Help! My Dog Has Dry, Cracked Paws – Is This Normal?


Dry dog paws, also known as rough paw pads, refers to paws that are abnormally dry, cracked, peeling, or lacking hydration. Most causes of dry paws are harmless and easily treated at home, though in some cases it can indicate an underlying medical issue.

Some common causes of dry dog paws include hot pavement, winter weather, chemical cleaners, allergies, and excessive licking or chewing of the paws. While dry paws are typically not serious, it’s important to identify the cause and provide relief, as cracked paws can be painful and prone to infection. Home remedies like pet-safe moisturizers and dietary supplements can often resolve mild dryness. However, recurrent or severe dryness warrants veterinary attention to rule out autoimmune disorders like canine lupus.

Anatomy of Dog Paws

A dog’s paws contain several anatomical structures that help protect their feet (Source: The main parts include:

  • Paw pads – The thick, rubbery pads on the bottom of the paw provide cushioning and traction. These pads consist of fat and connective tissue.
  • Digital pads – There are digital pads at the end of each toe that make contact with the ground when the dog walks.
  • Metacarpal pad – This large pad is located in the middle of the front paw.
  • Metatarsal pad – The metatarsal pad is on the rear paw.
  • dog licking rough, cracked paw pad

  • Dewclaw – The dewclaw is the “thumb” higher up on the paw that doesn’t touch the ground.

In addition to pads, a dog’s paws have skin and other structures like blood vessels, nerves, and nail beds. The pads provide shock absorption and traction, distributing the dog’s weight and preventing slipping. Thick paw skin and fur further protect the paws from cuts, heat, cold, and chemicals. By understanding the anatomy, owners can better care for their dog’s resilient but sensitive paws.

Causes of Dry Dog Paws

There are a few main reasons a dog’s paws can become dry and cracked:

Dry weather or seasonal changes often cause drying of a dog’s paw pads. Low humidity in the environment draws moisture out of the skin. Winter weather in particular exposes paws to snow, ice, and salt – all drying agents.

Hard surfaces like sidewalks and roads are abrasive on soft paw pads, especially during hot weather. The combination of heat and friction roughens up the paw skin over time.

Chemicals and soaps can strip natural oils from the paw pads and irritate the skin. Products like lawn treatments, ice melts, harsh shampoos or cleaners may contribute to dry, cracked paws.

Allergies to foods, grass, pollen or other substances can cause inflammation between the paw pads or hairless regions. This inflammation leads to drying and cracked skin if the allergic irritation persists.

Medical conditions like infections, hormonal disorders or autoimmune disease may also be an underlying cause of paw problems. Issues like arthritis, diabetes or Cushing’s disease can affect circulation or damage skin integrity.

Signs of Dry Paws

There are several signs that indicate your dog may have dry paws:

Cracked, peeling, flaky skin on the paw pads and between the toes is a common symptom. This occurs when the normal oils in the skin become depleted, leading to dryness and cracking (1). Redness, irritation, and raw areas on the paws may also develop.

Dogs with dry paws often excessively lick or chew at their feet in an effort to soothe irritation. The constant licking and chewing can worsen cracking and may lead to infection (2).

Lameness or limping when walking may indicate your dog’s paws are painful from dryness. They may also avoid touching their paws to hard surfaces.

dog limping with sore cracked paw pad

Dry paws may produce an unpleasant odor. Bacteria and yeast can overgrow in the dry, cracked skin and cause a bad smell.

It’s important to address dry, cracked paws as soon as you notice signs. Left untreated, the condition can worsen and negatively impact your dog’s health and quality of life.

When to Seek Help

There are some signs of dry dog paws that warrant a trip to the veterinarian:

  • Persistent licking, chewing, or inflammation of the paws (according to Daily Paws)
  • Visible wounds or bleeding
  • Lameness or trouble walking (according to Four Paws)

If your dog is exhibiting any of these symptoms, it’s best to schedule an appointment with your veterinarian. They can examine your dog’s paws, determine the underlying cause, and prescribe any necessary treatment.

Preventing Dry Paws

There are several steps you can take to help prevent your dog’s paws from becoming excessively dry and cracked:

  • Apply a moisturizing paw balm or wax daily, especially if walking on hot pavement or rough terrain. The wax creates a protective barrier against irritants.

  • applying paw balm to dog's dry cracked paw

  • Limit time spent walking on hot pavement when possible, as this can quickly dry out paws. Walk early in the morning or later in the evening when it’s cooler.

  • Use gentle dog shampoos and cleaning products. Harsh soaps can strip natural oils from paws and cause dryness. Look for moisturizing formulas.

Keeping your dog’s paws protected and moisturized will help prevent painful cracks and irritation. Be diligent about paw care during the hot summer months when pets are most prone to dryness.

Treating Dry Paws at Home

There are several natural home remedies that can help soothe and heal dry, cracked dog paws. Some effective options include:

Natural Oils – Applying coconut oil, olive oil, or other natural oils to dry paws can help moisturize pads and relieve cracks. The oils soak in to hydrate skin while also forming a protective barrier against irritants. Reapply daily for several days until improvement is seen. Sources: []

Paw Moisturizers or Waxes – Special paw balms, waxes, or moisturizers designed for dogs can provide more intensive hydration and healing for damaged paws. Look for all-natural products containing ingredients like shea butter, vitamin E, and essential oils. Gently rub into paws as needed. []

Tepid Foot Baths – Soaking paws in a shallow bath of lukewarm water can help soften calluses and soothe irritated skin. Add a small amount of epsom salts to boost hydration. Rinse and pat paws dry afterwards, then apply a moisturizer. Limit baths to 5-10 minutes to avoid over-drying. []

Veterinary Treatments

dog paw soaking in foot bath to soften skin

If home remedies don’t work, your vet may prescribe the following treatments for dry, cracked paws:

Medicated shampoos or sprays – These can help cleanse, exfoliate, and moisturize the paws. Look for shampoos with keratolytic agents like salicylic acid that soften calluses.

Antibiotics or antifungals if infected – Bacterial and fungal infections can cause inflammation and skin irritation. Your vet may prescribe oral or topical medications to clear infections.

Medicated booties – These protect the paws while also providing medication. Booties shield wounds from dirt and keep medication against the skin.

Dietary Considerations

Eating a nourishing and appropriate diet can help hydrate and protect your dog’s paws from drying out and cracking. Focus on foods high in healthy fatty acids and keep your dog well-hydrated.

Foods rich in omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids like fish, flaxseed, and olive oil can help keep your dog’s paws supple. These fats nourish the skin and reduce inflammation. Adding oil to your dog’s food or giving omega supplements can help hydrate paws from the inside out. Salmon oil supplements are a popular choice.

Making sure your dog always has access to fresh water is also key for overall skin health. Dehydration can quickly lead to dry, cracked paw pads. Monitor your dog’s water intake daily and flavor the water with low-sodium broths or mix in their kibble to encourage drinking. Keep water bowls cleaned and full.

Avoid foods with additives, salt, and sugars that can exacerbate dry skin. Check with your vet for diet recommendations tailored to your dog’s needs and activity level. With the right hydration and nutrition, you can help your dog maintain healthy paws.

When to See a Vet

If your dog’s paws seem excessively dry, cracked, or irritated, it’s important to have them examined by a veterinarian. Some signs that warrant a vet visit include:

Bleeding cracks or deep fissures in the paw pads. These can allow bacteria to enter and cause an infection. According to Preventive Vet, infected pads may ooze pus or become reddened and swollen.

Limping, licking, or chewing at the paws excessively. This indicates pain or discomfort. Your dog may be trying to soften rough, irritated pads with saliva.

Loss of fur or pads turning dark red/purple in color. This can signal inflammation or abnormal blood flow.

Foreign objects caught in the paws that you cannot remove. Things like thorns, grit, glass or hard mud wedged between the pads or toes require veterinary attention.

If your dog is exhibiting any of these symptoms, it’s advisable to schedule a vet appointment. The vet can examine the paws, treat any infections, and recommend solutions to restore skin health. Preventing cracked paw pads from worsening into infections is very important.

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