Maya just turned four, and Tucker is almost three. We are creatures of habit, and while we do our best to get them out on walks just about every day, our routines are not very diverse. We either walk them around the neighborhood, or take them out to the same two dog parks for off-leash hiking next to a couple of reservoirs just about every other day.
When they were puppies, we started each of them with limited exposure to the harsher cement, asphalt, and trail conditions (versus the grass of the backyard or the carpet and hardwood floors of the house). As they got older and the pads on their feet got tougher, we accordingly increased the time and distance for each walk. At no point did we ever push it to the point of having to carry them back home due to injuries or exhaustion.
During the summer, when it gets hotter, we make sure to do the walks early in the day before both the air and ground temperatures became unbearable… or so we thought. To be honest, we still don’t exactly know what has made the difference, but over the past couple of weeks we’ve managed to wear out the paws on both dogs. They’ve been on the exact same walks, and the exact same locations and distances as they have done for years now, but both have come home with injuries to their front paw pads.
First it was Tucker. Maya was home healing from a pulled shoulder tendon, so the boy and I went to the reservoir for some off-leash running around. In this instance, however, I did elect to bring the “flinger” so we could get some fetch in. We play fetch at home every day in the back yard (which is nice soft grass and a bit of gravel under the trees), but don’t usually do it at the dog park since he becomes singularly obsessed with the ball and ignores everything else around him. It kind of negates the perks of the dog park with the new friends, things to explore, sniff, etc.
Anyway, we did our usual trails and as it was already sunny and warm that morning we took special care to take breaks between any series of throws and get him in the water to cool down. This brilliant idea turned out to backfire on us. Two things combined to end up hurting more than helping the little guy.
- When he would go in the water his pads would of course get wet and subsequently soften a bit.
- When he was chasing the ball, he was putting more friction and stress on his front pads during his sprints. This, combined with the rough, hard, packed dirt and sand of the stream shores effectively worked as sand paper.
- It wasn’t until we got home that we noticed how tenderly he was walking. Luckily, it wasn’t too bad and we didn’t wear him down to pink flesh or bleeding… but it took a few days of treatment and rest to get him better. (Treatment below).
For Maya, we really don’t know how she wore down her pads and can only guess the cement of the regular neighborhood walk, while never “hot”, was just extra warm enough to make a difference. We actually record every walk for other reasons, and looking back at all the walks previous to noticing her worn paws, we can confirm every walk was in the morning, and no day ended up getting hotter than the upper 80’s. And yes, while the sun here in Colorado is quite intense, each walk was hours before the hottest part of the day and I can say walking barefoot was not a problem. It’s still quite confounding, but I guess the lesson was learned.
Lesson: Even if it’s not “hot”, the extra warm summertime temperatures can still have an adverse affect on a dog’s paws, even if the path and distance is the exact same as traveled before dozens, if not hundreds, of times before.
For treatment, we did a couple of things.
- Rest. Pretty obvious, right? But keeping them off their paws, especially on rocks, dirt, and cement was very necessary. They still cruised around the house and had backyard access with the soft grass, but that was it for a couple of days.
- Epsom Salt soaks and anti-bacterial spray. For Tucker, whose paws were more warn and cracked and the disparity between the old dried skin and the new trying to regrow was more extreme, we soaked his paws in warm water and Epsom salt each evening. This helped soften and clean them, and we then applied Bactine spray as an antibiotic. NOTE: we did this at night before bedtime and only for a few minutes so he wouldn’t be walking around on wet and soft paws during the day. By the morning he was again dry and they were as “tough” as they could be given the overall conditions.
- Cold water soaks. With Maya, after a few days rest we again took her on the neighborhood walk but made sure to go out even earlier, and took special care to cross to the shady side of the street. Once we got back home, we had her stand in a bath of cold water for a few minutes.
And now, overall, we’re just paying extra special attention to weather temps and conditions. No sprinting on the hard pack dirt, no walks on cement even if only “warm”, etc. And if their paws are getting wet by playing in streams and rivers, we really take special note to watch how far and how fast we keep hiking.
Good luck, and by all means, still get your pups out for regular exercise – just make sure to pay attention to conditions since goodness knows they don’t.