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    Keep Your Hunting Dogs Healthy | Fall 2011 Out Here Magazine

    Paw protection. Reduce your hunting dog’s pad injuries

    two hands checking a dog's paw pads
    Out Here

    Reprinted Courtesy of Purina

    Photography by iStock

    For athletic and sporting dogs, it’s important to be sure their paws are healthy and without injury.

    Dogs’ paws are designed to withstand a lot of wear and tear because of the thick layer of skin — called the keratin epithelium — that covers the pads. This protective layer protects the foot’s tendons and ligaments, acts as a shock absorber, and provides traction. As trainers and breeders of sporting dogs know, however, the pads aren’t impenetrable.

    “Once the surface of a pad is opened, the protective barrier is broken,” says veterinarian Robert Gillette, director of the Sports Medicine Program at Auburn University’s College of Veterinary Medicine. If foreign bodies — dirt, vegetation, rock chips — get pushed into tissue underneath the pad and the pad closes up, a secondary infection may occur, he says.

    Four types of injuries to dogs’ pads are the most frequent: abrasions (an irritation caused by wear, grinding, or rubbing), bruises, cuts, and puncture wounds. Of these, abrasions are probably the most common in sporting dogs.

    “This is especially true for dogs that run in rocky country where there is rough lava rock or granite or where the soil is sandy,” says John Rabidou, breeder and trainer of German Shorthair Pointers. “It’s almost as if you’re running the dogs on sandpaper. The action of the foot on the rough surface keeps wearing away skin until that tough covering is gone.”

    Rough terrain also can cause bruised pads, usually the least serious of the injuries but one that can be misdiagnosed.

    “Bruising can cause a dog to be lame on that foot, and the dog may show pain when you press on the pad,” says veterinarian Arleigh Reynolds. “But you have to be careful and make sure you’re not dealing with a puncture wound that’s covered over and infected. The two injuries are hard to tell apart, but feeling the paw for heat or taking the dog’s temperature to see if it’s above 102.5 degrees are good ways to check for infection.”

    Examine your dog’s pads before and after workouts by pressing the bottom and sides of each pad, inspecting webbing, and looking closely at the surface of the pads. Check nails for discoloration — a white nail with a brown center, for example — and swelling or redness where the nail goes into the toe, both conditions that could indicate infection.

    Four types of injuries to dogs’ pads are the most frequent: abrasions (an irritation caused by wear, grinding, or rubbing), bruises, cuts, and puncture wounds. Of these, abrasions are probably the most common in sporting dogs.

    CONDITIONING TO AVOID INJURIES

    Paw pad injuries cannot always be avoided, but conditioning dogs’ paws to the terrain in which they most often work does help.

    “If you increase the force placed upon the tissue of the dogs’ pads, the pads will alter themselves somewhat so they can handle a higher level of impact or greater number of impacts over time,” Gillette says.

    Make dogs’ pads more resistant to injury by putting them on dry, mildly abrasive surfaces such as fine gravel, concrete, or sand or working the dogs on rough terrain for short periods of time, Reynolds says. He cautions against placing dogs in situations where their paws are often wet, because moistures causes softer pads. “A dry foot is a healthy foot,” he says.

    Booting is another way to protect dogs’ feet, although opinions vary about its effectiveness. “While some handlers feel the boots prevent injuries, others think dogs may sustain more injuries because the dogs can’t feel the ground,” Gillette says. “That means they can’t feel sharp or pointed objects. Instead of drawing their foot back, they put their full weight down, forcing the object deeper into the paw.”

    Rabidou compares the importance of healthy paws to that of well-tended hooves on horses. “If you’re going to work or run a horse, you won’t get much if it has unsound feet,” he says. “Sporting dogs are running, working dogs, and they are only as good as their feet — which means you’d better keep your eye on those pads.”

    Reprinted from the Purina Pro Club Sporting Group Update, published by Nestle Purina PetCare.

     

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