Adrienne is a certified dog trainer and former veterinarian assistant who partners with some of the best veterinarians worldwide.
At some time or another, you may have wondered what's the purpose of your dog's carpal pad. Yes, we're talking about that oval area of rough skin on a dog's front legs, a little further up from its dewclaws.
You may be surprised that a lot of dog owners don't even know that these pads have their own names. Even fewer dog owners realize how helpful and handy this seemingly unused part of the dog's body can actually be.
Your dog's carpal pads were designed to be helpful for your dog. They're not there just for decoration. Mother Nature has provided all body parts with some purpose.
If you aren't familiar with your dog's carpal pads and aren't sure what they are used for or what the pads can do, keep on reading. By the time you are done reading this short article, you'll get to know your dog better and understand everything you need to know about these little-known pads.
What Are Carpal Pads in Dogs?
A dog's carpal pads grow on their legs right above their front paws. If your dog breed also has dewclaws, the carpal pads are located right above those. Not all dogs have carpal pads on their hind legs, but most do have them on their front legs.
You can easily spot them if you know where to find them and what you are looking for. If your dog is very hairy, has long hair, or has feathering (like a springer spaniel) on their legs, you might have to search through all the hair to find them, but rest assured, they're there!
Regardless of whether your dog has dewclaws or not, here's a fact: dogs have carpal pads on their front paws, but they won't necessarily have them on their back legs because the purposes for these pads are mostly limited to the front legs only. This is because the front legs make contact with the ground first, and they are the ones that direct your dog's movements.
Your dog's carpal pads are basically located where their wrists would be. They are made up of the same multi-layered, hard skin that is on your dog's larger metacarpal pads located in the center of your dog's foot. The carpal pad though does not have the accompanying claw you find with the dog's toe pads.
Spoiler alert: Your dog's carpal pads are made of layers of thick, fat, keratinous skin. They are flexible, tough, and padded to serve as shock absorbers, which protects your dog's legs. They are also used as a braking system as well.
The Purpose of Your Dog's Carpal Pads
Your dog's carpal pads will not come into direct contact with the ground when your dog is running normally or just walking because of how high up they are on your dog's legs.
However, if your dog is running fast, galloping, or at a canter, the carpal pads might touch the ground briefly during each cycle of the pacing. With each stride, this happens very quickly. Even this brief amount of contact with the ground is helpful for your dog.
Your Dog's Emergency Brakes
Your dog's carpal pads help your dog put on the brakes in emergency situations. They also help your dog make sharp turns at the last minute.
Because of this, some people call the carpal pads "stopping pads." These pads are extra handy for running at high speeds and taking tight turns for working dogs herding livestock, or even dogs involved in canine sports that require a lot of agility. Of course, these emergency brakes help as well dogs when Rover has the "zoomies" and starts running around the yard in tight spaces.
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Your Dog's Shock Absorbers
If you have a dog that loves playing, running and jumping, chasing balls, or even doing obstacle courses in the sport of canine agility, their carpal pads will help them out with all these things.
When your dog jumps and leaps around, their front feet will hit the ground first during landing, the impact of landing will cause a minor shock throughout their body. Your dog's carpal pads absorb some of that shock when they hit the ground due to the speed and angle of how your dog lands.
The carpal pads acting as a shock absorber will also help to check a dog's speed as they descend from their jump so that they don't trip or fall over when they land. The shock-absorbing pads will reduce any jarring that occurs from a landing, giving your dog more control once he hits the ground.
Your Dog's Balancing Act
Another great benefit of the carpal pads occurs when your dog is walking or running on unstable, slippery, or uneven surfaces.
The pads help your dog maintain motor control and balance by giving them extra precision and traction while they are in motion.
Watch a Dog's Carpal Pads in Action!
Caring for Your Dog's Carpal Pads
It's not unheard of for a dog to injure their carpal pads. Dogs involved in activities that require lots of speed and agility, making tight turns and emergency stops, are the most common ones to injure their carpal pads.
All of this extreme activity can cause friction burns to their carpal pads, which is similar to a carpet burn for humans. Ouch!
While running around outside or through rough terrain, sharp objects, sticks, thorns, and rocks can catch on your dog's carpal pad and cause cuts and tears. After frolicking around outside, always check your dog out for any injuries to their paws. Make sure to clean those paws and treat them right away by following these simple steps.
- Inspect your dog's carpal pads and paws, looking for any signs of an injury or blood, splinters, or broken claws.
- Clean your dog's wound. Wash your dog's paws and carpal pads with clean, lukewarm water. Using tweezers, if necessary, extract any debris that remains in the wound if your dog will let you.
- Disinfect the wounded area. After you have washed the wound out, you can use a diluted betadine solution as a disinfectant on the wound by soaking a cotton ball with it and swabbing the entire area.
- Stop any bleeding. You will want to stop the bleeding as soon as possible by applying pressure to the pad using a clean, absorbent cloth. Maintain the pressure until the bleeding has stopped.
- Apply an antiseptic. You need to apply an antiseptic cream to the wounded area. If you do not have an antiseptic specifically for your dog, you can use Vetericyn or plain Neosporin. You should do this 2-3 times a day for the next 10–14 days.
- Bandage the area. Place some clean gauze on the wound, wrapping it in a self-adhesive bandage to keep your dog from getting to the wound, as well as protecting it. Change the bandage daily. Make sure to keep it clean and dry. If it gets wet or dirty then change the bandage immediately.
- Do not let your dog lick the pad, as this will delay healing and may promote infection. Pick up an Elizabethan collar (cone of shame) in your local pet store to stop your dog from licking/gnawing at their paw.
- Follow up with your vet to ensure your dog is healing fine. Please see your vet if you notice any signs of infection such as a bad odor, swelling, and excess redness. Also, see your vet if your dog's carpal pad is injured and hanging as this can be very painful and require veterinary treatment.
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.
© 2020 Adrienne Farricelli
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on July 03, 2020:
Hi Devika, I am glad you enjoyed this article on a dog's carpal pads.
Devika Primic on June 23, 2020:
Informative and well written about dogs. Your way is the best to inform us everything we need to know about dogs and their behaviors.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on June 13, 2020:
Mother Nature sure knew what she was doing when she blessed dogs with carpal pads.
Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on June 13, 2020:
This makes perfect sense that the carpal pads are useful as shock absorbers, running, etc. Thanks for this explanation and how to care for them if injured. Your articles are a great reference for dog lovers.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on June 12, 2020:
Very glad to hear you have enjoyed the articles on dogs. Your dogs are very lucky to have such a dedicated owner like you. Cheers!
Ed Palumbo from Tualatin, OR on June 11, 2020:
I have two dogs and I enjoy your writing because I learn something with each article you've written, and I thank you for that. My dogs mean a great deal to me. We've bonded well and I'm concerned about their health. I appreciate everything I read from you!
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on June 11, 2020:
Allergies in dogs can be so annoying to deal with! In dogs they tend to cause more paw licking than the typical sneezing fits and itchy eyes us humans get. I hope your dog gets relief.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on June 11, 2020:
Hi Pamela, glad you found this article on dog carpal pads interesting! Taking good care of them is important.
Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on June 11, 2020:
This is an interesting article about a dogs carpal pads. You included some good advice in caring for them as well.
Heidi Thorne from Chicago Area on June 11, 2020:
So important to keep those paws healthy! Sometimes if our boy has allergy flareups, he'll lick all his paw parts and they get irritated. So it's good to do a paw check regularly.
Good info, as always!