Why do Dogs Have Foot Pads on the Back of Their Front Legs? If you ever examined your dog's front legs, you may have wondered what's the purpose of that extra foot pad located at the top of the dog's wrist. What's a foot pad doing all the way up there? And why is it only on the dog's front legs? That pad is there for a reason and contrary to what some people may think, it's not a vestigial structure that no longer serves a purpose. It may seem this way though because we may never see our dogs putting those foot pads to good use. Yet, just because we don't see dogs using them, doesn't mean that they don't serve a purpose. So here at Why Do Dogs, we decided to arm ourselves with an investigative hat and share our findings .
Anatomy of Paw Pads
If you lift up your dog's front paw (obviously don't do this if your dog doesn't like having his paws handled), you will notice several paw pads. The most noticeable is the large, heart-shaped metacarpal pad (also known as palmar pad,) which is surrounded by the four smaller digital pads associated with each toe. Please note: some dogs also have "dew pads" by their dewclaws, while others do not. If you then lift up your dog's rear paw, you will notice the large metatarsal pad, which as in the front foot, is surrounded by the four digital pads. Front and rear paws therefore are quite similar in appearance when it comes to paw pads, but one main distinguishing factor is that the front legs have that mysterious pad hanging around the wrist area, whereas the rear legs don't. So this provides us with a clue: those mysterious front pad must have something to do with the functionality of the front legs.
The Purpose of Pads
While inspecting your dog's pads, you may have noticed how those pads on the back of a dog's front legs look quite similar to the pads on the bottom of a dog's feet. Learning more about the purpose of foot pads can perhaps get us closer to the answer as to why dogs have pads all the way up their wrist area. So why do dogs have paws pads in the first place? Paw pads, which are made of tough keratinized epithelium, are what allow dogs to walk on hot or cold surfaces. They work as shock absorbers and provide layers of cushioning so dog can effectively walk on a variety of terrains. It is thanks to these tough paw pads that your dog doesn't need shoes. According to the book "Peak Performance EBook: Coaching the Canine Athlete, by Canine Sports Productions, the skin on the dog's foot pads is the thickest skin on your dog's body.
Introducing the Carpal Pad
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So now we know that those pads by the dog's wrist area are exclusively on the dog's front legs and that they must have some function related to the front legs. Now that we have these two clues, let's look for some more. Those pads go by the name of "carpal pads" but are also often referred to as "stopper pads." Does this latter name now provide you with sufficient clues to help you determine what their purpose is?
Balancing and Braking Device
Have you guessed why dogs have carpal pads? If not, no worries, the purpose of the dog's carpal pads is not really obvious as you cannot see it in action unless you witness stop action movements as your dog runs at full speed. According to veterinarian Chris Zink, when a dog canters, there's a moment during which the carpal pad of the front leg touches the ground. During this time, should the dog turn or stop suddenly, the carpal pad along with the dewclaw provides extra traction, and should the dog stop, they'll work as a braking device.
This area is also seen in action when a dog lands after a jump. According to the book "Peak Performance EBook: Coaching the Canine Athlete" upon landing, when the pastern is extended, the carpal pad functions as a bumper or cushion as the leg hits the ground. Last but not least, the carpal pad helps keep dogs balanced and from sliding when walking on steep, slippery slopes. As seen, those pads on the dog's front legs aren't there just as a decoration. They serve a function and an important one too!
Did you know? Taking good care of a dog's paws is very important! According to Chris C. Cowing, veterinarian and president of the California Veterinary Medical Association in Sacramento, California when damage occurs to a dog's paw, he can still manage to move around limping, but damage more than one paw and the animal is severely handicapped.