What Causes Cracked Paw Pads in Dogs?

Why does my 6 month old German Shepherd have cracks on his paw, and what can I do to heal the cracks? He is now limping on the two paws that have cracks.

Cracked paws are a fairly common complaint in dogs of all ages, particularly in dogs which are frequently active outdoors in all weathers. Where the cracks are free of any blood and the dog has an active outdoor lifestyle, this is not normally something to worry about, and can be treated and relieved by thorough cleansing – to prevent bacterial infection – and application of Vaseline or Bag Balm to soothe and moisturize the area. However, where the dog is limping as a result of the cracks, it suggests to me that a more in-depth analysis and treatment is necessary.

Your dog’s skin could be reacting to an environmental irritant, such as soaps or oil on the street, which would cause him to chew or bite the area and encourage the development of cracks. Be sure that your dog is not coming into contact with any chemical irritant and treat as described above. If there is no improvement after a week, it is possible that your dog is allergic to something, and this can be investigated using blood or skin tests by your veterinarian. It is also possible that your dog’s paws have a fungal infection (much like Athlete’s Foot in humans), and your vet will be able to test for this and provide anti-fungal medication if necessary.

Aside from irritations, allergies and fungal infections, there are 2 more possible causes which are far more uncommon. The first is a condition which affects the nose and feet, called Nasodigital Hyperkeratosis, in which the keratin in the nose and paw pads develops into a tough, fibrous growth – often resembling callusing. While there is no cure for this condition, your vet would be able to advise on topical treatments that can alleviate the symptoms. Secondly, a dietary zinc deficiency can be responsible for the poor condition of paw pads, however in most cases this would be accompanied by symptoms such as weight loss, hair loss and lethargy.