In the heat of the summer, when Austin dogs play hard at our local dog parks and swimming holes, they often encounter limestone river bottoms and rough, rocky trails. All too often, they can inadvertently injure their foot pads. They may not even show any signs of pain until they get home or try to get up the next morning. Austin dogs can sustain severe abrasions their footpads while they are playing, causing painful, stinging raw areas, often with large areas of normal pads starting to come off in thick flaps. They sometimes scrape up all four of their foot pads and are unable to walk on their feet back to the car or get up from their bed the next day, and sometimes they can even have bleeding from the exposed areas. This can be a surprise to owners, because many dogs who experience this are already going running or walking regularly for exercise on pavement and sidewalks. They seem like their feet should be "used to it"...
Their foot pads are thickly callused and just like our feet, they get softened after being in the water for a while. When dogs run and splash through the shallows, their softened feet commonly run on top of submerged limestone surfaces. Normally, their dry feet would tolerate limestone flats well when walking on dry trails. But when their feet are already softened, and they are distracted having fun, they can vigorously scrape up their feet without realizing it, until the damage is already done. Injuries to their feet also probably feel less sensitive to them, since their feet are nice and cool under water. Also, dogs usually don't develop blisters first that can serve as warnings that damage is occurring the way people often do.
Dogs with wet feet can also rub them raw when they head back to the car, walking on rocky trails or climbing over larger boulders. Just like with our feet when we get blisters, the new skin underneath is often extremely sensitive and stings painfully. Dogs can even be so painful on their abraded feet that they can't even bear weight on their feet at all. This can be difficult if you need all four feet to walk around on!
If you are with your dog at the dog park, trail, or lake, and they are swimming, especially if they are running through shallow water with a limestone bottom, be sure to periodically check your dog's feet for signs of abrasion or redness. If it looks like the pads are forming flaps around the edges or the black pigment is coming off revealing pink skin underneath, it's important to get them home. It might help to let their feet dry out with a rest in the sun first before hiking back to the car. When you get home that night and when you get up the next day, you might want to check their pads to see if any flaps or raw areas have occurred.
If your dog does have sore, abraded areas, or loose flaps of footpad callus, or they are unable to bear weight on their foot and are limping, bring them to your veterinarian to have them examined. They may not cry or lick their feet, but they may be reluctant to walk on their stinging pads. There are a lot of things we can do to help them be comfortable, to not be in pain, to protect the pads until they heal, and to prevent infections in the raw areas, so please have them checked out anytime foot pad injuries occur.