Whether your dog likes to hike, participates in sports like agility or flyball, or they just walk a lot, you are probably concerned with making sure their paw pads don’t tear, get cut, or otherwise get injured.
UPDATED: June 26, 2022
One of the biggest keys to preventing your dog’s paw pads from getting damaged is to toughen them up and make sure they are flexible while being durable.
In this article, I share what I’ve learned over the years about protecting your dog’s paw pads.
Disclosure: Some of the links in this article are affiliate links (Amazon Associate or other programs we participate in). As an affiliate, I earn a small commission from qualifying purchases.
How Can I Make My Dog’s Paw Pads More Durable?
There are a couple primary ways to toughen up your dog’s paws.
The easiest and most natural way to toughen your dog’s foot pads
The best way to toughen your dog’s paw pads is to walk them regularly on hard surfaces like asphalt or concrete.
Walking your dog regularly on hard and rough surfaces will help them to develp callouses on their paws, thus thickening the surface and helping to prevent punctures and scrapes.
It’s like nature’s booties for dogs (a dog’s food pads are really quire durable and resilient on their own).
This method is the most natural and easiest because you probably already walk your dog every day (or at least most days).
All you have to do to harden their foot pads is to make sure that a good portion of the walks are on sidewalks, city streets, or paved paths.
You can also use a dog paw pad strengthener to help your dog’s food pads become tougher
There are products on the market formulated specifically for dogs that need to have tough and durable paw pads.
I’m not talking about your average paw balm. Those are designed to soften and moisturize, which can actually work against you.
While you want your dog’s paw pads to stay moisturized enough so they don’t crack and remain flexible, you don’t want to soften them.
You want to use a product specifically designed to make your dog’s paw pads more durable.
Tuf-Foot for Dogs
The #1 dog paw pad strengthener that has been recommended to me is Tuf-Foot for dogs.
In the 15 years I’ve been hiking with my dogs, we’ve rarely encountered foot pad issues (3 times out of the hundreds of hikes we’ve done to be exact)..
However, because I am planning a 75-mile hike with my dog in the future, and I was curious about how Tuf-foot for dogs and the effectiveness, I ordered some to try.
Tuf-Foot is a liquid you spray on your dog’s paw pads. If the feel and sound of spraying scares your dog, you can spray it on your hand first then rub it on your dog’s feet.
Tuf-Foot liquid paw protection claims:
- It’s the only preparation made exclusively for the foot
- It is guaranteed to toughen soft, cracked, sore and tender feet
- It helps protect feet against bruises and soreness
The Tuf-Foot ingredients are: Isopropyl Alcohol, Balsam Peru, Tincture of Benzoin and less than 5% acetone.
While the spray is not a resin per-se, it does contain the oily sap Peru balsam and Tincture of Benzoin, which is used to make the skin tacky so bandage tape sticks better.
Tincture of Benzoin is also used by athletes for its reputation of toughening skin.
I did notice it made the surface of my dog’s pads a bit tacky but not sticky to the point that dirt and pine needles would stick.
The Tuf-Foot appilcation instructions say to apply daily until feet are in good condition, then twice a week.
I only applied Tuff-Foot to my dog’s paws a couple times but it did appear to make the skin a bit tougher.
Two important notes about this product:
- The product can stain fabrics and carpet so let it dry on your dog’s feet before letting them walk around the house (it dried withink 10 seconds).
- It will not produce injury if it gets in the mouth. The quick drying formula dissipates quickly and any remaining residue is innocuous. If a large quantity were directly ingested then you should seek medical attention immediately.
Pad-Tough for Dogs
Pad-Tough for dogs is one I more recently discovered but it is also designed to strengthen a dog’s paw pads and make them more durable.
It’s also a spray-on liquid paw pad toughener.
Pad-Tough product claims:
- Toughens foot pads and elbows
- Helps protect skin from sores and abrasions
- Aids in healing
The Pad-Tough ingredients are almost identical to the Tuf-Foot ingredients: Isopropyl Alcohol, Purified Water, Comfrey Extract, Ethyl Alcohol, Propylene Glycol, Benzoin, Storax, Tolu Balsam and Aloe Vera.
The primary differnece is that Pad-Tough uses Storax instead of Balsam Peru but both are a type of resin.
The Pad-Tough application instructions are: Coat pads liberally with pad-tough prior to field trials, shows, hunting or other rigorous exercise.
Pad-tough should be used routinely prior to any extensive outdoor activity.
I only tried Pad-Tough or comparison since it was so similar to Tuf-Foot.
It smelled about the same and was the same amber color.
The primary difference for me is that it didn’t seem to leave a slightly-tacky film on the surface of my dog’s paw pads.
I definitely can’t state this difference will make Pad-Tough less effective but it did personally give me less confience in it.
The product warning says Pad-Tough is harmful if swallowed. No additional details were provided.
However, according to WebMd, Storax people when used appropriately in medicinal amounts.
However, do not take large amounts by mouth or apply large amounts to open wounds. This can cause serious side effects, including kidney damage (in humans).
There was very limited information about Storax and dogs but I did find evidence that some dogs can experience iarrhea from ingestion of the resin.
It’s best to let the spray dry before leaving your dog unattended to lick their paws.
Because the color and properties are so similar to Tuf-Foot, I assume Pad-Tough will also stain carpet and fabric, which is another reason to let it dry before letting your dog walk around.
Musher’s secret is a waxy balm instead of a spray.
It forms a breathable wax barrier.
While Musher’s Secret doesn’t explicitly claim to toughen a dog’s aw pads, it does claim to offer protection.
However, according to the Musher’s Secret website, it was “developed in Canada for use with sledding dogs [and] provides tenacious protection even in the most extreme conditions.”
Since my dog’s paw pads are pretty tough already, this is the product I choose to use regularly to help protect my dog’s foot pads.
The extreme conditions Musher’s Secret claims to protect your dog’s pads from are:
- Hot pavement
- Rough terrain
- Salt and chemicals
- Ice build-up
- Sand and sand burn
For more information, read my article Musher’s Secret Bootless Boots for Your Dog.
Why Not Just Use Dog Boots?
I’m not a fan of boots for dogs. Not at all.
And it’s not just because they are near impossible to find good ones to fit Dachshunds.
I frequently hear complaints from larger dog owners about dog boots constantly falling off and getting lost and/or causing chafing.
These are the reasons I think that dog boots are not necessary, and can in fact be harmful, for dogs:
- A dog boot, no matter how good it fits, will interfere with a dog’s natural gait
- A dog boot doesn’t allow a dog’s foot to fully articulate to take advantage of their natural grip
- Since one of the primary ways dogs sweat and dissipate heat is through their paw pads and dog boots interfere with this natural flow
- If the boots are used as a solution, instead of one of the two options above, they can result in your dog’s paw pads getting softer and less durable
But I do understand they are helpful or necessary for some dogs.
I won’t ever criticize anyone for making that choice for their dog.
However, I ask you to consider using them as a last resort, not a first one.
Addressing Dog Paw Pad Injuries
Even if you think you toughened up your dog’s paw pads enough and were careful, or you didn’t know you needed to because it was not an issue before, accidents can happen.
It can be quite shocking to suddenly find your dog’s paw pad has a big tear or cut.
So what do you do if that happens?
What to do if your dog’s paw pad get torn
The first thing you need to do is assess the tear – how big and deep is it?
The couple times my dog’s have torn their paw pads, it was only the top layer or two that were peeled back.
The pad layer that was exposed was not as tough and weathered as the layer that was hanging lose but there was no bleeding or weeping and the paw pad would still do it’s job.
So all I did was trim the flappy skin of the pad off and we kept going with no issues.
Of course, if the tear is deeper, it may require disinfectant, a bandage, and potentially medical attention from a veterinarian.
You can read more about how to treat paw pad tears from VCA Animal Hospitals here.
What to do if your dog’s paw pad gets cut
Cuts are usally more serious than a foot pad tear.
As I stated above, many food pad tears only affect the top layers of skin and there is no damage to the tissue underneath.
With foot pad cuts, they are deeper, often expose inner layer of skin, and a dog is often not able to continue walking on that foot.
A dog with a cut foot pad will likely need field first aid treatment at a minimum.
If the cut on your dog’s foot pad is deep, they will need medical attention from a veterinarian.
Cuts to the paw pads also typically require a longer healing time.
You can read more about what do if your dog cut’s their foot pad from Trupanion pet insurance here.
Final ThoughtsAbout Preventing Paw Cuts and Scrapes
The best way to prevent paw pad tears and cuts is to toughen the surface of their foot pad.
The best way to do that is to walk your dog regularly on hard and rough surfaces so the foot pads naturally thicken up on their own.
You can also use a product specifically designed to thicken and toughen the skin on a dog’s paw pads.
I recommend going with the walking method alone or using both in conjunction.
It’s ok to moisturize your dog’s paw pads so they don’t get so thick and dry that they spit and crack but be cautious here – softening them too much can have the opposite effect of making them prone to injury.
Foot pads that are too soft are at risk of scrapes, cuts, and tears.