PAW & CLAW INTEGRITY
The health of our pets’ feet is also very important. Every day they are not just used for traction and grip, but also for sensing their surroundings, providing impact resistance, and for maintenance of body temperature. A significant amount of effective protection can be provided with appropriate nutrition.
Nutritional deficiencies are often manifested by changes in the skin and paw pad. Like the skin, paw pads require the supply of a variety of nutrients, including biotin, vitamins A, E, and C, nutritional lipids and minerals.
PAW PAD STRUCTURE
The skin on the paw pads of our dogs and cats is very different to most of the skin covering the rest of the body. Apart from being absent of hairs and follicles, it is also very strong and thick, whilst still being flexible and soft.
As the pads wear, cracks can begin to appear, allowing access to harmful bacteria and yeasts, and the feet can become inflamed and heated, leading to pain and a resistence to place weight upon them.
This reduced activity can then lead to excessive weight gain which, in turn can compound the stress and weight on the pads.
Claws are hardened and keratinized modification of the skin’s epidermis which our pets use for scratching, digging, climbing and catching prey. Claw tips are constantly renewed to maintain their sharpness.
Like the skin, without proper care and attention, and appropriate nutrition, they can become brittle and cracked, resulting in pain and infection.
In general, we can say that any nutrient that benefits the skin also benefits the claws.
SKIN & CLAW PROBLEMS
One of the most common causes of poor skin condition in paw pads is insufficient keratinisation, leading to dryness and cracking at the surface.
Nutrients such as biotin, zinc and vitamin A are integral in this process and, although acute deficiency symptoms are rare, underlying chronic conditions are thought to be common, where suboptimal levels are reaching target tissues.
In addition, as with skin coating the rest of the body, omega-3 fatty acids play an important role in the suppleness and integrity of paw pads.
VITAMINS A & E
Both of these fat soluble vitamins provide an antioxidant function in the body, scavenging and neutralising reactive oxygen species, such as peroxides and free radicles. Left in their active forms, these oxygen species attack cell membranes and sensitive tissues, like those in paws, causing inflammation and localised heating. This can cause dogs to bite and chew these irritating areas, causing further trauma.
In addition, vitamin A is involved in epithelial cell differentiation and keratinisation, and over and under supplementation can lead to scaling, excessive shedding, over-keratinisation, and increased susceptibility to infection.
Although all nutritionally complete diets should contain sufficient levels of these vitamins, additional supplementation has been shown to improve skin conditions.
Omega-3 fatty acids and particularly those found in fish oils, are essential for a number of functions relating to paws and claws.
Firstly, their metabolism results in the production of anti-inflammatory eicosanoids, which reduce heat and swelling in the paws. This, in turn, reduces biting and scratching, which can be prevalent in pets with damaged feet.
Secondly, fish omega-3’s, such as EPA and DHA are incorporated into cell membranes, to provide strength and flexibility. If these are absent or deficient the cells become fragile and less able to withstand stress and wear.
Also, these long chain fatty acids are involved in the production of other substances, such as cholesterol, which contribute to the aqueous film covering the skin’s surface.
Although required in minute quantities, biotin is an essential vitamin for maintaining cell differentiation and keratinisation in the skin.
Zinc is involved in many metabolic and defensive processes in the body. As a component of several key enzymes it is required for the synthesis and maintenance of proteins and lipids.
A dietary deficiency can rapidly induce skin related symptoms. It is also needed for the metabolism of vitamin A, maintenance of immune activity and epidermal integrity, and so the skin is one of the main target tissues in the body for this mineral.
Recent scientific studies have resulted in an increase in the recommended dietary intake of zinc for dogs and cats, and additional supplementation beyond this has also shown beneficial effects.