Those Adorable Paws: Caring for Your German Shepherd’s Feet

Categorized as Health
A close-up of a dog's paw on a concrete surface. The paw has four toes with black nails, and the fur is light brown and slightly wet.

Have you ever really looked at your German Shepherd’s paws? Take a moment and examine those adorable feet. See how complex they are? Those paws work hard, carrying your pup around all day. And they deserve some TLC!

As a German Shepherd owner, it’s important to understand your dog’s feet and know how to keep them healthy. In this article, we’ll explore everything you need to know about those hardworking paws, from anatomy to care and issues to look out for. Time for a pedicure!

Key Takeaways

  1. German Shepherd paws have a complex structure of bones, pads, nails & webbing that work hard & deserve TLC.
  2. Keep your dog’s paws clean since debris can lead to infections, chemical burns, cracked pads, etc if trapped between toes/pads.
  3. Dry, cracked pads are common – heal cracks by stopping abrasion cause, applying moisturizing balms several times a day & using booties.
  4. Trim nails weekly, filing sharp edges smooth & watching closely for fractures or split nails that are very painful.
  5. Massage between toes to prevent infections & debris packed in tight spaces. It also bonds with your dog.
  6. Be alert for common paw issues like interdigital cysts, burns, bacterial infections & allergies which need veterinary care.
  7. Protect hardworking paws from heat, cold, salt & chemicals. Seek prompt advice for limping, licking or swelling as paws show discomfort.

The Complex Structure of Your Dog’s Paws

Your German Shepherd’s paws have a complex structure that allows them to be stable and withstand long periods of activity. Their feet contain bones, joints, pads, nails, and interdigital webbing. Understanding this anatomy will help you better care for your dog’s feet.

Bones and Joints

There are several bones inside your dog’s paws. The main ones are the metacarpal and metatarsal bones in the foot, similar to our own hand and foot bones. These bones are connected by joints that allow flexibility.

Pads

The thick, tough pads on the bottom of your dog’s feet provide cushioning and traction. Most dogs have three main pads – one central pad and two side pads that are separated by interdigital webbing. The pads also help protect the feet from heat, cold, and abrasions.

Nails

Those nails need regular trimming so they don’t crack or split, especially the dewclaw higher up on the leg. Keeping the nails neatly trimmed prevents issues.

Interdigital Webbing

In between the toes is stretchy skin called interdigital webbing. This webbing allows flexibility and gives the paws a wide surface area for stability and weight distribution.

Now that you know the inner workings of your Shepherd’s hardworking paws, let’s talk care…

Keep Those Paws Clean!

One of the best things you can do for your German Shepherd’s feet is keep them clean. Dirt, mud, gravel, snow, ice, lawn chemicals, and road salt can become trapped between the pads and toes. Not only are these irritants uncomfortable, but they can lead to abrasions, cracked pads, infections, chemical burns, and ice balls forming on the hair between the toes if not removed.

Get into the habit of checking and cleaning your dog’s paws after outdoor activity. Keep some doggy wet wipes or a warm damp towel by the door to give those feet a wipe down. Be sure to get in between all the toes and pads. This not only removes debris but gives you the chance to do a paw check, catching any issues early.

Moisturize Cracked Pads

Even with the thick pads on the German Shepherd paw, it’s not uncommon for them to develop cracked, dry pads. This painful condition makes every step uncomfortable. Certain dogs are prone to cracked pads, especially if exercising extensively on hard surfaces.

To heal cracked pads, stop the cause of further abrasions or drying. Apply a natural moisturizing balm containing vitamin E, aloe vera, shea butter or coconut oil several times a day. Bag Balm or Musher’s Secret work well. Protect those healing pads with booties outside. Within a week or two you should see healthy skin again.

Trim Nails Carefully

Your German Shepherd depends on those nails for traction when running and changing direction. But without careful nail maintenance, they can crack, split and become painful. Set up a weekly nail trim ritual. Have styptic powder on hand in case you trim the nail quick. File any sharp edges smooth.

Pay special attention to that higher dewclaw nail, which doesn’t touch the ground and needs more frequent trimming.

Massage Between Toes

Show your Shepherd some foot love by massaging between the toes and gently rubbing the pads. Not only does this feel good, but it’s a chance to inspect between the toes and ensure there’s no debris stuck or infection brewing. Get your pup relaxed and offer a toe bean massage.

Common German Shepherd Paw Problems

While German Shepherds are athletic dogs built for action, their paws aren’t invincible. Be alert for any of these common paw issues.

Interdigital Cysts

Those areas between your dog’s toes are prone to interdigital cysts – bumps containing fluid and blood. These are painful. Certain breeds are more prone, including German Shepherds. The cause can be allergy, infection, or trauma between the toes. See your vet at the first sign for treatment.

Nail Fractures

With their active lifestyle, it’s not uncommon for a German Shepherd to suffer a partial or complete nail fracture. This is extremely painful until the damaged part can be removed. Discourage jumping, provide booties and keep nails nicely trimmed.

Burned Paws

Hot sidewalks, parking lots, sand or soil can burn your Shepherd’s sensitive paw pads. Learn what temperatures put your dog at risk and walk accordingly. If you suspect slight burns, treat topically until healed. For severe burns see the vet immediately.

Chemical or Salt Burns

Deicing road salt or lawn chemicals are notorious paw pad irritants that cause painful burns if exposure is prolonged. Rinse chemicals off quickly and avoid heavily treated areas. Apply protective balms prior to exposure when possible.

Bacterial Infections

Whether from a skin abrasion, cracked pad or even excessive moisture between the toes, bacterial infections can develop. Redness, swelling, oozing and tenderness signal it’s time for antibiotics.

Allergies

Just like people, dogs can have skin allergies that first appear as irritated, itchy feet. Paw licking, rubbing and chewing are clues. An elimination diet helps diagnose food allergies. Environmental allergies may need medication.

Pad Hyperkeratosis

This condition causes pads to thicken, harden and crack from excessive pressure and abrasion. It’s often seen in working or heavily exercised dogs like German Shepherds. Avoid hard surfaces, manage weight and moisturize pads.

Interdigital Furuncles

Painful bumps containing pus can develop in the webbing between dog toes. These stem from bacterial infections. Timely treatment is key to keep them from worsening.

Take a Proactive Stance!

While German Shepherds are stoic dogs, issues with their paws or nails should never be ignored. Make caring for those hardworking feet a priority. Get on a schedule with:

  • Regular nail trims & filed edges
  • Foot wipes & massages
  • Balm moisturizing
  • Interdigital fur & debris checks

Protect paws from excessive heat, cold or chemical exposure. Seek prompt veterinary advice for limping, licking, rubbing or swelling.

With some TLC for those paws, your Shepherd will happily follow you anywhere! Understanding the anatomy behind your dog’s complex and resilient feet allows you to take better care of this hardworking breed.

Those paws deserve some attention. After all, they carry the heart of your German Shepherd around all day! Now go show those feet some love!

FAQ

1. Why does my German Shepherd lick his paws so much?

Excessive paw licking can signal an allergy or irritation. Common culprits include food allergies, contact allergies to grass, pollen or chemicals, insect bites, interdigital cysts, scrapes, cracks in paw pads, or debris stuck between the toes. See your vet to determine the cause.

2. What temperature is too hot for my German Shepherd’s paws on pavement or sand?

Anything over 85°F can burn sensitive paw pads. Walk your dog on grass instead of scorching concrete/asphalt on hot days. Test surfaces with your hand. If too hot for you, booties or limiting exercise is best.

3. Why does my German Shepherd gnaw at his feet?

Consistent biting, chewing and licking between the toes or feet is likely due to discomfort. Potential sources are allergies, flea infestation, interdigital cysts or advanced pad hyperkeratosis. Veterinary exam determines next steps.

4. How can I protect my German Shepherd’s paws in winter?

Friction from snow and ice balls can abrade paws. Rinse and dry paws after each walk. Apply protective balm before outings. Consider dog boots. Wipe down with towels upon returning. Check between toes for ice.

5. What causes cracked paw pads in German Shepherds?

Excessive exercise on hard or rough surfaces can stress pads leading to painful cracks and fissures. Manage activity on abrasive footing, use paw balms, keep nails trimmed to avoid snags. Let cracks heal before extended activity.

By Andrew Garf

Andrew Garf has loved dogs, especially German Shepherds, since he was 10 years old. Though he also loves burgers, training dogs is his real passion. That's why he created the website TrainYourGSD.com - to help dog owners learn how to properly train, care for, and bond with their German Shepherd dogs.