Paw Problem Prevention and Treatment

Tails are wagging, noses are in overdrive and the local park is abuzz with canine activity. Your furry friend is in its element, charging around like a shopper on a big sale day, bounding through long grass and dirt and relishing a few delectable smells. All is good in doggie world . . . until you notice your dog is suddenly limping.

The great outdoors (and sometimes even indoors) can present a multitude of perils for dogs and their owners. Becoming familiar with your dog's paws and aware of potential hazards will help both you and your dog with any potential paw problems that may arise.

The Problem Is Clear (Sometimes)
While a glass-induced gash may be obvious, tiny shards of glass piercing the foot can be hard to see. "Usually, soaking the feet in warm water will assist in pushing the glass out," says Jason Fusco, DVM, ACVS, an orthopedic surgeon at New York's Animal Medical Center. If your canine is still limping after the warm water soak, bring it to a veterinarian for further assistance.

A few times a year, Dr. Fusco will see a dog with mysterious lameness, which generally turns out to be caused by a piece of chewing gum stuck in the hair between the pads. In addition to chewing gum, escalators can pose problems for dogs' paws. "We have seen instances of inch-deep cuts, and even giant parts of feet sliced off from escalators," Dr. Fusco says. For this reason, try to avoid taking your dog on an escalator. But if you must, carrying smaller dogs could help prevent this problem.

Weather to Walk
In colder climates, salt on the sidewalks and roads presents a winter challenge, as ice and snow can become lodged in the crevices of the paw and cause your dog pain. Louise Murray, DVM, director of medicine for the ASPCA's Bergh Memorial Animal Hospital, learned just how painful winter walking can be for dogs when she fostered a young pit bull named Sophie.

"She couldn't walk more than a few steps before her paws hurt so much that she would stand there and lift them up one by one and stare at me," Dr. Murray says.
You can help prevent this paw pain by avoiding obvious areas of salt. Some other alternatives are to put boots on your dog's paws or use musher's wax to protect the feet, suggests Dr. Fusco.

During the summertime, be aware of hot surfaces. Dr. Murray notes, for example, that black asphalt will be hotter than a light-colored sidewalk or patches of grass.

Nail Care
When dogs spend most of their lives indoors, their nails can grow so long that they dig into their pads, catch and tear, and even make it difficult for the dog to walk. Dr. Murray recommends getting advice from your vet on the how to  clip your canine's nails, or having the vet do it for you.

The dewclaw -- a residual thumb -- can grow into your dog's foot and should be watched carefully and trimmed, Dr. Fusco says. He warns owners of older dogs to be alert for a nail falling out or getting pulled off, since this can be a sign of cancer.

Itching and Allergies
Like us, dogs can suffer from allergies. While we exhibit symptoms through respiratory problems, dogs tend to get itchy skin, particularly itchy paws. A dog with an allergy will lick its paws incessantly, causing the paws to turn a reddish brown color from the red dye in the dog's saliva. A vet trip is in order if you observe such symptoms, especially since they could also be linked to an inflammatory disease called pododermatitis. Dr. Murray notes that this can be attributed to several factors, including a bacterial infection, an allergic reaction, or even an overactive immune system.

In the Breed
Certain breeds can be prone to special problems. Greyhounds and Rottweilers are susceptible to sesamoid disease, a non-specific lameness that's difficult to diagnose, Dr. Fusco says. Greyhounds also are prone to corns from abnormal weight-bearing on the toes. "Removing the corns will only cause them to come back if the weight-bearing is not adjusted," he says. Controlling weight gain through feeding with restricted calorie commercial pet foods and monitoring consumption amounts is one way owners can keep weight-bearing problems in check. Surgical procedures may also correct more severe, chronic conditions.

According to Dr. Murray, grooming is even more critical for curly-haired dogs, such as poodles and Bichons. "If they're not kept well-groomed, the hair can get so matted that it gets tangled around their legs and can cut off their circulation," she says. "When that happens, the dog can lose the lower part of the leg or the foot."

A Final Word
As we can see, dogs' feet are complex. This makes breed issues, hair between paw pads and overgrown nails difficult to detect. Keeping an eye out for signs of discomfort, and staying on top of day-to-day care can ensure your dog is happy, healthy and eager for its next walk.

Going Swimmingly

Summertime means hot days and hanging out by the pool, lake or shore. A quick dip might be fun for your dog, but before you head for the local swimming hole, keep the following safety tips in mind.

Yes, there is a stroke called the dog paddle, but it isn't necessarily instinctive for your dog. Like people, some dogs are good swimmers and some aren't. And dogs do drown. So if this is your dog's first time swimming, start slow and in shallow water. Don't push him to go deeper until he's figured out how to swim properly.

Swimming pools present another problem. Even dogs that are great swimmers often can't figure out how to get out of a pool. Before you let your dog jump in a pool to cool off, you have to teach him how to get out of the pool safely. This involves showing your dog where the shallow end and the steps are. It may take several times to teach him where he needs to go, but be patient--he'll get the hang of it. If the pool doesn't have a shallow end and steps, don't let your dog swim in it. In any case, keep your dog away from the pool when you can't watch him.

Swimming in rivers and in the ocean present problems such as strong currents and undertows. If you're doing any swimming with your dog, consider putting a life vest on him that is made especially for canines. And if you're planning a rafting or canoe trip, use a life vest because a strong current or rapids can pull a dog under very quickly. Your dog might also benefit from rubber dog boots (available through pet supply catalogues and on the Internet) if the river or lake bottom has sharp rocks.

When you and your pooch are done swimming, it's time to shower--that means your dog too. Chlorine or salt water salt can make his coat a mess, so be sure to rinse him off well and use shampoo and conditioner on his coat just as you would on your hair. Use a special pH-balanced shampoo and conditioner for dogs so that you don't dry his hair out. If it's warm, you can let him air dry, or use towels or a hair dryer made for dogs. (Don't use human hair dryers--they can burn a dog's sensitive skin!)

Keep Cool

Is your pup a cool customer or a hot dog this summer? You can still have fun with your dog and be mindful of the temperatures when the thermometer hits those triple digits. Some things to keep in mind:
  • Dogs don't keep cool the same way we do. They don't sweat (except their paw pads); they pant. Because their cooling systems are inefficient, they're more likely to overheat. Anything that restricts airflow (hot, stuffy areas) and breathing (tight collars, head halters, muzzles) can cause a dog to overheat faster.

  • Keep fresh water available. Bring a portable pet canteen and bowl whenever you leave the house. Encourage your dog to drink often.

  • Never leave a dog in a car in the summertime -- even with the windows down.

  • Other enclosed areas can be as dangerous as a car. Don't leave your dog in the tent while camping -- it can become just as hot under the sun as in a closed car.

  • Fill up two or more 2-liter bottles with water and freeze them. You can put them in your dog's crate while traveling for a quick cool-off and use the melted cold water for drinking. You can also use cooling mats in the crate (they are available through some pet supply retailers).

  • You need to be the grown-up and decide when your dog has had enough physical activity. Make him lie down frequently for cool-down rests, even if he seems ready to play all day.

  • If your dog is too hot, a quick spritz-down with a spray bottle filled with water or a hose might help keep your pup cool.

  • Use portable, battery-powered fans to keep air circulating over your dog and provide a cool breeze. (Keep the fan away from inquisitive noses!)

  • Dehydration occurs when your dog isn't getting enough water. You can check with a simple skin snap test on his shoulders or his lips. Pull the loose skin up between two fingers. If it doesn't snap back into place right away, but seems to "melt" back, he's dehydrated.

  • Signs of heat exhaustion include red gums, excessive panting, looking tired, dehydration, and excessive thirst. Cool your dog off with a spray of water or cool towels on his head and chest, and give him plenty of water.

  • Signs of heat stroke include pale gums, lethargy, extreme dehydration, and a very high temperature. This is an emergency! Take your dog to a veterinarian immediately.

Remember to have fun and watch out for those dog days of summer!

Preventing Canine Strains and Sprains

You've seen athletes stretch and warm up before an event. You've been told in fitness classes that you should stretch and warm up before any workout. It stands to reason that dogs need to warm up too before any physical activity. Just like their human counterparts, dogs can and do sustain injuries during physical activities. A proper warm-up will help keep your dog safe.

Start with a slow walk, then slowly increase the speed. Spend about 10 minutes going from a slow walk to a trot. When your dog is comfortably trotting, slow down and start stretching.

These stretches must be gentle, slow and not forced. You should only stretch the body in a position that's natural to your dog. Anything else could cause serious injury. If your dog shows pain at any time or if the stretch looks uncomfortable, stop immediately. Ask someone who knows how to show you if you aren't certain you're doing it right.

These leg stretches will mimic natural motion -- don't bend your dog any way that looks unnatural! Start with the front legs. Stand beside your dog next to the leg you're going to stretch and face the same direction as your dog. Support your dog's elbow underneath and hold your dog's front leg. Push gently upward on the elbow. Stretch the leg to its full extension so that you are holding his leg out in front of him (and you). Then, put your hand on the front of his shoulder blade and bring the leg backward so that he has a slow stretch in the opposite direction. Release. Do this a few times. Then work the opposite front leg.

Now the back legs. Stand facing the back end of your dog. Take one of the back legs and use your hand to support your dog's knee. Push gently on the hip so that your dog's leg flexes backward. Now put your hand on your dog's rear and move the leg so that it is in a natural forward position. Don't force it; it won't have quite the flex. Hold the stretch and then release. Do this a few times and then work the opposite back leg.

Once your dog is stretched, walk and then trot with him again. He'll now be warmed up for whatever competition awaits.