The issue of peeling paw pads in dogs is obviously a major problem considering that dogs spend a good chunk of their lives on their feet. Indeed, not only are peeling paws pads in dogs very painful, but they also affect a dog's ability to walk, often causing dogs to limp around and act miserable. Knowing what causes raw, peeling paw pads in dogs is important so to prevent any future re-occurrence of the problem.
A Matter of Abrasion
Dog paw pads are made of tough, leathery skin. The foundation of a dog's paws is composed of thick layers of fat and connective tissue and it comprises five, (yes five!) layers of skin. However, this doesn't make paw pads invincible.
Sure, dogs who spend the majority of their time outside are likely to develop a good callous formation on their paws which will help them withstand better activity on abrasive surfaces compared to dogs who spend most of their time indoors walking on carpets, however, they can only take so much.
If your dog has been walking or running a whole lot lately on abrasive surfaces such as pavement, asphalt or concrete, this can be a potential cause for peeling paw pads in dogs.
Most commonly, the issue seems to affect the most, young, particularly active dogs.
What happens in these cases, is that the dog's feet, just as it happens in humans, develops something similar to a blister due to the constant friction.
The skin layers of the pads therefore start peeling away which often results in the onset of raw, painful paw pads in dogs.
A Matter of Hot or Cold
Similar problems are encountered in dogs who walk on hot or cold surfaces. In the summer, walking on asphalt or concrete can cause problems to a dog's paw pads.
This happens because these surfaces tend to retain a great deal of heat, even after the sun sets.
It's always a good idea to touch the temperature of the pavement during the summer to ensure it's cool enough for the dog to walk on. Alternatively, it may help to limit to walks on grass for the time being.
In the same way, on the other hand, cold surfaces may be a problem as well. Walking on ice and snow can remove the normal rough protection from the dog's paw pads.
On top of that, frostbite may cause substantial damage to the dog's paws causing tissue to die and peel off, in the most severe cases.
If your dog's paw pads have been exposed to significantly hot or cold surfaces, consider that just seconds of exposure can have a damaging effect. In this case, it's important to intervene swiftly to limit exposure time. Also, make sure to check if any other paws are affected.
A Matter of Dry Paws
Dry paw pads are not uncommon in dogs and issues are often seen in the winter. In some cases, walking a dog on rock salt or ice melt can be a cause of dry, cracked paws in dogs.
Dry paw pads in dogs are prone to cracking, which can eventually lead to peeling paw pads in dogs in severe cases.
To help dry paws that are cracking and peeling, it's important to restore moisture and heal the cracks. Many dog owners find it helpful to use a product known as Musher's Secret.
Alternatively, the cracked area can be moisturized with Vaseline, but a better option is a product known as Udder Balm or Udder Cream as this penetrates and moisturizes better than Vaseline, explains veterinarian Dr. Dan.
A Matter of Allergies
There are several other potential causes of peeling paw pads in dogs. Allergies in dogs may often result in dogs who are licking and biting their paws excessively.
Allergies can be to virtually anything in the dog's environment, such as food allergies, allergies to household chemicals (floor cleaner, rug shampoo, soaps and detergents), allergies to outdoor chemicals (grass fertilizers, pesticides etc) and seasonal allergies (allergy to grass, seeds, pollen).
As the allergic dog's paws itch, the repeated licking and biting causes abrasions to the paws which end up peeling due to the damage sustained. Allergies need to be diagnosed by the vet who will prescribe antihistamines meant to reduce the itching.
The Immune System Going Whacky
On top of allergies, at times, peeling paw pads in dogs may arise from certain autoimmune conditions. In these conditions, the immune system over reacts.
An autoimmune condition that may affect dog paws is hyperkeratosis of the paw pads, causing what may look like feathery paw pads and sometimes peeling of the paws.
Another autoimmune condition that may appear like peeling paw pads is "pemphigus foliaceus." This condition causes crusts to appear at the margins of the dog's paw pads making them look like the are peeling.
Treating Peeling Paw Pads in Dogs
If your dog's paw pads are injured, it's important to keep the area clean and ensure the dog stays mostly indoors on a clean surface.
When coming inside from going out to potty, the paw/paws should be cleaned from dirt and debris. You can wash the area gently using mild soap and water, explains veterinarian Dr. Pearl Tjoa.
Dogs should also be prevented from further aggravating the area. Many dogs are tempted to lick, nibble and chew on injured paw pads and, of course, this only worsens the area, injuring it more and even potentially causing an infection.
To prevent your dog from licking the area, you may have to invest in strategies that prevent access to the area. These include close monitoring and having the dog wear an Elizabethan collar to prevent licking and biting.
Risks for Infections
The affected paw pad should be checked daily for any signs of an infection. Signs of trouble include pain, lameness, swelling, discharge and presence of an odor.
Infections can be prevented by disinfecting the area with diluted iodine (the diluted solution should appear brown tea-colored) soaking the affected paw for a few minutes. Afterwards, the area should be dried out completely, further adds Dr. Tjoa.
For infections already occurring, in order to draw out the infection and promote healing, veterinarian Dr. Christian recommends soaking the paws in an Epson salt bath for 5 to 10 minutes twice daily. Do not let the dog drink any Epson salt water!
The paw should then be thoroughly dried and a film of triple antibiotic ointment (like Plain Neosporin) can be applied to the area, making sure the dog doesn't lick it off.
In minor cases, the peeling piece of skin will dry up on its own and eventually may fall off.
In more severe cases, the affected paw pad may need stitched up by a vet and the peeling piece trimmed off.
If there is infection, the dog may need a course of oral antibiotics. If your dog's paw pad is peeling off, see your vet for proper diagnosis and treatment.