How to clean your dog's paws after a walk

How to clean your dog's paws after a walk

We’ve all been there.

The door swings open and the dog comes bounding inside from the pouring rain.

Before you can get ahold of him, there’s already a muddy trail of paw prints to tell you where he may have run off to.

You’re not sure what’s more urgent, catching your dog and wiping his paws or getting stain remover on the prints he left behind.

If your dog is anything like mine, he goes out of his way to track mud, dirt and sticks into the house at the most inopportune times, like right after I’ve finished vacuuming or when guests are their way over. And if I even think about getting that new blanket … Koda has already planned out how to get his muddy mitts all over it.

And keeping the car paw-print free? It may seem like an unending task, but there are way to keep your dog’s mitts spotless.

Cleaning your dog’s paws does more than keep your home clean; it also helps keep their paws healthy. The best way to clean your dog’s paws is with soap and water or wet wipes. To make cleaning an easy routine keep a cleaning station outside near your door (or at least a towel). 

Why it’s important to clean your dog’s paws

Hygiene is important for every animal. While you likely remember to give your dog regular baths, clean his ears and brush his teeth when you can, paws are often forgotten, which is ironic considering paws tend to be the dirtiest part of your dog and I’m sure your carpets would agree.

But the reasons for keeping your pup’s paws neat and tidy go beyond keeping your rugs clean.

Risk of infection

Think of all the places your dog puts his paws. Now imagine all the kind of bacteria and germs he get into. Your dog is built to handle the bacteria his feet find, but along the way he may accumulate too much bacteria or even injure himself and give infection a chance to thrive.

Think your dog is steering clear of bacteria? As weird it as may seem, smell his paws. Do they smell like Fritos or corn chips? “Frito feet” is the result of yeast and bacteria on your dog’s paws. While generally harmless and very common, it just proves that there’s more going on with paws than you may have thought.

Material damages

This one goes without saying. Dirty paws can wreak havoc on your personal belongings. From stains, to tears, and even foul odors - those paws can do a lot of damage.

I know from experience just how pricey dirty paws can be … not every blanket and rug can be salvaged. Clean paws may cost you some time, but they won’t cost you additional money on ruined goods.

General wellness

If you’re cleaning your dog’s paws regularly, you’re more likely to notice when something goes awry. Aside from just being cleaned, your dog’s feet require attention to ensure he is healthy.

Paws are susceptible to things you may not otherwise know about unless you’re checking them. Some dogs develop interdigital cysts between their toes that can become painful or require surgery if left alone.

Additionally, ticks love to hide in between toes and tuck themselves along the back of the paw pad. Regularly cleaning can expose these parasites and prevent them from lingering on your dog.

Then there’s the obvious: Cuts and scrapes are common for rough-housing pups. And you may have not noticed just how long Duke’s nails were getting – give them a trim!

dog with muddy paws

Keeping your dog’s paws clean helps them, too.  Image: Chris Dixon

Weather can help you pull the trigger on paw cleaning

You’re not the only person to forget to clean their dog’s paws and truth be told, you don’t need to do it every day! When there’s no real routine to cleaning your dog’s paws, it can be tricky to remember to do it at all.

Luckily, Mother Nature can be your trusted reminder to look after those cute puppy feet.

Rain and wet climates

This one is pretty obvious, but it goes without saying. If there’s been a good amount of rain, or if you just live in a wet or swampy region, be diligent about cleaning your dog’s paws often.

Wet environments mean your dog’s paws are soaking up mud and moisture like crazy. Aside from the obvious mud being dragged into the house, the excess moisture can cause paws to become wrinkled, sensitive and more prone to injury (much like if humans wear wet socks all day and become pruny).

To keep him comfortable, thoroughly dry his paws each time he returns from the outdoors. Be sure to check them over for any scrapes or sensitivities while you’re down there.

Heat

Most dog owners think that if it’s warm and dry out, there’s no way there dog’s paws can be dirty. While this is generally true, those feet are going to pick up dirt no matter what.

It’s well known that during the summer, sidewalks and paved paths can blister a dog’s paws with burns. Cleaning and caring for his feet can minimize the damage caused by hot asphalt while also removing any loose debris.

Snow and the cold

Ever have your toes go numb in the snow, even through your socks and snow boots? Imagine shoving your whole foot into the snow with just that sock on. Dog’s face something similar when it comes to bitter freezing temps.

Exposure to extreme cold can cause your dog’s paws to crack, go numb and be overall painful. Factor in that snowmelt and salt is often on the ground during these times and now the risk for salt burn arises. That pain doesn’t just vanish as soon as he’s back indoors either.

Taking the time to remove ice build and salt from dog’s paws during the winter. Not only does it ease any discomfort, it prevents snow prints and salt stains from covering your floors.

How do I clean my dog’s feet?

It’s a straightforward question with a seemingly obvious answer, but there’s no “one size fits all” when it comes to any dog. It’s best to determine the options that best fit the circumstance – injury, dirt, weather, etc.

Below are some suggestions, but be sure to do what works best for you.

Soap and water

This is an obvious option when it comes to any method of cleaning, but that’s because it works. A dash of mild soap and a quick rinse makes easy work of debris and mud. It’s also a great way to wash out any scratches and scrapes: Be sure to apply some ointment on any cuts.

While simple and effective, this option isn’t always the most convenient. Not everyone has an outdoor wash station or even the time to give their pooch a rinse. Do what works for you.

Towels

I love the convenience of having a towel by the back door that my dogs use to access the yard. I can quickly grab it before they come in and wipe their paws before they ever set foot on the new carpet.

I even love this method for sunny, dry days. Plus, when the towel gets too much use you can just throw it in the wash and you’re good to go!

Wet wipes

When you need a deeper clean, but a rinse just isn’t feasible, reach for some wet wipes. (Baby wipes work just fine.) This gives a more thorough clean than just a towel, making it better for muddier times.

Personally, I opt for the scent-free wipes because my bulldog’s skin can be sensitive. They’re also great for dogs with grass/pollen allergies, as the wipes help remove the irritants from the legs and feet, which can get itchy.

Keep in mind, the price for wipes can add up, but if you find yourself using them often then just buy in bulk.

small dog on rocks

No one wants those muddy paws in the house! Image: Stacy Taylor-Kane

Ways to protect your dog’s paws from harsher elements

What’s better than getting rid of mud stains caused by your dog? Not having them in the first place!

There are a variety of ways to prevent stains and dirt from becoming a common occurrence in your household. Some even have the added benefit of protecting your dog’s paws from the elements, as well.

Balms

Balms are great for soothing and protecting paws. The thicker formula provides a barrier that protects the pads of the paw from things like hot asphalt, ice and in some cases snowmelt. (Some dogs are more sensitive than others and length of exposure can affect the amount of protection.)

Boots and dog shoes

Dogs clumsily walking in shoes and boots may be entertaining, but those shoes do provide a good bit of use. From protecting their paws from extreme temperatures all the way to preventing any mud from gathering on the paws, dog shoes certainly come in handy.

Most dogs take a while to warm up to the idea of having something strapped to their feet, but with so many options you’re bound to find some that work. Strap them on when conditions call for it and easily remove the boots when your dog is ready to come back inside. No mess tracked into your house and you can be confident that your dog’s paws are healthy.

How to keep paw prints outside of the house

Ultimately, the goal is to keep the mess outside. Understanding that having a clean home takes effort means that knowing you have to clean up after your dog is just part of the price. After all, if they were clean animals … they’d be cats.

Outdoor cleaning station

Having an area outdoors where you can easily clean up after your pet makes things easier. You can use a garden hose or even a wash bucket to quickly rinse or dip your dog’s feet before he comes back inside. If you don’t mind a little water in the house then skip toweling him off, but I do recommend it.

Keep a towel by the door

This is my preferred method. I keep towel handy right by the door and grab my dogs before they come in if it’s a wet day. It takes a little but of extra time as I wrestle with not just one, but two dogs, who are eager to get back to playing, but my carpets appreciate my effort.

It’s also best to keep a floor mat with good absorption by the door and towel for added security.

Let dogs enter and exit through a mud-room

If you’re fortunate enough to have a mud-room, use it! When I worked on a farm with horses and multiple dogs, the mud-room was a true miracle worker for keeping dirt out of the house. I’d let the dogs come into the mud-room and of course they’d be caked in hay, dirt, horse fur, literally anything they could find.

I could easily confine them, use the rinse tub in the room to get rid of everything and then sweep everything out of the back door when I was done.

You’ll always be clean-up crew

Let’s face it, no matter what kind of precautions you take, your dog is going to drag in some dirt eventually. I know it’s annoying to deal with carpet stains and muddy feet, but use it as a reminder to keep your dog’s feet healthy.

Minimal work goes a long way in keeping your dog moving well and prancing happily.

-Brooke Ketron

Brooke pretends to be a normal person with a full-time marketing job, but really she is the epitome of a “dog mom.” She obsesses over her two boys, Rowdy (English Bulldog) and Koda (Pitbull/Catahoula mix), and is often times found doting over them and purchasing way too many collars. And when she’s not with her dogs, she’s with her bigger dogs … horses.

Feature image: Mat Wall