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Your Guide To Preventing and Treating Cracked & Dry Paws On Dogs - PawSafe
Paw Care

Your Guide To Preventing and Treating Cracked & Dry Paws On Dogs

Photo of Tamsin De La Harpe

Written by Tamsin De La Harpe

dry paws on dogs

If you’ve ever been irritated by dry skin on your hands, then know that dry paws on dogs are just as aggravating for our pets. Our dog’s paws come into contact with every surface from which we protect our feet with shoes. So it’s natural that rough terrains and harsh weather will take their toll.

But when the paws get too dry, it can lead to cracking and some nasty infections. Dry paws may even be a symptom of underlying health problems, so we must take a deeper look at this problem.

Ultimately, ensuring the paw pads are hydrated with moisturizing paw balm is just as crucial as cleaning their ears, teeth, or cutting nails. Let’s look at what a dry paw on a dog looks likes, what the causes are, and we treat and prevent it.

How do I know if my dog’s paws are dry?

When a dog has dry paws, the pads become rough and coarse to the touch, like sandpaper or pumice stone. They may begin to crack or seem crusty. Sometimes, they get fronds of thick crusts or layers of hairy growths on the pads. This is called hyperkeratosis. They can also develop hard horny growths and calluses.

The picture below shows an example of an older dog with dry paws. You can see some signs of cracking and hairy protrusions of hyperkeratosis. This dog will need a strict moisturizing regime to prevent painful infections like pododermatitis.

Dogs often outside on hard ground will naturally have harder paw pads. This means a bit of extra care, such as moisturizing once or twice a day and applying protective paw balms, will help keep their paws healthy.

Pet dogs who live inside and exercise on soft grass should have soft paw pads. If they start to dry out, there could be a problem.

Here is an image of a dog with a properly cleaned and moisturized pad:

Why are my dog’s paws dry and cracking? Looking at causes

Most dry paws happen because dogs move on harsh terrains like gravel, rocky, or hard ground. Climate conditions like the summer heat and winter cold will also cause dry air, sleet, snow, ice, or hot pavements. However, health issues like hard pad diseases also cause dry paws and calluses. So always take your dog in for a check-up.

Here are seven common causes of crusty, cracking, or dry paws on dogs.

1. Rough terrain

Hard ground is the simplest reason for wear and tear that leads to cracked paws. If the ground a dog walks on is rough, rocky, or full of gravel, this will take a toll on their paws.

Rough terrain affects dogs in rural areas the most. But dogs that live in hard gravelly yards, go for hikes, or go jogging with their humans on tarmac or pavement will also need a little extra TLC on their paws.

2. Harsh weather

A huge factor in the condition of a dog’s paws is climate. Ranchers who use working dogs to herd cattle long distances in arid environments often find that supreme herders like pure Border Collies have paws that are too soft for the rugged terrain and heat. They often use their crossbred dogs bred for hardier paws instead.

Dogs living in desert environments like Arizona must navigate tough terrain daily. Likewise, dogs in cold climates must deal with sleet, ice, and snow. Any harsh weather dries out a dog’s paws and adds extra wear and tear.

3. Active lifestyles

Another factor in a dog’s paw health is their activity levels. At PawSafe, we love to see dogs getting plenty of exercise. But lots of activity also means extra care for their paws.

Dogs who hike, work long hours as service dogs, herd, sled, or participate in sports like cani-cross or skijoring need extra hydration on their paws.

That said, the size of the dog matters too. Large dogs and overweight dogs put far more pressure on their paws daily. This needs to be offset with a proper paw care regime.

4. Allergens and Chemicals

Another reason dogs get dry pads is that potential allergens and chemicals cover the ground. Salt is often on pavements in icy conditions, which can burn a dog’s feet. Fertilizer on lawns is another common problem. 

A dog may also have an allergic reaction if they step on an allergen like pollen.

Allergens on their feet can cause itchiness, inflammation, and dry skin. Your dog may take to nibbling on their feet or excessive licking. This can lead to secondary fungal and bacterial infections.

5.  Hard pad diseases

Hard pad disease is an umbrella term for a number of different problems. There are two main types. The on type creates hyperkeratosis, which we will discuss further below. The second type refers to paw pads that thicken and crust. There are a number of underlying conditions that may cause this. 

  • Nutritional deficiencies

Dogs that don’t get enough essential fatty acids in their diets, particularly omega-3s from fish oil, often develop dry skin problems. This includes dry skin. Another common deficiency is zinc. Nordic breeds like Huskies can develop type 1 zinc deficiency dermatosis. But any large, fast-growing young dog may develop zinc deficiencies from their diet. This is usually a type 2 zinc deficiency.

  • Necrolytic Migratory Erythema (NME)

NME is a rare condition that causes ulcers and crusts around the paws, elbow and mucus membranes like the inner eyelids. It’s more common in older dogs with chronic conditions like liver disease.

  • Pemphigus foliaceus

Pemphigus foliaceous is an immune disease that often causes scales, crusts, and pimples on a dog’s paws, ears, and face. So read this article if your dog also has scabs on their ears.

This is quite a serious immune disease, and your vet may need to treat it with aggressive immune-suppressants

Dry paws on dogs as a reaction to certain drugs and medications.

7. Hyperkeratosis

Dry paws go hand-in-hand with hyperkeratosis and can come in different forms. One genetic familial type is common in: 

  • Akitas, 
  • Chow Chows, 
  • Cocker Spaniels, 
  • Dachshunds,  
  • English Bulldogs, 
  • And Labrador Retrievers,

But we don’t always know why it happens. Paws usually look dry, with cracks and thick, hair-like growths of keratin that become horns.

8. Viral infections

Some viruses can also affect your dog’s pads. Canine papilloma viruses cause warts, hard, dry horns, or even corns on the paws. 

Canine Distemper is another reason that dogs’ feet dry out and harden. You will often see “hard pad disease” in dogs who recovered from distemper. It can also happen in dogs who aren’t up-to-date on their vaccinations.

The best treatment for cracked paw pads in dogs

Treating dry paws on dogs involves daily cleaning, using any topical oinments they may need for infections, moisturizing, and sealing the paws with a protective balm. You can also put booties on your dog to protect the paws in severe conditions. However, you must also take your dog for a check-up to look for underlying health issues.

Remember that good paw care is more than keeping the pads in good condition. You can read more about it how to take care of dog paws properly.

Suppose your dog suffers from dry paws and related problems like cracking and hyperkeratosis. In that case, You can use these steps to get their paw pads back in tip-top shape.

  1. Daily foot soaks in severe cases

Where your dog has severe calluses and is growing hard horns, soak their paws in warm water every day. A foot soak with 50% propylene glycol can help soften the hardest part. 

When the foot is softer, use a nail grinder or clipper to clip off the hard dead skin and trim it back. 

  1. Wash and clean the paws

Always clean your dog’s paws before applying a paw balm. Any protective barrier you put on your dog’s paws locks in any bacteria, chemicals, or other irritants on the skin. So take a moment to clean the paws with a gentle shampoo or an antiseptic to ensure there is nothing to irritate the paws further.

  1. Apply topical creams where needed

If your dog has been licking their paws or has cuts or yeast infections, your vet may prescribe a topical ointment.  Make sure you apply any fungal treatments, antibiotic creams, and anti-inflammatories your dog may need before putting anything else on the paw.

  1. Apply a moisturizer

There is a difference between a sealant and a moisturizer. Moisturizing creams actively help hydrate the skin’s natural barrier. A good dog moisturizer contains ceramides. But you can also look for vitamin E and other moisturizing factors. Remember, not every moisturizer for humans is good for dogs, so we will talk more about popular canine moisturizers and home remedies below.

  1. Apply a protective balm

A good paw balm for dogs acts as a moisturizer and protective sealant. This creates a protective barrier preventing moisture from leaving the paw. It also protects the paw against allergens, chemicals, rough surfaces, and perhaps even parasites like hookworms from muddy puddles or demodectic mites.

Ultimately, a balm for dry skin and paws is the best way to prevent dry paws and protect them from the elements.

Try booties

The final step in protecting a dog’s feet is booties. Not all dogs will accept them, but they’re a good choice for extreme weather conditions or if your dog needs to navigate tough terrain.

Natural remedies for dry paws

Be careful if you want to try a few natural remedies for your dog’s paws. Natural does not always mean safe. But here are a few good options:

Beeswax

Beeswax is one of the safest natural barriers you can put on your dog’s paws or nose to create a protective barrier in hot or cold weather. Remember, it does not moisturize the skin. Rather ir creates a layer that seals the skin from irritants. You can use it as a base to mix in a few drops of moisturizing ointments like vitamin E, or argan oil.

Argan oil

There are no studies on argan oil for dogs, but we know it has soothing, anti-inflammatory, and hydrating benefits. You can add a few drops to your favorite paw balm or to your beeswax and apply it to dry paws. But make sure your dog does not lick it off, as this ingredient needs more research to establish safety.

CBD oil

There is no evidence that CBD oil helps dogs with skin issues like dry paws. However, it does seem to help dogs with inflammatory conditions like osteoarthritis since it seems to act like a pain reliever. Arguably, a few drops of CBD oil could help your dog if their dry paws have led to painful conditions.

Shea butter for dry paws on dogs

Shea is a strong contestant for one of the best dry dog paw remedies. But it comes with a warning. Research on this butter and its effects on dogs is not complete. Like many other natural remedies like garlic and coconut oil, owners should be careful before jumping on an internet trend for their pets.

There are some encouraging signs. One study shows shea butter contains antibacterial, antitumor, and anti-inflammatory compounds. It has high levels of vitamins A & E, which we know are great for dog skin, and the plant omega-3, ALA. The study concludes that Shea may be anti-inflammatory for canine skin diseases, including paw pad problems.

However, just like coconut oil, shea has lots of saturated fats. Therefore, if your dog licks it off, they could develop some tummy troubles.

Can I put vaseline on my dog’s paws to moisturize them?

Vaseline can form a protective barrier between a dog’s feet and harsh terrains like snow or icy ground and against allergens and chemicals on the ground. It is not a moisturizer, only a protective barrier. However, pet parents need to ensure that their dogs do not lick petroleum jelly off their paws, as it does have risks.

You can read more about this in our article on Vaseline on dogs.

Can I put coconut oil on my dog’s dry paws?

Like petroleum jelly, many owners swear by coconut oil to treat dry paws on dogs. Coconut oil can form a protective barrier against irritants and harsh terrain so long as it does not rub off.

The problem is if a dog licks the coconut oil off their paws. New research suggests that coconut oil causes leaky gut and inflammation in dogs, and the ASPCA warns that it may cause tummy issues.

When it comes to the best treatment for cracked paws

Preventing dry paws on dogs

In addition to moisturizing the paw pads the way we describe above, there are two other major steps to keep your dog’s feet from drying out.

1. Diet & nutrition for dry dog paws

Ensure a diet high in omega fatty acids

A good diet is essential to healthy paws on your dog. Without certain nutrients, they cannot properly maintain a sound protective skin barrier. Lipids (fats) create the ceramides that keep a dog’s skin and paws healthy.

The most crucial fat is the omega-3 fatty acids. Specifically, these omega-3s need to come from fish or krill (EPA & DHA) because these are the fatty acids most bioavailable to dogs.

So beware of omega-3 fatty acids from plant sources like chia or flaxseed. This is ALA, and it is helpful, but it is not as easy for your dog’s body to use it.

To keep it brief, omega-3 fatty acids are crucial for the skin barrier and anti-inflammatory. Meanwhile, the other essential fatty acid for dogs, omega-6, is pro-inflammatory to help the immune system.

A good balance of omega-6 to 3 is 5 to 1. If your dog has any chronic inflammation in their paws, you can increase the omega-3s in their diet.

Check for zinc deficiencies

If you have a Nordic breed like a Husky, have your dog immediately tested for Type I zinc deficiency. They may need lifelong supplements. Other breed puppies may have type II zinc deficiencies, so ask your vet for a blood test.

Go for a high-protein diet

Experienced dog sledders whose dogs run long distances agree that dogs on low-protein and high-fat diets have injury-prone paws. They prefer feeding their dogs diets with plenty of high-quality protein and a good balance of omega fatty acids.

Always check your dog for liver or kidney problems before feeding them a high-protein diet, as some dogs can have health issues like liver shunts that make high-protein levels dangerous.

2. Manage your dog’s environment

Try to keep your dog indoors during the heat of the day, and don’t walk them in hot weather. You can read more in our article how is too hot for dogs. In winter, avoid icy ground or extended time in the snow.

Be aware of the ground your dog has to walk on in their yard and provide your dog with shade and shelter. Hard ground like gravel or cement may be too hot for your dog in summer and will be harder on their paws. On the other hand, some dogs may develop dry paws or burns from walking on newly fertilized lawns or pollen. 

Final Thoughts

Dry paw pads are a problem in extreme weather or if your dog has to walk or run on hard surfaces. Keeping the paws hydrated is essential to prevent dry paws from cracking and causing secondary infections. Dry, crusty paws can also sometimes happen when dogs have a health issue like one of the hard paw diseases. 

Always take your dog to the vet for a check-up to look for issues like nutritional deficiencies. After that, remember that applying a moisturizer and balm hydrates the pad and protects it from allergens and hard surfaces.

Meet Your Experts

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Tamsin De La Harpe

Author

Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions. Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.

Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions. Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.