Adrienne is a certified dog trainer, behavior consultant, former veterinarian assistant, and author of Brain Training for Dogs.
While the leather-like consistency of a dog's footpads may appear to be pretty resistant to the normal wear and tear of everyday life, in some cases they may be prone to problems. Dealing with cracked paw pads may be a very frustrating issue, because paw pads hold most of the dog's weight and because they create discomfort while interfering with walking.
Causes of Cracked Foot Pads in Dogs
The causes of cracked foot pads in dogs may be multitiered. A thorough investigation may be needed so to be able to exclude the triggering cause and initiate proper treatment.
1) Contact Irritation
Some chemical products may be irritating to a dog's paw pads. These products may be various, ranging from carpet cleaners, garden sprays, fertilizers to floor cleaners. Once the paws are irritated, the dog will feel the urge to chew on them further aggravating the tissues and causing cracked paws.
Dogs allergic to something found in their food may develop itchiness and scratching which may irritate the skin, ears, and paws. Chewing on the paws may cause the paws to crack once again, and because the allergy often remains unsolved, the chewing is often a chronic and very frustrating problem.
3) Zinc Deficiencies
Some dog breeds such as Siberian Huskies, Samoyed, German Shepherds, Poodles, Great Danes, Beagles, and Pointers may be prone to zinc deficiencies which may cause skin problems and dry, cracked paws.
4) Old Age Hyperkeratosis
Senior dogs may be prone to a condition known as Hyperkeratosis, that is, the overproduction of keratin causing the paws to crack. It is similar to the appearance of corns observed in senior humans as well.
5) Excessive Wear and Tear
Dogs walking and/or running on rough surfaces, hot asphalt or ice may develop dry, cracked paws. Hunting dogs, in particular, may develop cracked paws from overuse. Walking on ice salt in the winter may dry the paw pads. Ice salt can be toxic to dogs so they should have their paws washed thoroughly.
Treating Cracked Dog Paws
Treatment depends on the underlying cause.
Dry, cracked paw pads may benefit from daily applications of Vaseline to soothe and soften the pads. Ointments are generally better absorbed after soaking the paws in warm water. While licking off the Vaseline is not harmful in small quantities, it is best to temporarily cover the paw pad with a sock for a few hours so the dog does not lick it off and the Vaseline is properly absorbed.
There are also various commercial paw rubs that may be very helpful in keeping the paw moist and less likely to crack. One of the best is called ''Musher's Secret''.
Allergies, Chemical Contact, and Zinc Deficiency
If the cracked paws are due to contact with irritants, owners should try to limit exposure and avoid using chemicals in the areas the dog walks. When food allergies are suspected, putting the dog through a special exclusion diet by a veterinarian may be helpful. Zinc deficient dogs benefit having their diet supplemented with Omega 3 fatty acids.
Neosporin placed on the paws may help keep infections at bay, while softening the paws. Bandages and gauze may be helpful to protect the area, however, they should be changed often since dogs sweat from their paw pads and this may cause the gauze to get moist, becoming an ideal ground for bacteria and infection to set in. Dog boots may be helpful to prevent further wear and tear to the area.
If the dog tends to lick the area, an Elizabethan collar may be needed to prevent the dog from having access to the area. Veterinarians may supply them and fit them properly.
Dogs May Need Time off Their Feet
Paw pad cracks and injuries are slow to heal because dogs must walk on them and because they are weight bearers. If the dog appears in discomfort when walking and the cracks are not getting better, it is best to restrict the dog's activity for a few days to buy some time in recovery.
If your dog presents with cracked paw pads it is best to consult a veterinarian to rule out first any possible health disorders. Only by identifying the possible cause proper treatment may be initiated.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
Questions & Answers
Question: My dog has allergies and I just noticed his rear paw is badly frayed, cracked and even swollen. He is constantly licking them. What can I do to help?
Answer: If the paw issues are triggered directly from the allergies then you will have to see the vet to determine what is causing the allergies in the first place. If the vet suspects it's the food, then he or she may put your dog on a trial using hydrolyzed dog food or novel-protein dog food and see whether it subsides. If it is due to something in the environment that is irritating your dog's paws, you may have to prevent access to walking on grasses or floors washed with detergents. Preventing the licking is important as that keeps the paws moist which encourages growth of yeast and bacteria. Also, excess licking causes scrapes due to erosion of tongue and teeth. You may need to use an Elizabethan collar.
Janet schleich on June 05, 2017:
What would cause a dog's pad to split!
Devesh on December 24, 2016:
Bing on October 06, 2010:
I have an 8 month old boxer bullmastiff cross,since she was about 3 months old we noticed hard growths coming from every third pad on each paw,we have since found that this is hyperkeratosis only usually found in older dogs,it is very upsetting because she is a very active dog and it stops her from being a normal pup.This is not a cureable thing it just has to be managed throughout her life,if anyone has had experience with this i wud welcome any info.Cheers Bing
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on August 16, 2010:
It could be the park treats the lawn with chemicals and these may irritate your dog's paws. It could also be that there are grasses with thorns or that irritate the skin. Check if other dog owners frequenting that park have this same problem. The only solution I can think of is limiting the exposure to treated lawns.
Ashley on August 12, 2010:
thanks for the info. She only chews on paws right after the dog park from running around everywhere. Any suggestion on what to do?
SAMANTHA on August 01, 2010:
A number of our more mature Specialised K9 dogs have this developed cracked paws which we are currently treating with good old Vaseline which appears to be helping.
dawn on October 21, 2009:
Thanks! great info. My Lab is highly active and is constantly getting her pads roughed up. My rottie just developed a small hole in her paw- probably from running and playing. This info will help me treat the wound property.
C.Ferreira from Rutland, VT on May 01, 2009:
Awesome information here. I just got a puppy myself, and noticed what seems to be the beginning of a cracked paw pad. Luckily it went away on its own, but until now I didn't think much of it!
Thanks for the tips!