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Where is a Dog's Thickest Skin Located?

A dog's skin is thinner and much more sensitive than ours, states the Merck Veterinary Manual. Some of us may find this surprising, but turns out, our skin is three times thicker than our dogs' and our pH is different too, which is why we shouldn't use human shampoo for our dogs, explains Karen L. Campbell, a veterinarian specializing in dermatology in the book "The Pet Lover's Guide to Cat and Dog Skin Diseases."

thick skin dog

On the other hand though, dogs have a coat, so there seems to be a convenient trade-off: generally, the more hair, the thinner the outer layer of skin. While our dogs may have thinner skin compared to us, there's an area of the dog's body where the skin is much tougher compared to the dog's other areas, so our trivia question for the day is the following:

Can you name where a dog's toughest skin is located?

A The nose

B The neck

C The paw pads

D The abdomen

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The correct answer is.....

drum

The correct answer is C, the paw pads

Ever wondered how dogs are able to walk in the snow, hot pavement or over the hard surfaces such as asphalt without having to wear shoes? This is all courtesy of those tough paw pads. Sure, if we were to walk barefoot for most of our lives, the skin on the bottom of our feet would surely toughen, but until the day we decide to ditch our shoes, we will be prone to have softer feet with more delicate soles. Other than protecting a dog's feet from abrasive surfaces and hot and cold temperatures, a dog's paw pads act as shock absorbers for all the bones, tendons and ligaments found on the dog's legs

A Lesson in Anatomy

dog paw pads

Notice the smoother center and more prominent papillae on the edges.

What does a dog's paw pad anatomy look like? The skin on a dog's paw pads is extra thick and not found in any other area of the dog's body. It's made of layers of insulating fat and connective tissue making them the perfect version of Mother Nature's insoles.

The outermost layer is the one we're most familiar with, it's called the stratum corneum and it's the hairless pigmented layer we see when we look at our dog's paws.

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If you ever looked at your dog's paw pads very closely, you might have noticed how the outermost layer is made of small conical papillae. These papillae are made to add further protection.

You may have also noticed how the central surface of your dog's pads may be smooth compared to the outer edges.

This is from long-term walking on rough surfaces such as concrete. The smoothness is due to the conical papillae being flattened rather than conical due to abrasion, while the papillae on the edge remain conical.

Dogs who tend to walk more on hard surfaces and are older tend to generally have tougher paw pads than dogs used to walking in grass and carpet and who are younger.

Did you know? A dog's foot pads contain many blood vessels which is why they tend to bleed easily when injured.

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dog paw pad care

Strong But Not Invincible

While a dog's paw pads are pretty tough and able to withstand the many miles dogs put on their feet, consider though that this doesn't mean you can walk your dog over hot asphalt or over ice melt without having any problems.

A dog's paw pads can be prone to cracks, abrasions, ulcers and blisters when exposed to heat and cold, harsh surfaces and chemicals.

Most commonly, the dog's outer layer of skin, the stratum coneum sloughs off, exposing a raw layer of skin that is very sensitive and can take even weeks to properly heal.

In nature, injuries to a canine's feet can have deleterious effects and may strongly incapacitate these cursorial animals who need to run to hunt for prey and run away from predators. Luckily, in a domesticated setting, we can take care of our dogs providing them food and resting their feet which gives time for their paw pads to heal.

Paw pads are prone to heal slowly because they're more exposed to contaminated surfaces, dogs need to walk on them and dogs are prone to further aggravate the area through persistent licking and chewing. Fortunately, we can do a whole lot in preventing injuries from occurring in the first place such as inspecting a dog's paw pads on a routine basis after exercising on rough surfaces and avoiding temperature extremes or exposure to chemicals and irritants. Also, keeping a dog lean will help put less pressure on the toes and joints so the dog is "lighter on his feet."

Did you know? Because the tissues on a dog's paw pads is highly specialized and has precise functions, it's irreplaceable, and therefore cannot be replaced from other skin from the body, explains Dr. Tannaz Amalsadvala, a graduate of the Bombay Veterinary College in Bombay, India.

References:

  • Laboratory Manual for Comparative Veterinary Anatomy & Physiology, By Phillip E. Cochran, M.S., D.V.M, Delmar Cengage Learning; 2 edition (April 12, 2010)
  • Laboratory Manual for Clinical Anatomy and Physiology for Veterinary Technicians, By Thomas P. Colville, Joanna M. Bassert, ISBN-13:9780323294751 Publisher:Elsevier Health Sciences
  • "The Pet Lover's Guide to Cat and Dog Skin Diseases" by Karen L. Campbell DVM MS DAVCVIM DACVD, Saunders; 1 edition (November 14, 2005)
  • DVM360,Paw tissues unique; injuries need special care, attention, By Tannaz Amalsadvala, B.V.Sc. & A.H., MS retrieved from the web on May 3rd, 2016.
  • Merck Veterinary Manual, Description and Physical Characteristics of Dogs, retrieved from the web on May 3rd, 2016.
  • Lloyd, DH and Garthwaite, G (1982) Epidermal structure and surface-topography of canine skin. Research in veterinary care, 33 (1). pp. 99-104.

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