That extra pad on the back of your dog's front legs is not a frivolous growth or evolutionary left over. Rather, it is a functional piece of your dog's anatomy called a carpal pad. Naturally accompanied by a toe called the dew claw, the carpal pad needs to be cared for like any other pad on a dog's paws.
The extra pad on the back of a dog's front leg is known as the carpal pad. Each toe on a dog's foot is associated with a pad. The carpal pad is associated with the dew claw, an appendage that is often removed when dogs are still puppies. Even if the dew claw has been removed, many dogs use the carpal pad for gripping chew items and balance when running and turning.
The dew claw is comparable to the human thumb, except that it's not opposable. Dogs who have their dew claws use this extra toe to get a solid grip on items they are holding, to dig into the ground for balance while running and turning and to distribute weight when on uneven surfaces. In many dogs, the dew claw is only attached by a few nerve bundles and skin. For this reason, many breeders, veterinarians and owners advocate the removal of these toes.
The surgical removal of dew claws is a topic of some debate. Removal is often advocated because of how lightly many dogs' dew claws are attached. However, working and sporting dog advocates suggest that the dew claw should not be removed, as it provides stability while performing many tasks such as retrieving, herding and agility. Most dog owners will not need to make this choice since the surgery is usually performed while puppies are with the breeder. If your dog has dew claws, discuss with your veterinarian whether removal is right for you and your dog.
The carpal pad needs to be cared for exactly like the other pads on your dog's feet. Keep pads free of debris by wiping with a damp towel or unscented baby wipes regularly. Always check foot pads for cuts, blisters, burns or scrapes after exercise, hiking or other rigorous activity. If the pads are injured, rinse with a first aid saline, wrap gently with a clean cloth and seek veterinary assistance. Likewise, if your dog's foot pads have become excessively dry or change color, visit your veterinarian for proper diagnosis and treatment.
- Dog Owner's Home Veterinary Handbook; Debra M. Eldredge et. al.
Shelly Volsche has worked as a professional dog behavior consultant, holds a Bachelor's degree in psychology, and a diploma in canine nutrition. She has written for "The Chronicle of the Dog" and Lucky Dog Magazine and is currently pursuing her PhD in anthropology with a focus on pet parents.