessive scratching, chewing and/or licking. A wide range of causes—including external parasites, infections, allergies, metabolic problems and stress, or a combination of these—may be to blame.
First check your pet's ears and teeth, as these are often the source of odor-causing bacteria in pets. Simply keeping your dog clean by routinely bathing him may be all that is needed to stop the smell.
Perfumes for dogs are not likely to be of toxic concern to most pets when used according to label directions. However, dogs with dermal allergies can develop skin irritation and those with nasal allergies might be affected by the smell. If you wish to use pooch cologne, administer only as directed and consult a vet if the pet has any history of allergies.
- If grooming proves fruitless and your dog smells consistently stinky, please consult with your veterinarian to check to see if there's an underlying cause or infection.
Other Skin Problems
- Scratching, licking or chewing at skin
- Redness or inflammation
- Hot spots (one particular area where itching is intense)
- Round, scaly patches on the face and paws
- Dry, flaky or otherwise irritated skin
- Hair loss, bald patches
- Drainage of blood or pus
- Swellings, lumps or skin discoloration
- Rubbing face against furniture or carpeting
Causes of Skin Problems
One of the following may be causing an abnormality with your dog’s skin and should be investigated by a veterinarian.
- Fleas. Bites and droppings from these pesky insects can irritate your dog’s skin, and some pets can have an allergic response to the saliva following a bite. Some dogs may also be sensitive to flea-treatment products certain flea collars, for example, may cause redness and irritation around the neck.
- Ringworm. This highly contagious fungal infection can result in inflammation, scaly patches and hair loss. You’ll want to treat it immediately to avoid other pets and people in the household from becoming infected.
- Seasonal or food allergies. Your dog’s scratching may be due to her sensitivity to allergens from common substances like pollen, weeds, dust, mites, trees, mold or grasses. Many dogs, like people, get dry, flaky skin in the winter. Many dogs develop allergies to common ingredients in dog foods, such as beef, chicken, wheat, corn or soy. Even fillers and colorings can be seen as foreign by your dog’s immune system and lead to itching and rashes.
- Skin infections. Dogs can develop irritating bacterial or yeast infections when the skin is damaged due to the presence of another skin disorder.
- Sarcoptic mange. This skin disease caused by infection from the Sarcoptes scabei mite results in extreme itching and skin inflammation similar to an allergic response.
- Grooming products. Certain shampoos and grooming products can irritate your dog’s skin. Be sure to only use grooming products that are meant for use on dogs.
- Stress or boredom. A dog may lick her skin (especially her legs) excessively for many reasons. Some lick when not given adequate opportunity for activity or mental stimulation.
- Metabolic or hormonal problems. Several common hormonal problems can cause change in skin color, coat consistency, thickness and distribution.
Knowing When to See the Vet
You should schedule an exam with your vet as soon as you notice any abnormality in your pet’s skin or hair, or if your pet begins to excessively scratch, lick and/or bite areas on his fur.
Your vet may perform diagnostic tests in order to find the cause of your dog’s symptoms, including a skin biopsy, test for ringworm, microscopic examination of the hair and skin for presence of parasites or infection, and blood tests to assess your dog’s overall health
Mange is a skin disease caused by several species of tiny mites, common external parasites found in companion canines. Some mange mites are normal residents of your dog’s skin and hair follicles, while others are not. While most dogs live in harmony with their mites, never suffering any consequences, mites can cause mild to severe skin infections if they reproduce.
There are two types of mange: “Sarcoptic” mange and “demodectic” mange. Sarcoptic mange (Sarcoptes scabei) is also known as canine scabies, and is caused by mites that are oval-shaped, light-colored and microscopic. This type of manage is transferred easily between hosts.
All dogs raised normally by their mothers possess demodectic mange (Demodex canis) mites on their skin, which are transferred from mother to pup during the first few days of life. There are three types of demodectic mange that affect canines:
- Localized cases occur when mites proliferate in one or two small, confined areas. This results in isolated scaly bald patches—usually on the dog's face—creating a polka-dot appearance. This is considered a common ailment of puppies and dogs less than 18 months old. Approximately 90% of cases resolve with no treatment of any kind.
- Generalized cases, in contrast, affect a larger area of the dog’s skin. Secondary bacterial infections make this a very itchy, and often smelly, skin disease. This form of mange could also be a sign of a compromised immune system, hereditary problem, endocrine problem or other underlying health issue. Treatment depends on the age at which the dog developed the disease.
- Demodectic pododermatitis, one of the most resistant forms of mange, is confined to the foot and accompanied by bacterial infections. Deep biopsies are often required to locate these mites and make a proper diagnosis.
General Symptoms of Mange in Dog
- Demodectic mange tends to cause hair loss, bald spots, scabbing and sores, and accompanying bacterial infections can make for an itchy and uncomfortable disease.
- Sarcoptic mange tends to result in restlessness and frantic scratching, with symptoms that generally appear one week after exposure. It also can result in hair loss, reddened skin, body sores and scabs. The most commonly affected areas are a dog’s ears, elbows, face and legs, but it can rapidly spread to the entire body.
- Demodex mites can be transferred from one dog to another, but as long as the dog is healthy, the mites simply add to the dog's natural mite population and no skin disease results. Isolation of dogs with even the most severe cases is still felt to be unnecessary. Though in rare circumstances, dog-to-dog contagion is possible. It is very rare for mites to be transmitted to humans or to cats.
- When sarcoptic mange is detected, the dog is typically isolated to prevent the condition from spreading to other pets and humans. When passed to humans, sarcoptic mange causes a rash of red bumps, similar to mosquito bites.
Take your dog to a veterinarian, who will perform a physical exam, analyze skin scrapings and try to confirm the presence of mange mites with a microscope. It can be difficult to identify mange mites if they’re buried deep in a dog’s skin, so your vet may rely on clinical signs or your pet’s history to make a final diagnosis.
Depending on the type of mange and the breed dog, medication may be given orally or topically by injection, shampoo or dip. Some infected dogs may also require special treatment for secondary skin infections. Treatment should be accompanied by skin scrapes every two weeks.
Please note: many skin treatments can be toxic to dogs, so check with your vet before beginning any treatment program for mange.
If your dog has been diagnosed with sarcoptic mange, you’ll need to thoroughly clean or replace his bedding and collar and treat all animals in contact. If you suspect a neighbor’s dog may be infected, keep your pets away to keep the disease at bay. Be sure to bring your dog to the vet periodically as recommended for skin scrapes to ensure the mites have been eradicated.
Hot spots are red, moist, hot and irritated lesions that are typically found on a dog’s head, hip or chest area that can become quite painful for the dog. Anything that irritates the skin and causes a dog to scratch or lick himself can start a hot spot, including allergic reactions, insect, mite or flea bites, poor grooming, underlying ear or skin infections and constant licking and chewing prompted by stress or boredom.
Dogs who are not groomed regularly and have matted, dirty coats can be prone to developing hot spots, as can dogs who swim or who are exposed to rain. Additionally, dogs with hip dysplasia or anal sac disease can start licking the skin on their hind-end. Thick-coated, longhaired breeds are most commonly affected.
Hot spots often grow at an alarming rate within a short period of time because dogs tend to lick, chew and scratch the affected areas, further irritating the skin.
Treating Hot Spots
You should visit your vet for an exam as soon as you notice any abnormality in your pet’s skin, or if your pet begins to excessively scratch, lick and/or bite areas on his fur. Your vet will attempt to determine the cause of hot spots. Whether it is a flea allergy, an anal gland infection or stress, the underlying issue needs to be taken care of. Your veterinarian will prescribe the care and medications needed to make your dog more comfortable and allow the hot spots to heal. This may include the use of an Elizabethan collar to keep your dog from biting and licking existing lesions.
Treatment may also include the following:
- Shaving of the hair surrounding the lesion, which allows air and medication to reach the wound
- Cleansing the hot spot with a non-irritating solution
- Antibiotics and painkillers
- Medication to prevent and treat parasites
- Balanced diet to help maintain healthy skin and coat
- Dietary supplement containing essential fatty acids
- Corticosteroids or antihistamines to control itching
- Hypoallergenic diet for food allergies
Preventing Hot Spots
Make sure your dog is groomed on a regular basis, and you may choose to keep your pet’s hair clipped short, especially during warmer months. Follow a strict flea control program as recommended by your veterinarian.
To keep boredom and stress at bay, make sure your dog gets adequate exercise and playtime with his human family or canine friends.
Regularly brushing your dog's teeth, along with a healthy diet and plenty of chew toys, can go a long way toward keeping her mouth healthy. Bacteria and plaque-forming foods can cause build-up on a dog's teeth. This can harden into tartar, potentially causing gingivitis, receding gums and tooth loss. Many pooches show signs of gum disease by the time they're four years old because they aren't provided with proper mouth care.
Give your dog regular home checks and you'll have a very contented pooch with a dazzling smile. We recommend brushing two to three times a week.
- First, you’ll want to get your pet used to the idea of having her teeth brushed. To do this, start by gently massaging her lips with your finger in a circular motion for 30 to 60 seconds once or twice a day for a few weeks before moving on to her teeth and gums.
- After a few sessions or when your pooch seems comfortable, put a little bit of dog-formulated toothpaste on her lips to get her used to the taste.
- Next, introduce a toothbrush designed especially for cats or dogs—it will be smaller than human toothbrushes and have softer bristles. Toothbrushes that you can wear over your finger are also available and allow you to give a nice massage to your pet's gums.
- Place the brush or your gauze-wrapped finger at a 45-degree angle to the teeth and clean in small, circular motions. Work on one area of your dog's mouth at a time, lifting her lip as necessary. The side of the tooth that touches the cheek usually has the most tartar, and giving a final downward stroke can help to remove it.
- If your dog resists having the inner surfaces of her teeth cleaned, don't fight it—only a small amount of tartar accumulates there. Once you get the technique down, go for a brushing two or three times a week.
Do not use human toothpaste, which can irritate a dog's stomach. Instead, ask your vet for toothpaste made especially for canines or make a paste out of baking soda and water.
If your dog’s breath is not a field of lilies, that's okay. Normal doggie-breath isn't particularly fresh-smelling. Halitosis, or bad breath, can be the first sign of a mouth problem and is caused by bacteria growing from food particles caught between the teeth or by gum infection. Certain dogs—particularly small ones—are especially prone to plaque and tartar. If plaque is the culprit, your pet may require a professional cleaning and regular at home brushings are a great solution.
Persistent bad breath can indicate that your pet has digestive problems or a gum condition such as gingivitis, and should be examined by a vet. If your pet’s breath is especially offensive and is accompanied by a loss of appetite, vomiting or excessive drinking or urinating, it's a good idea to take your pooch to the vet.
Signs of Oral Disease
Once a week, lift your pet’s lips and examine his gums and teeth. The gums should be pink, not white or red, and should show no signs of swelling. His teeth should be clean, without any brownish tartar. A veterinary exam beforehand may be helpful to find out if your dog's gums are inflamed.
Bad breath, excessive drooling, loose teeth, inflamed gums, tumors in the gums or cysts under the tongue are signs that your dog may have a problem in his mouth or gastrointestinal system and should be checked by a veterinarian.
Getting familiar with these common mouth problems will help you determine if it's time for your pet to see a vet:
- Periodontal disease is a painful gum infection that can result in tooth loss and spread infection to the rest of the body. Signs are loose teeth, bad breath, tooth pain, sneezing and nasal discharge.
- Gingivitis is an inflammation of the gums caused mainly by accumulation of plaque, tartar and disease-producing bacteria above and below the gum line. Signs include bleeding, red, swollen gums and bad breath. It is reversible with regular teeth cleanings.
- Swollen gums develop when tartar builds up and food gets stuck between the teeth. Regularly brushing your dog's teeth at home and getting annual cleanings at the vet can prevent tartar and gingivitis.
- Proliferating gum disease occurs when the gum grows over the teeth and must be treated to avoid gum infection. An inherited condition common to boxers and bull terriers, it can be treated with antibiotics.
- Mouth tumors appear as lumps in the gums. Some are malignant and must be surgically removed.
- Salivary cysts look like large, fluid-filled blisters under the tongue, but can also develop near the corners of the jaw. They require drainage, and the damaged saliva gland must be removed.
- Canine distemper teeth can occur if a dog had distemper as a puppy. Adult teeth can appear looking eroded and can often decay. As damage is permanent, decayed teeth should be removed by a vet.
Other Ways to Prevent Dental Problems
Give your pooch treats that are specially formulated to keep canine teeth healthy, and ask your vet about a specially formulated dry food that can slow down the formation of plaque and tartar.
Chew toys are also a great way to satisfy your dog’s natural desire to chomp while making his or her teeth strong. Gnawing on a chew toy can help massage the gums and keep teeth clean by scraping away soft tartar, plus it also reduces your dog's overall stress level and prevents boredom. Ask your vet to recommend toxin-free rawhide, nylon and rubber chew toys.
Giving your pup regular home eye exams will help keep you alert to any tearing, cloudiness or inflammation that may indicate a health problem. First, face your dog in a brightly lit area and look into his eyes. They should be clear and bright, and the area around the eyeball should be white. The pupils should be equal in size and there shouldn’t be tearing, discharge or any crust in the corners of his eyes. With your thumb, gently roll down your dog’s lower eyelid and look at the lining. It should be pink, not red or white.
A gentle wipe with a damp cotton ball will help to keep your pet’s eyes gunk-free. Wipe outward from the inner corner of the eye and be careful not to touch his or her eyeball—you don’t want to scratch the cornea! If your pet constantly suffers from runny eyes and discharge, please see your veterinarian. Your pet may have an infection or plugged tear ducts.
Symptoms of Eye Infection
The following are signs that something may be wrong with one or both of your dog’s eyes. Be sure to watch your pooch’s body language, too—pawing or rubbing his eye area may indicate possible problems. Call your veterinarian if your dog is experiencing any of these symptoms.
- Discharge and crusty gunk
- Red or white eyelid linings
- Tear-stained fur
- Closed eye(s)
- Cloudiness or change in eye color
- Visible third eyelid
- Unequal pupil size
Common Eye Problems in Dogs
The following eye-related disorders are commonly seen in dogs:
- Conjunctivitis: One or both of your dog’s eyes will look red and swollen, and there may be discharge
- Dry Eye: Diminished tear production can cause corneal inflammation, squinting and discharge.
- Epiphora: An overflow of tears creates stains on the dog’s facial fur.
- Cherry Eye: An enlarged tear gland forms a cherry-like mass in the corner of the dog's eye.
- Glaucoma: The cornea may become cloudy and the eye enlarges due to an increased pressure in the eyeball.
- Ectropion: A turning outward of the eyelid away from the eye (lower lids may look droopy).
- Entropion: A rolling in of the eyelid causes discharge and tearing.
- Cataract: An opacity on the lens of the eye can cause impaired vision and possible blindness.
- Progressive Retinal Atrophy: Caused by degeneration of retinal tissue—night blindness is often its first sign.
Preventing Eye Problems
Long-haired breeds can get eye damage if their locks aren’t tamed. Carefully trim the hair around your dog’s eyes to keep his vision clear and prevent hairs from poking and scratching. Soaps and topical medications can be major irritants, so sure to protect your dog’s eyes before bathing him or applying ointments or flea-control formulas.
It’s much safer to drive with the windows only partially down and your dog’s head inside the vehicle to prevent pain or long-last injury from road debris or an insect getting in her eyes. The wind can also dry out your dog’s eyes, possibly causing irritation and infection.
Consider doing a little research to find out if your dog’s breed is predisposed toward eye conditions, such as glaucoma or progressive retinal atrophy. Your pet should have his eyes checked on annual vet visits, but knowing about possible inherited problems will help you take important precautions.
Your dog’s regular grooming routine should include regular ear checks. This is especially important for dogs who produce excessive earwax or have a lot of inner-ear hair. Don’t clean your dog’s ears so frequently or deeply as to cause irritation, and take care to never insert anything into your dog’s ear canal—probing inside can cause trauma or infection!
Recognizing an Ear Infection
Because a dog’s ear canals plunge downward and then horizontally from the ear opening, it is difficult for caught debris or water to be released, making canines especially susceptible to ear infections. Check your dog’s ears regularly for discharge, odor, swelling and other signs of infection. If your dog is showing any of the symptoms described below, see your veterinarian as soon as possible.
- Ear scratching
- Brown, yellow or bloody discharge
- Odor in the ear
- Crusted or scabby skin on the near ear flap
- Hair loss around the ear
- Wiping the ear area on the floor or furniture
- Head shaking or head tilt
- Loss of balance
- Unusual eye movements
- Walking in circles
- Hearing loss
Ear Care for Dogs Who Swim
Frequent bathing or swimming can lead to ear irritation and infection. To prevent this from happening, place cotton in your dog’s ears before baths and be sure to dry his or her ears thoroughly after water sports and activities.
If your dog is prone to ear infections, as your veterinarian to recommend an ear drying solution made for dogs to help evaporate any water trapped inside the ear canal. These ear washes, usually witch hazel-based, are available at better pet supply stores.
Signs of Ear Problems
Because of the twisty, curvy design a dog’s inner ears, it’s easy for parasites, bacteria and yeast to hide in them and infections can often arise as a result of this trapped debris. Dogs with allergies are particularly vulnerable to complications, as are those with floppy ears, like Cocker spaniels, Basset Hounds and Poodles. Brown or black ear wax—and dry, dark wax resembling coffee grounds—are classic indicators of microscopic ear mites. Only your vet can tell for sure, so please don’t delay bringing your pooch in for a checkup.
Contact your veterinarian if you notice any of the following symptoms affecting your dog’s ears.
- Ear discharge
- Bad smells
- Crusty skin
- Hair loss
As a rule of thumb, a dog’s nails should be trimmed when they just about touch the ground when he or she walks. If your pet’s nails are clicking or getting snagged on the floor, it’s time for a trim. For leisurely living dogs, this might mean weekly pedicures, while urban pooches who stalk rough city sidewalks can go longer between clippings.
Finding Nail Clippers for Your Dog
There are two basic styles of nail clippers for dogs: a scissors type and a guillotine type. They both work equally well, so choose the design that you’re most comfortable with.
If your dog finds both kinds of clippers intolerable, an alternative tool is a nail grinder, an electric tool that sands nails down. These offer great control, but take longer than clippers and some people (and dogs) find the sounds and vibrations they produce unpleasant. Ask your veterinarian or groomer for advice about what types of nail trimmers are best for your dog and how to use them properly.
Helping Dogs with Sensitive Feet
Some dogs don’t like to have their feet touched, so it’s always a good idea to get your dog used to it before you attempt to clip his nails—ideally, this should start when he’s a pup. Rub your hand up and down the leg and then gently press each individual toe, and be sure to give her lots of praise and treats! Within a week or two of daily foot massage, your dog should feel more comfortable with a nail trim.
Before beginning a pup pedicure, tire your dog out with some vigorous exercise and enlist an assistant to help you hold her down.
How to Trim Your Dog’s Nails
- Begin by spreading each of your dog's feet to inspect for dirt and debris.
- Take your dog’s toe and hold it firmly, but gently. Hold your trimmer so that you’re cutting the nail from top to bottom at a slight angle, not side to side, and insert a very small length of nail through the trimmer’s opening to cut off the tip of each nail. Don’t trim at a blunt angle as to maintain the existing curvature of the nail.
- Cut a little bit of nail with each pass until you can see the beginning of a circle—still nail-colored—appear on the cut surface. The circle indicates that you are nearing the quick, a vein that runs into the nail, so it’s time to stop that nail and move on to the next.
- If your dog has black nails, however, the quick will not be as easily discernible, so be extra careful. If you do accidentally cut into the quick, it may bleed, in which case you can apply some styptic powder or corn starch to stop the bleeding.
- Once the nails have been cut, use an emery board to smooth any rough edges.
What to Do if You Cut Your Dog’s Quick
If you do hit the quick, your dog will probably yelp and might even struggle. This is a good time to end the session—but not before applying styptic powder or corn starch to the bleeding nail tip. Apply a little bit of pressure as you press the powder into the wound to make sure it sticks. If bleeding continues for more than a few minutes, please alert your veterinarian, who can check your dog for clotting disorders.
Helping Fearful Dogs
Some dogs show fearful or aggressive behavior when faced with nail trimming. Watch carefully for signs of distress such as panting, drooling, trembling, whining, freezing, cowering, tail-tucking, growling, snarling or snapping. Even with the most patient and gradual of introductions, there are dogs who seem unable to get over their terror.
If your dog falls into this category, do not force him to submit. See if his veterinarian or a professional groomer has better luck getting the job done—if not, it’s a good idea to make an appointment with a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist (CAAB), a veterinary behaviorist (Dip ACVB) or a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT) to work on the underlying issues at hand.
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. It’s important to check your pet’s feet regularly to make sure they’re free of wounds, infections or foreign objects that can become lodged.
To keep them in tip-top shape, look for foxtails, pebbles, small bits of broken glass and other debris. Remove any splinters or debris gently with tweezers. Then, comb and trim the hair between the toes to be even with the pads to avoid painful matting.
If your dog’s pads have become cracked and dry, ask your veterinarian for a good pad moisturizer and use as directed. Avoid human hand moisturizers, which can soften the pads and lead to injury. A paw message will relax your dog and promote better circulation. Start by rubbing between the pads on the bottom of the paw, and then rub between each toe.
It’s not unusual for dogs to suffer cuts or wounds from accidently stepping on glass, debris or other objects. Wounds that are smaller than a half inch in diameter can be cleaned with an antibacterial wash and wrapped with a light bandage. For deeper paw cuts, see your veterinarian for treatment.
Winter and Summer Paw Care
As with humans, your dog’s paws will require different types of care depending on the season. The bitter cold of winter can cause chapping and cracking in your dog’s paws. Rock salt and chemical ice melters can cause sores, infection and blistering, and toxic chemicals can also be ingested by your dog when he licks his paws. Beat these wintertime blues by washing your dog’s paws in warm water after outdoor walks to rinse away salt and chemicals. You may wish to apply Vaseline, a great salt barrier, to your pet’s pads before each walk—or make sure your dog wears doggie booties.
During the summer, it’s important to remember your dog’s paws feel heat extremes. Just imagine stepping barefoot onto hot pavement—ouch! To prevent burns and blisters, avoid walking your dog on hot pavement or sand. Watch for blisters, loose flaps of skin and red, ulcerated patches on your pet’s pads. For minor burns, apply antibacterial wash to the paw and cover with a loose bandage. For serious burns, please visit your vet immediately.
Preventing Paw Problems
When starting a new exercise program with your dog, start off slow. Paws may become sensitive, chaffed or cracked, particularly when starting your dog out on hikes or runs. Be sure to keep your home and yard clear of pointy bits and pieces, and avoid hazards such as broken glass and other debris when walking your dog. Always keep this simple tip in mind—if you wouldn’t like to walk barefoot on it, neither will your dog!
Make Nail Trimming a Positive Experience
Whether it's introducing him to the trimming tool or picking the right environment, "make everything a really positive experience for your pooch," certified trainer Mikkel Becker says.
To get your dog used to having his feet handled, play with his paws regularly and give him special treats-such as small cubes of cheese.
Next, teach your dog to get comfy with clippers. "Let treats rain down from the sky" every time you pull clippers out of the drawer, Becker says. Anytime your dog approaches clippers, he should get a reward. To condition him to the sound of the clippers, clip something hard and crunchy—like pasta—in his presence. Reward him again.
Finally, make sure the environment he'll be in when his nails are trimmed is comfortable and offers a stable grip for his feet. Try a counter topped with a nonslip mat or even his dog bed. Add calming smells, like lavender or a pheromone such as Adaptil. All of that prep helps him feel secure.
When you start trimming his nails for the first time, do it slowly. Trim just one nail a day, barely cutting off the end. Your goal is to get all nails even with the corresponding paw pad and then keep them that way with regular trims. Trim every two weeks to maintain the optimal nail length. The more you trim overgrown nails, the more the blood vessels will retreat back into the claw.
8 Dog Paw Balms to Soothe, Protect, and Pamper
Even though a dog's paws are designed to carry them through the elements sans shoes, the pads of their feet still need some occasional relief.
Dog paw balm is intended to soothe a pup's paws in the same way you'd cure your own dry, cracked hands or feet. The moisturizing properties give them some relief, while the waxy texture acts as a buffer between their paws and whatever terrain they explore.
The concept of dog paw balm came from the sport of mushing (when a pack of dogs pulls a sled over snow). Mushers used a simple blend of oils and wax to protect their dog's paws from snowy conditions. Musher's Secret, the first dog paw balm, was imported to the United States from Canada in the '90s and still continues to gain popularity with mushers and dog owners alike.
The AKC is a huge advocate for dog paw protection, and balms are one of the few ways they list to combat or prevent damaged paws. Because dogs spend most (if not all) of their life barefoot, it's important to take care of their paw pads. And not just in snowy climates—think of walking across hot pavement barefoot. Overtime, you'd need some hydration and damage repair.
Whether you're new to dog paw balm or already a fan, keep reading for the best paw balms for every pup (that are also super affordable).