You have probably arrived home from a long walk through rain, snow, or a forest several times and your dog’s paws have picked up a lot of debris, mud, and dirt in the process.
Not only are muddy paw prints a nuisance, they actually pose a health risk.
Those sensitive pads are regularly exposed to a variety of surfaces from hot asphalt to salt and treated lawn.
Burns, irritations, dry skin, and bacteria are the consequences.
Regularly checking and cleaning your dog’s paws after a walk will help prevent nasty infections.
Luckily, there are plenty of easy cleaning solutions available and I’ll go over each home solution as well as how I personally handle my Rottweiler’s podgy paws.
Fun Fact: Dog paws may be cleaner than human shoes.
This study on the cleanliness of doggy paws tested 25 assistance and 25 pet dogs as well as their 50 respective owners after a 15-30 min walk.
Despite 81% of the assistance dogs having been denied access to hospitals – citing hygiene as the main reason – the study found that “Dog paws were more often negative for Enterobacteriaceae compared to shoe soles (…) and also had significantly lower bacterial counts (…)”
But that only works if you’re following a couple of simple steps.
Let’s start with the simplest question.
Should You Wash Your Dog’s Paws After a Walk?
Wiping your dog’s paws after a walk can go a long way in preventing infections, spotting foreign objects or cuts, as well as keeping the dirt outside.
Imagine if you would walk barefoot over asphalt, grass, fields, or forests without wiping your feet before you enter your home.
My three main reasons why I clean – either wipe or wash for serious issues – my dog’s paws:
- Bacteria spreading around the house and potentially causing paw to be infected
- Cleaning paws is great for inspecting the pads and between the toes
- Quick check for ticks (ugh!)
- Prevents my dog from scratching a wound with dirty paws
Washing vs simple wiping also depends on the season and climate.
If you live in a wet climate, moisture and mud can be trapped between your dog’s paws.
Hot weather, on the other hand, can be dangerous for those sensitive pads and hot asphalt can cause burns.
Freezing temperatures, perhaps even snow, alongside salt on the streets are the perfect mixture for cracked and painful paws.
Enough chit-chat, let’s go into how you can actually clean ’em.
How to Clean Dog Paws After a Walk
Cleaning your dog’s paws is fairly easy and most debris can be wiped away using a damp washcloth or paper towel while dirty paws require a quick wash with dog shampoo.
Make sure you’ve thoroughly checked your dog’s paws for any foreign objects, burns, or injuries.
Gently spread the toes and look for anything that shouldn’t be there.
Also, make sure to carefully trim the hair around the pad for better cleaning and to prevent matting.
Wipes Designed for Dogs
For a quick clean, baby wipes or those for sensitive skin are a great option and can easily be carried with you in the car or bag.
Baby wipes are usually perfectly fine to use on your dog’s paws, butt or coat.
If you are looking for dog-specific wipes, I can recommend the Pogi plant-based dog wipes and personally opt for the natural, fragrance-free option.
They hold just the right amount of moisture to thoroughly wipe away any dirt or grind.
Also, make sure that the wipes of your choice are hypoallergenic if your dog suffers from any allergies.
Vitamin E is commonly known for its skin benefits and an amazing ingredient in dog wipes, unlike perfume which adds nothing and is abhorrent for a dog to smell.
Washing Dirty Paws
If your walk included muddy puddles, rain, or salt, wipes probably won’t be enough. Sometimes there is just no way around rinsing your dog’s paws with lukewarm water and mild soap.
Small dogs can be cleaned in the sink while medium, large and giant breeds require a bathtub.
If you don’t have time for a full clean, just use a bucket and a towel and wash and rinse the paws one by one.
That’s what I usually do if my Rottweiler has particularly sandy paws, stepped in dog poo, or if it’s allergy season (looking at you, resin-covered poplar).
Dog Paw Cleaner Mat
A durable doormat is the best option to prevent the dirt from even getting inside your home.
Doormats help keep debris off your floors and can be placed in any entryway.
It comes with a soft surface for extra comfort and highly absorbent material. Regular washing of the mat will preserve its mud-trapping qualities.
To teach your dog to actively wipe his feet, simply place a few high-value treats (like cheese or single-ingredient meats) under the doormat and keep a few treats ready in your hand.
Reward any desired scratching on the mat with the treats in your hand and after a few times you can add a verbal marker such as “wipe”.
Dog Paw Disinfectant
An antibacterial spray may be used to disinfect your dog’s paws but make sure your vet gives their okay for your dog’s paws.
Just because a spray is advertised as “antibacterial”, “soothing”, or “against allergies” doesn’t mean all ingredients are effective and harmless for your pet.
The main ingredient in the spray can sting damaged skin, so call your vet before using if there is a scratch, flap, or burn on the paw that you’re worried about.
Dog Paw Cleaning Tablets
Another paw-cleaning solution is something like these tablets.
It’s advertised as being simple. Take one ball or tablet, let it dissolve in warm water, immerse your dog’s paws into the cleaning solution, and let them soak for 5 minutes.
You can massage or scrub them with a cleaning brush or a cleaning mit (mentioned below) throughout the soaking process.
Still, see your veterinarian if you are concerned about a yeast infection on your dog’s paws.
Personally, I wouldn’t use options such as this one as wiping or alternatively washing them with a washcloth is totally fine for my dog in most cases.
Paw Cleaning Mit
Cleaning mitts like the Microfiber Dog Towel Mit can be used as an additional tool to scrub away dirt and bacteria when washing or soaking the paws.
They can also be used to dry off your dog instead of a normal towel.
While dog boots are not directly a cleaning method, they can be a great way to prevent your dog’s paws from getting dirty in the first place. They also protect your dog from hot weather as well as freezing temperatures.
When walking outside with your dog in the summer, make sure that the pavement isn’t too hot by placing your bare palm on it.
If you cannot leave your hand there for at least 5 seconds, the asphalt will be too hot for your dog’s paws.
Try to avoid the midday heat and go for a walk in the mornings or late evenings when the sun has already set.
Dog boots will protect your dog’s paws but he is still at risk of suffering from heatstroke from prolonged sun exposure or slipping on icy roads as well as ingesting salt.
Make sure that the boots cover the paw properly without impairing walking ability.
I have put together a list of the 10 best waterproof dog boots. There are several options for you that will work in any weather conditions.
Home Remedies to Clean Dog Paws
While the above-mentioned methods are proven to be very effective when it comes to cleaning paws after a walk, you might have searched for this article because your dog’s paws got really dirty from a walk and you don’t have anything at home.
You may also be interested in home remedies that are considered “safer” and want to try them first before treating your dog with something less natural.
There are two home remedies that are actually many owners’ best buddies.
However, please keep in mind that there is no supportive clinical evidence for their use for bacterial infections in animals.
Cleaning Dog Paws With Vinegar
White vinegar and apple cider vinegar can be effective in treating smelly paws from yeast infections and bacteria build-up.
Similar to the cleaning tablets, you will want to let your dog’s paws soak in a 2:1 water and vinegar mixture.
Vinegar is said to have anti-fungal properties and might get rid of smelly feet by making your dog’s paws inhospitable to some bacteria.
However, keep in mind that vinegar is acidic and could sting, irritate, or even damage the skin of a dog’s paw.
If your dog is experiencing serious medical issues, prescription meds might be necessary so consult your vet to be sure.
Coconut Oil for Cracked Dog Paws
Coconut oil can be helpful for cracked paws and is a non-invasive solution most people have at home. Might be used in conjunction with apple cider vinegar.
Coconut oil is believed to be antimicrobial, anti-fungal, anti-inflammatory, antiviral, and antibacterial.
Furthermore, coconut oil promotes wound healing and soothes cracked dog paws.
Especially in the winter months, I like to rub my dog’s paws with a good amount of coconut oil to counteract dry paw pads if I don’t have paw balm at hand.
Try to keep your dog from licking his paws as much as you can.
You usually don’t need to worry about ingestion, coconut oil can even be beneficial for your dog’s overall health.
Dog Paw Cleaner Solution
For a simple paw cleaning spray, combine equal parts of water and vinegar and fill it into a spray bottle. For cracked and inflamed paws, try an oatmeal bath by adding blended oats to the bathtub.
Massage the oatmeal into your dog’s paws and let them soak for at least 10 minutes. You can also add a few teaspoons of olive or coconut oil to the mixture.
Make sure to have any at-home solutions approved by your vet.
Is It OK to Wash Dog Paws Every Day?
Generally, it is okay to wash your dog’s paws every day. It greatly depends on the types of activity you are doing with your dog.
Hiking through forests will require more cleaning than let’s say a walk through the neighborhood.
It should be sufficient to check and clean the paws every week. However, if your dog has walked in puddles, salt, or muddy ground, he will need extra sessions.
Pesticides or fertilizer shouldn’t be left on your dog’s paws, so make sure to avoid them in your yard and during walks.
If your dog is prone to allergies, rinsing them with water will keep the allergens at bay.
The paws should also be cleaned after a summer walk in boots.
Dogs only produce sweat around the areas that are not covered with fur which are the nose and paw pads.
Drying them after a walk can be helpful to get rid of moisture, especially after a hot day.
How To Clean Dog Paws Before Coming Inside
If you really want to prevent any debris from entering your house, keep a good towel and the right cleaning solutions by your door, or consider setting up a cleaning station outside.
I like to keep a really absorbent towel right beside the door, so I can completely dry her off before coming inside.
If possible, you can also hose off any dirt or keep a bucket full of water on the porch.
You can also keep any required products such as cleaning mit or paw cleaner outside in a box. A doormat may also save you a lot of hassle.
How to Clean a Dog Paw Wound
Unfortunately, paw pad wounds are quite common especially if they are regularly exposed to rough terrain.
Cleaning up the wound properly is essential to ensure an optimal healing process and to prevent any infections.
Avoid wrapping too tightly, as the bandage could cut off blood circulation.
Even the smallest cuts should be examined and treated. First, clean the wound with water and carefully remove any small foreign objects if your dog will allow it (if not, consult your vet).
Gently dry off the area with a clean towel and apply a small amount of pet antiseptic spray.
Place a pad directly on the wound and secure it with bandages. To prevent the bandage from falling off, wrap it all the way up to the next joint.
Encourage your dog to let the affected paw rest and prevent any licking, nipping, or biting.
On walks, you can protect the paw with one of the aforementioned dog booties that will keep away bacteria and dirt. Keep the bandage dry and change it if it has soaked up moisture.
Minor injuries can be treated at home, however, deep cuts and heavy bleeding should be checked by a veterinarian.