Does your dog need paw balm?
I see a lot of people pushing paw balm (butter) in all seasons. My own philosophy of dog skin care is that less is more. That is, I need to know that a product is truly beneficial before I use it. Does your dog need paw balm? Does paw balm help or is it so much hype?
Paw protection in the winter
The most convincing use of paw balm is as a protectant for your dog’s paws in the winter during freezing weather. In this case, using a wax of some type in the formulation truly seems to provide protection against paw cracking. The wax also forms a barrier that minimizes contact with de-icers. These salts can injure your dog’s paw pads. Anecdotally, mushers and those with working dogs use paw protectants religiously during the winter.
Paw protection in the summer
There is little evidence that paw balm provides useful protection to your dog’s feet during hot summer months. Keeping your dog off the concrete and asphalt during the hottest parts of the day is a much more effective way to prevent pad burns. And for those time when you simply must get out during very hot weather, boots may be a better option.
Function over form
Using paw butter to soften your dog’s paw pads may be counterproductive, winter or summer. Your dog’s pads need to be tough enough to withstand normal wear and tear. That means walking on gravel and occasional sharp objects, as well as hot and cold surfaces. And to stand up to all that, your dog’s pads need to be tougher than the bottoms of your own feet. It is natural for your dog’s paw pads to feel a little rough.
Think about the last time you went swimming and had to walk across gravel. Unless you go barefoot frequently, it probably felt excruciating. People generally work hard to keep the protective callouses off the bottom of their feet. We get away with this because we wear shoes that protect our feet. Dogs do not wear shoes consistently (and they shouldn’t except when weather conditions are extreme).
If your dog develops deeper cracks, it may be appropriate to use a healing lotion and a protectant to prevent further damage. If your dog develops cracked pads, you should also consider making a visit to your veterinarian. Changes in your dog’s skin may indicate underlying health problems. Unless your dog has unhealthy cracking in the pads, do not apply moisturizing lotions. Avoid any lotion that leads to skin softening. It is a mistake to apply human cosmetic standards to dogs.
A word about safety
Did you know that pet cosmetic products are not regulated by the FDA? These types of products are considered to be grooming aids. As such, unless they claim to treat a disease or condition, they are not subject to rigorous testing for either efficacy or safety. Most companies that make and sell these products are ethical and believe in their products. But belief is not evidence. Until a controlled study is published demonstrating that routine use of paw moisturizers leads to better paw health, I will remain skeptical about the hype.