Believe it or not, the most common ailments we encounter on the trail won’t be these big, dramatic, scary, life altering experiences. We need to be well versed on how to handle the more minor ailments. These common trail injuries are most certainly worthy of a blog post because one- they are painful, and two-they are (duh) common.
So, we are talking foot injuries. Torn pads, pad abrasions, foreign bodies (ie thorns or burrs), burned pads, and the dreaded torn toe nail.
I am told I am predictable and if you have been following me for a while you probably know where this is going. And that is …you guessed it. How do we prevent pad and foot injuries from happening in the first place?
All it takes is three things: a little research, a little pampering care, and some homework before you head out on your journey. And these three topics will give your dog the best chance to ensure his feet stay healthy for any adventure you decide to partake in.
So, let’s get down to it shall we!
Knowing the trail type or type of footing you will encounter will give you a good idea on how you need to prepare for your trip in advance. And what do we mean by this? Ask yourself the following questions- “what footing should I look for or be aware of, and what should I bring to prevent any injury?” Ask these questions with the goal of ensuring your pups pads stay healthy for the duration of the trip.
So know your trail! Is it rocky? Are there certain types of vegetation that could potentially act as a foreign body? (think grass awns and thorns and burs), is it icy? And for you ocean dwellers: are you in an area where there is harmful marine life or coral that could cut your dog's paws?
So once you've researched the type of trail you will be on, next you need to prepare. And stating the obvious here- The tougher your dog’s pads the better. But if your dog tends to run with soft paws you may want to seriously consider booties. They come in all types- but one thing to keep in mind; is it’s always good to have a back up pair. If one goes missing murphy’s law states that the paw with the missing bootie will surely become the injured foot.
Another research consideration is the weather! I am sure you all have heard horror stories about contact burns from surfaces that were too hot. Make sure you understand and know the weather ahead of time. Even walking on hot sand can potentially burn a dog’s pads. Rule of thumb: if the ground is too warm to the touch for you- (use the back of your hand)- then surely it is too warm for your dog. And if you are in doubt? Play it safe and either put on booties or hike in early morning/evening.
The other weather consideration to research ahead of time is ice and snow in the winter. The wet snow can clump together and accumulate between each of your pup’s paw pads, and this can cause irritation to the skin underneath. Hot weather discussion is usually the topic in vogue, and we often forget about the winter counterpart. Also, remember that some ice melts can be highly irritating to your dog’s pads. Do consider this when partaking in your winter adventures!
2) Pamper your pup's pads:
During longer adventures really pay close attention to your pup’s pads. Examine them nightly to ensure they are clean and dry. Just like you care for your own feet- consider a good hygiene routine for your dog. If you find his feet are not clean and dry you may wash or soak them periodically with warm soap and water. However, it is very important to dry them thoroughly afterwards. While drying be sure to pay special attention and dry thoroughly in-between your dog’s toes and between the pads. Sometimes they can develop a sneaky infection in between their toes and pads. Think about the crevices between their toes and pads creating the perfect, warm, moist, environment and a good breeding ground for bacteria. This is why it is important to keep your pup’s feet clean and dry. (Remember you can have too much of a good thing- do not wash them too frequently, or you may strip away the natural oils!)
I am sure most of you have heard of ointments, waxes, and creams for your dog’s feet. These are great to use to help prevent and treat drying or cracked paws. Also, they are an excellent addition to the pampering your pup's pads hygiene routine. Consider applying these products nightly to help maintain the pads and condition them. If you choose to wash or soak your dog's feet be sure to apply these products after they have been dried completely. This will recondition the natural oils that have been removed. With this process we ensure that they will not crack or become dry which can be painful and irritating. Pads that are dried or cracked can bleed, predispose them to injury, and be so painful that they can even cause your dog to limp.
Finally, my favorite- is giving you all homework!! Do your homework on making your pup’s feet as healthy as possible before any trip.
Homework assignment number one: Keep your dog’s nails as short as possible! So short that when he stands his nail is not touching the ground. Shorter nails are less likely to get caught on things which can result in a break or tear. You might be saying: but my dog has long quicks! Nail quicks are the vessels and nerves that run down the center of your dog’s nail. But, did you know that with time you can correct this? With patience and diligent weekly nail trims you can get the quick to recede. You must clip the nail to the quick each time – and with each weekly nail trimming, you will slowly but surely shorten the quick. Tip: when trimming nails, you can visualize the quick as the center “dot” in the middle of the nail. Make sure you trim to this point each time.
Homework assignment number two: CONDITION CONDITION CONDITION your dog’s pads. Where are all my (human) runners at? You know those calluses you build on your feet when you are hitting the pavement and getting the mileage in?? The more you increase your mileage the thicker those calluses become. And in turn the more protected your feet are. Same principle applies to your dog’s pads. Consider gradually increasing the time they spend on rough terrain before putting their booties on. If you do this gradually over the course of several weeks to months depending on how soft your dog’s pads are- your dog will naturally develop thicker skin on the bottoms of his pads.
This is especially important if your dog carries pack weight. Keep in mind that the more weight we put on his back - the tougher the terrain will be on his feet. This is another reason it is so important to gradually increase duration, intensity of exercise, AND gradually increase pack weight.
Growing up with horses we were always told that “without the foot there is no horse.” We cherished our farriers! (the awesome guys who break their backs every day to keep our horses shod) Think of this as a way to be your own dog’s farrier. Take good care of your dog’s feet on adventures and their feet will take good care of them. Plus, they will happily enjoy the added mileage while trotting alongside of you- pain free- which is always the goal. There is no bigger buzz kill than getting to your furthest distance on a hike and realizing your poor pup has an obvious limp or a torn paw pad.
All of these practices are guaranteed to give you the most enjoyment out of your adventure while keeping your pup injury and fancy free.
And you know the drill. Does this blog post bring up any questions or concerns? Feel free to reach out!!!
Until next time, get out and explore more with your pup.
Libbie Fort, DVM