Little puppies have big feet—all the bigger to step on things! Just like little kids, they’re prone to being careless about where they run and they often end up with cuts and other injuries. Most of their injuries are, fortunately, minor, but a few may need more than a hug and a kiss to make them better.
Examine your puppy’s feet top and bottom every day, and especially when gets through running in a rocky or wooded area, to check for burrs, cuts, split pads or webbings, split or broken nails, or oddly angled toes. For minor cuts, apply a topical antibiotic and if needed, a topical pain reliever. For toes that jut out at odd angles, take him to the veterinarian. Also look for ticks, which like to burrow between the toes.
Not only is it important to check for problems, but dogs aren’t naturally keen about having their feet handled, so this is good training. Start by just picking up one foot, then giving him a treat for being cooperative. If he struggles, wait until he’s drowsy and try then. You want to reward him for being good, not for fighting you.
The same is true for his nails. Nails that grow too long impact the ground with every step, displacing the normal position of the toes and causing discomfort, splaying, and even lameness. The breeder should also have started cutting the puppy’s nails when he was still nursing, as long sharp nails can prick the dam’s breasts. With luck the puppy will already be used to having his nails cut by the time he comes to you, but more often, he will not be. Either guillotine or scissor types are equally good, but be sure they are sharp. Dull clippers crush the nail and hurt.
For small puppies, it’s usually easiest to hold the puppy on his back in your lap. Start by just handling his feet, giving him a treat for being good. Then just tip the very end off of a nail, giving him a treat after each nail you do. Gradually cut them a little shorter in subsequent sessions, being very careful not to cut the quick.
To avoid the quick, look at the bottom on the nail. If you look under the nail you can see where the nail begins to get hollow; anywhere it looks hollow is quickless. In this same area the nail will suddenly get much thinner. Again, where it’s thin it’s safe to cut. In a light colored nail you can see a redder area that indicates the blood supply; the sensitive quick extends slightly farther down the nail than the blood supply.
If you do cut the quick, place styptic powder on it to stop the bleeding, or use a wet tea bag or flour is you don’t have styptic powder. And be sure to give him lots of extra treats and loving!
If dewclaws, those rudimentary “thumbs” on the wrists, are present they may be especially prone to getting caught on things and ripped out, and can even grow in a loop and back into the leg. Check your puppy’s front and rear wrists and hocks to see if he has dewclaws. Many breeders remove the dewclaws within a few days of birth so they can’t cause problems later on. Breeders debate whether or not the practice is necessary. On one hand, when dewclaws get caught on fences or when running in the woods, it’s very painful and takes a long time to heal. On the other hand, dogs with dewclaws that lay flat to their legs don’t get them caught that often. If you have a litter of puppies, ask other people in your breed what the norm is. In some breeds, it’s considered a desirable breed trait to have dewclaws on the rear legs as well. Although some breeders remove their own dewclaws, there is more to it than just cutting them off, and doing it improperly can mean they can grow back or they can get infected or have other problems. It is better to have your veterinarian do it. If you wait past three days after birth, it’s too late to do them unless you wait until the puppy is much older, when it must be done under anesthesia.