Feet are the foundation of movement. Paws come into contact with every surface they touch, whether outside or inside, and keeping them in tip top shape is important for the health and well–being of the pets in our care.
Red, sore or irritated feet are one of the most common issues seen today at the vet office. Many pets are stoic and don’t show pain or discomfort even when there is a problem. While there are numerous issues that can happen with and to pet paws, we will discuss issues that can be soothed with topicals and products that are available to the grooming professional. Let’s consider the anatomy of the foot.
The skin of the paw pads is very thick and made to withstand various temperatures and uneven terrain. The pads with the nail are called digital pads (affectionately known as “toe beans”) while the weight bearing pad is called the metacarpal pad. There is also a pad on the inner “wrist” called the carpal pad that is used as a stopper of sorts.
The pads themselves are thick with layers of tough skin, a layer of fat underneath the skin, and are filled with a network of blood vessels that help to regulate the temperature of the feet. The skin inside the area between the pads contains many exocrine sweat glands (exocrine means that they sweat directly onto the surface of the skin). Many animals also grow hair in this area to protect this delicate sebaceous zone. There may or may not be an extra dew claw or hoof claw. In some breeds it is often removed when the pups are quite young to prevent snagging or other injuries later in life.
The essential nail clipping should be performed so that the nails do not touch the floor. This is important because long nails can impede the way the foot moves on the floor and can eventually deform the foot if not kept manicured.
Hair grows between the pads and toes on many breeds. Cats grow thick tufts of hair on their paws to muffle the sound of their footsteps while hunting and while some dogs grow this hair for the same reason, both species grow this hair to protect the delicate parts of the foot. Domesticated animals like cats and dogs that live with us in our homes don’t really need to be quiet for hunting purposes, but they still require the protection of some hair on their feet.
When preparing the paws for grooming, it is always a good idea to look at the feet to determine if there are foreign objects stuck in the hair, any matts, or something more sinister like foxtails, cuts or abrasions, before the bathing procedure is started so that foot soaks and clay masks can be employed to soothe the damage. Any injuries or damage to the footpads or inner feet should always be documented and the owner should always be informed. I always recommend that any issues with the feet should be referred to a veterinarian for diagnosis.
Many moons ago when I was an apprentice, I was taught to scoop out all the hair from between the pads in order to achieve a finished foot. Many years and much research later, I now know that some hair should be left in order to protect the glands in the skin folds. Many irritated paws may simply be suffering from being scraped too closely by the clipper blade. It is now my practice to clip the hair even with the pads as long as there are no matts present. Matts must be removed to prevent infection or other issues.
These pads often benefit from a mineral soak and oiling at the end of the groom. In the case of short coat breeds, there may not be thick hair to protect them. In these cases, foot soaks before the bath and nourishing oils applied to the feet after the groom are the best way to give these feet some protection.
I know, I can hear the poodle people shouting the alarm from here, what about clean feet? Some breed standards require that the feet be shaved. There is a protocol to shaving a new poodle or other breed that wants clean feet. Start with the grain of the hair, and use a closer blade as the animal becomes used to the procedure. Many times, a new puppy will get “razor burn” from a freshly clipped face or clean feet. This can sometimes be avoided by making sure that the process is gradual from a #10 blade to a #30, or whatever blade you choose to use.
Any time that close shaving is applied, a good rule of thumb is to keep these areas oiled to give the newly naked skin some protection until the pet is used to the procedure and the skin has time to thicken. The oils that work best are Emu oil, it is colorless, odorless and very beneficial to skin, and Ginkgo oil which is anti–inflammatory and helps skin circulation.
As groomers, we see many things stuck in the paws or extreme irritation. Many times, our clients will let us know that there is an issue during drop off. Among the things that you might see—which are countless—contact dermatitis, redness and cracking are the most common. All of these issues can be helped by a mineral foot soak before the bath and nourishing with oils after the groom is finished and before the pet goes home. Are you starting to see the pattern?
Some of the things that you can do for extra services are paw massage, foot soaks, pawdicures, and masks. The paws are subject to the toxins of asphalt, road chemicals, harsh household cleaners and small, sharp pieces of debris that can cause cuts, scrapes and abrasions. Some paws are even unlucky enough to be attacked by foxtails, a type of spear grass that has a spiky seed head that can burrow into the foot and through the leg causing untold pain and discomfort. This type of issue is something that a vet needs to help with so make sure that your clients are aware of the urgency of the problem.
Cracked pads need extra moisturizer to keep them supple. Cracked pads invite infection in the exposed parts of the skin. Many times, I will send the client home with “pad lotion” of some sort so they can apply it daily to help alleviate this issue after hiking or walks.
Many diseases and problems can affect the paws, these are simply the basics of good foot care. Many of us go to the salon to get our nails and toes done, these services are a healthy part of personal hygiene. The pets in our care deserve the same thoughtful services. While we are enjoying our pampering, we need to remember to love the feet of the pets we care for also. So, get yourself a mani pawdi and offer them to your clients’ pets too! ✂