==> Your dog limping? Licking paws a lot? Walking with care?
Dog Paw Care prevents Dog Paw Problems - and so much more!
GSD Paw Care
You put in your best effort to provide your German Shepherd (and yourself!) with a healthy lifestyle. You take your GSD for runs, countryside hiking, and intense walks. You take your GSD to dog playgrounds, play fetch and frisbee in parks, and you undertake any other exercise and FUN activities you can fit into your busy daily schedule.
In addition (or instead?), your dog walks or runs on anything and everything from carpets to ... gravel, hot asphalt and ... snow and ice (depending on where you live of course).
And when you come back home, do you check your dog's paws?
You should. Checking your dog's paws regularly is as important as any other health concerns. Because:
If there is a problem with skin or paws, the dog will lick, nibble and bite the affected area, and will ingest any organic and inorganic substances, from infections to chemicals to parasites, and (s)he will inflict a wound and spread the infection. This may neither be great for your dog's overall health nor benefit the paw problem.
German Shepherd paws are pretty robust, true. Yet, they need some basic care and specific attention from your side in order to stay that way. With just a little effort and the right GSD paw care you can relieve your GSD of paw-related complications and prevent health issues in the future.
The varied and demanding outdoor exercise that you (hopefully) provide to your GSD, as well as environmental factors that we ourselves often don't even notice, require that you take care of your dog's paws regularly. - If you don't, you may end up with many more dog problems than just paw problems...
See here why, and what you can do about it.
Dog Paw Problems
Walking on rough terrain, hot surfaces and sheets of ice are a direct threat to your GSD's paws. Did you know that black asphalt can heat up to melting temperature on midday in a hot summer?!
Asphalt as well as pavements of a certain type of stone get insanely hot when the sun is burning. I have experienced this myself. I remember, one year the tar on the roads was getting wobbly and the shoe soles were sticking on it, so hot it was.
Not only temperature but broken glass, gravel, metal scraps, salt, household chemicals etc, or broken or ingrown toenails - all can cause thickenings, burns, tears, cuts, cracks, and even bleeding paws. In addition, some substances may result in allergies, infections, and ultimately tumors too.
Paw Injury Symptoms
- Overly careful or slow walking
- Bruised or split pads
- Broken toenails
- Dark yellow or brown colorings around toenails
- Intense or prolonged licking paws or pawing the mouth
To avoid such outcomes, make sure to keep a brief but regular check on your German Shepherd's paws, and take action if you see any changes.
Causes of Paw Problems
There are three core causes of dog paw problems:
- Carpet walking of the modern, domesticated dogs
- Scrap metal and broken glass debris on pavements, roads, and even in parks
- Road salt in the winter, spillages of pesticides and chemicals, and remnants of cleaning agents
The typical modern, domesticated dogs, including German Shepherds, walk too much on carpets and other very soft ground. This makes paw pads soft and makes toe nails grow too long and the quick extend too far into the nail.
The quick is the bundle of nerves and blood vessels inside the nail (see the pink area in the nail in this image, but note that I drew a line to show that the quick extends further than most dog owners think).
If a dog's toe nails are not naturally trimmed through sufficient exercise on varied surfaces, and not trimmed by yourself in all other cases, then the nails will grow too long and - worse - the quick will extend towards the front of the nail and will get immediately injured when the nail splits or breaks off, or when you trim it!
The problem with the nails of our German Shepherds is of course that we cannot normally see the quick at all, since the nails of GSDs are normally not clear, but rather dark and pretty much opaque. That's why we have to be careful not to trim the nails too short.
I hope you won't make this mistake once you've studied this MYGERMANSHEPHERD PERIODICAL, so further below we also show how to cut dog nails correctly if you need to.
To the new GSD owners among our subscribers: If you provide your GSD puppy and later your adult GSD with sufficient and varied outdoor exercise (like we recommend it all GSD owners), then you will normally not need to trim your dog's nails.
Only when your GSD gets older and its daily 'exercise' is limited to slow and easy walks on level terrain, then the nails will no longer be naturally trimmed and you will need to do the trimming.
However, the problem with this approach is that then your dog isn't used to nail trimming and, particularly when older, may not like the associated stress at all! That's why I would recommend that you 'simulate' some nail trimming regularly (about twice monthly), even when not actually needed.
This way, your dog gets used to this procedure from puppy age onwards, and (s)he won't find it distressing when you do it when it's needed later.
Like probably all scientists, I am a pretty observant person, and the amount and variety of debris that I find on the average road and in the grass of the average park worries me. How often was it that I saw some surprising item where it shouldn't be? From bottle caps on the road ... to fish tins in the park. And I thought: "Great that I had shoes on just now!"
But: While we most of the time protect our feet, and get the most comfy sandals in the summer, and thick boots in the winter, our dogs still are on their bare paws.
Please be more considerate than this dog owner, don't make your GSD walk (or even run!) on this type of terrain.
Note that dogs too don't naturally watch their every step. Only through the experience of paw injuries comes the trained behavior to watch out where they place their paws. So, normally, German Shepherds too will run around without considering the potential debris or sharp edges of rocks. And when they step into something really nasty, it's too late!
Road Salt and Spillages
Road salt in the winter, and spillages during the rest of the year can be a real problem, depending on where you live.
Note that many types of road salt can literally burn through your dog's paw pads, leaving them cracked or split, and painful. And when your dog then licks off the salt-chemical mix, (s)he ingests all that stuff! In addition, with painful paws, your GSD cannot get proper exercise for a couple of weeks.
Finally, residues of cleaning agents in the house are a real problem if you are not careful:
Neither we as consumer nor the manufacturers are aware of the associated risks: People don't walk permanently barefeet, they don't normally lick the floor, and they don't normally roll around on the floor. BUT: Dogs do all of this! That's why even house cleaning agents that seem to be 'green' (the label doesn't state any problematic substances) can bear significant risks for the health of pets in the house (dogs and cats). I can do no more here than make you aware of that. Be considerate. Always consider "How would I feel and be affected if my feet and body skin were exposed to this environment, to this cleaning agent?".
Dog Paw Care
In addition to all the GSD paw care mentioned above, there are some more specific things you can do. Taking Care of a Dog's Paws isn't too difficult when you are considerate with your dog:
1) Dog Paw Protectors: Boots
Before your GSD is exposed to really rough terrain, or when your dog's paws are already sore, cut, or bleeding, you will need some serious dog paw protection.
One great item to shop for in such cases are dog boots. Just note that we don't recommend that dogs run around in boots where they don't need them (say, harsh weather is no justification!), because it weakens the paw pads and it prevents natural nail trimming.
However, in cases like the ones mentioned above, dog boots are the superior means of dog paw protection (subject to being of the right size and fitted correctly). They will cover your GSD's paws completely, and protect them from sharp or thorny terrain, de-icing salts, chemicals, and the like. Dog boots are also the best protection against frostbite.
Note that disposable dog boots like say Pawz Dog Boots are not suitable for rough terrain or hot or icy surfaces (despite their marketing), but good to protect against de-icing salts, chemicals, and the like.
For rough terrain and hot or icy surfaces, better get these high performance dog boots. They protect, they last, and they fit well on German Shepherd paws.
However, in case your dog has some serious paw injury (strained tendons, ligaments, or joints, or exposed wounds), you may need the approved protective dog boots from Handicapped Pets, because these give more stability, reach further up, and the material is more calming even on covered wounds (you should always cover a wound before putting boots on).
Note that when you put boots on your dog, always put the other boot on as well (for front legs or rear legs), ideally even cover all four paws in such case. If you only cover the injured paw, you make your dog focus on that paw more, which will result in more licking and nibbling even long after the walk. Conversely, when you cover both or all four paws, it will distract your dog from that particular paw. And of course, it feels more natural too (walking in one shoe isn't pleasant for a dog either).
But don't worry that dog boots may feel 'too akward' to your dog: After the first few insecure steps your GSD will have forgotten about them - while you may still feel akward about the looks of a dog with boots.
2) De-ice Products
On your own premises, consider using just sand to de-ice the walkways. If you feel this isn't sufficient, please get a pet-safe (and child-safe!) ice melter like this one. It's not only safe, it's more effective too.
Such ice melter prevents aggressive licking (and it wouldn't be harmful either), it doesn't cause digestive disorders, and it doesn't crack or burn the paw pads!
3) Paw Wax
One of the best all-year-round remedies against cracks in paw pads, sore pads, and inflamed toe spacing is Musher's Secret. A successful evergreen bestseller for, I don't remember how many dog lives! It is much, much better than using vaseline. And it does both, it helps to prevent the frequent minor paw problems and it helps the paws to heal if you forgot to apply it...
Apply it before every heavy outdoor exercise and you will not have to worry about too many paw issues. Dab a fingertip on each paw pad and between the toes (a fingertip as the total amount I mean), then gently massage it in.
The key is, all year round, that your German Shepherd's paws neither become very dry nor too soft (and not too hard either of course).
Note that, in case you have to use dog boots, apply Musher's Secret at least 5 minutes before you put on the boots. Also, make sure that your dog is lying down for a few minutes after you've applied it, so that it can start to act and to permeate instead of getting wiped off.
4) Paw Massage
One great treat you can give your GSD is the paw massage: A simple massage and gentle rubbing on the pads and between the toes. This can be extremely relaxing for your GSD, particularly when your dog has a paw injury (in this case of course don't massage close to any wounds).
Note that through paw massage you can also boost blood circulation through the paws, which helps the healing process too. Further, GSD's only place of sweat glands is on the paws (and even this is minor, the vast majority of the cooling-off happens through respiration/panting).
So, giggling really isn't appropriate when you hear of paw massage. It's a very smart thing to do for your dog.
5) Paw Grooming
With the overall grooming for your GSD, some special care should be given to the paws and toenails. Yes, now we get back to that nail-trimming topic!
- If the toenails are too long they can easily get chipped or broken and become painful during mere walking
- Have a weekly check on the toenails and make sure that they are being naturally trimmed (through outdoor exercise) - or otherwise do your part (but then do it the way we show below)
- After every heavy outdoor exercise, check your GSD's paws. See if anything is stuck between the paw pads or between the toes, and remove it with the help of tweezers
- Press the paws gently and check if there is any thickening in the pads
- Immediately remove any snow, ice, grasses, or debris stuck between toes or pads
- If you notice any cuts or bleeding, wash the paws under flowing tab water, dab them with a clean cloth until dry, and then spray a thin layer of an effective antiseptic directly on and around the affected area - restrain your dog while doing so, because for a second or two the pain may increase slightly
- If a paw problem persists at the same degree for more than one day, or if it worsens, consult the vet.
The right Dog Nail Trimming
Let me tell you something briefly. We are subscribed to all German Shepherd 'newsletters' we can find on the internet - although they haven't brought out any news in all those years!
And personally I have access to the leading academic literature on dog health and other GSD-related subjects, and I am reading and seeing a LOT almost every day.
Yet, one of the many areas that I still find disturbing is that a LOT of what is available and accepted in the profound dog literature in the academic world does not seem to 'sink in' with those who publish about dogs in the online world (world wide web).
For example, dog nail trimming! 95% of the instructions and images on dog nail trimming that you find online are plain wrong. Eg:
- You should not cut from the top, you should cut from below (using the paw pad as guidance for the right angle and length)
- You do not trim the nails as short as most images indicate (then you would hurt the quick)
- And you do not cut at the angle that most images suggest/recommend (so that the nails can still provide traction during runs)
Instead, make your dog lie down, so that you can hold the paw with pad pointing up. Then have a quality dog nail trimmer rest on the paw pad while you cut. So you cut from below and you leave about 2mm of the cavity under the nail (marked in red).
Note that the outside nail (the one at the front) indicates what people do wrong: far too much cut off, and acute-angled cutting edge.
When using a guillotine-style cutter, you can instead rest the top of the cutter on the paw pad. With a guillotine-style nail trimmer the blade should slice upward from the underside of the nail.
Don't attempt to use nail clippers designed for humans, as a dog's nails are not flat like that of a human. Use a quality dog nail trimmer instead. Needless to say, we have exactly the linked model, as Safari's nail trimmer beats everything else (as far as I know, I can't know remedies in Timbuktu).
In case your dog's nails have become too long, such that the (barely visible) quick now extends much further than in the above sketch, then you may accidentally cut into the quick!
In this case your dog will briefly wince, and you will see blood coming out of the nail. Use a cotton-tipped applicator and gently dab the spot. If bleeding persists, use a styptic pencil to stop the bleeding.
Never use the same styptic pencil on humans though. If this is a risk, better get the styptic powder for your dog. Either will stop the bleeding immediately.
Next edition: New Dog Checklist/ New Puppy Checklist!