Reviewed and updated for accuracy on May 28, 2020 by Katie Grzyb, DVM
Whether it’s rainy, snowy, or dusty outside, we have to take our dogs for walks.
In winter, this might mean the risk of irritation from salted sidewalks, so cleaning up their paws properly after you return from a walk is a must. "Some dog’s feet are extremely sensitive to the cold, to the salt, and all the elements," says Helen Adler, member of the National Dog Groomers Association of America and owner of The Pet Maven, a New York City-based company that provides in-home grooming services.
During the rest of the year, cleaning up paws will not only protect your floors but also will allow you to see any paw problems that might need attention and prevent others from developing. Caked on dirt may hide wounds and chronically dirty feet can cause inflammation and abrasions.
Here are six tips to help make cleaning your dog’s paws easier and more effective.
If your dog's paws are just a little dusty, a wet towelette might be all you need to clean them up—as long as you're using a wipe that’s labeled as safe for pet care. "Many of these wipes or towelettes that humans use contain harmful chemicals, like alcohol, petro chemicals, and perfumes/fragrances, all of which can be detrimental to your pet’s health," Adler says.
To be safe, Adler recommends using all-natural, veterinarian-approved grooming wipes to wipe away dirt between baths.
"For a no-frills and cost-effective approach, a paper towel or washcloth soaked in warm water is a perfect way to clean your pet’s feet after a walk," Adler says. "For extra dirty paws, you can use a dab of dog shampoo on the washcloth and make sure to wipe off thoroughly."
If there is mud or debris stuck between the pads or on the foot, you may need to actually wash the foot, according to Kathy Lopes, owner of Raleigh Grooming Academy in Raleigh, North Carolina. "It's easiest to do this in a sink with a sprayer or in the bathtub," she says.
For especially dirty paws or paws that may have been exposed to tar or other sticky substances, you need to do a thorough washing, Adler says.
"For small dogs, you can either wash their feet in a sink or leave a tray of water by the door," she says. "For larger dogs or dogs that have a lot of hair/fur on their feet and ankles, you may only be able to rinse them off in a tub with a sprayer using some dog shampoo." Scrub the dirty areas thoroughly and then completely rinse away the shampoo and debris using lukewarm water.
When cleaning paws, don't forget the toes and nails.
Some dog’s feet are extremely sensitive to the elements, especially in winter. "You never want your dog licking their paws after they have been exposed to salt or other ice melts," Adler says. If your pet licks the salt or ice melts of their paws, it can lead to oral ulceration, irritation, and even gastrointestinal upset.
"Washing/wiping between the toes and pads is very important: that’s where nasty stuff can accumulate," she says.
To clean the area, Adler recommends gently turning your dog’s paw toward you and carefully cleaning or washing between the pads. "Always separate each of the dog’s claws for proper cleaning," she adds. "And finish up with a dry towel; you don’t want your dog’s wet feet tracking through your home nor do you want to risk them slipping if their paws are still wet."
If your pet's feet get wet, but no dirt, salt, or chemicals came in contact with the foot, you can just dry the foot with a towel, Lopes says.
"Make sure you get the pad area of the foot dry," she says. "Just squeeze each foot a couple of times with a clean towel to get most of the water off if your pet comes in wet from the winter weather."
Use a towel to dry off the feet after a rainy walk or after bathing as well, so Fido doesn't track water all over the house.
For longer-haired breeds, Adler recommends keeping the hair between the pads and around the sides of the foot short to prevent the accumulation of debris.
"I do not recommend trimming your own dog’s pad hair since the skin in the area is very delicate and you do not want to nick a pad," Adler says. "If owners are comfortable and their dog is compliant, it is OK to trim around the feet or legs, but stay away from the pads and leave that to a professional."
One note of caution: Closely shaving around the pads and toes is not a good idea. "Shaved paws will result in direct exposure to corrosive salt against the bare skin, causing irritation that will induce the dog to lick and clean its paws," says Ming Liddle, owner of A Cut Above Pet Stylists in New York City.
If your dog welcomes the use of dog boots, they are the best preventive measure to ensure no amount of salt or debris will get on those paws, according to Liddle. "However, with snow measuring more than an inch thick, snowballs are generally formed above the booties, so the soapy water solution would be the primary remedy," she says.
If the snow is deep, remember to remove the booties as soon as you are back in the house so you can dry up the fur. "And have multiple pairs of booties, as they come handy when one of the booties gets buried in the snow," Liddle adds.
After a walk, always check your dog's paws for cuts, abrasions, and blisters, says Pamela Payne, a certified veterinary assistant and veterinary assisting program director at Carrington College in Phoenix. "Although they may start out as minor wounds, they can rapidly develop an infection if untreated," Payne says.
If the wound is severe or appears infected, you should consult your veterinarian, Payne advises. But if it is minor and can be addressed at home, start by washing the paw with warm water to ensure that all debris is removed, she suggests. "This will also help you see any small cracks or abrasions," Payne says. "Then clean the area with a diluted antiseptic.”
After cleaning, dry the paw and apply a small amount of antiseptic or antibacterial spray or lotion that is labeled for use in pets. You can cover the wound with a pad, Payne says, but keep in mind that these won't always stay on as your dog runs around or goes out again.