What Is Cage Feet In Dogs & How Is This Avoided?

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The affliction of cage feet in dogs occurs in many extreme cases where abusive owners have neglected their animals and allowed their health and well-being to deteriorate. Even so, cage feet can happen in happy relationships between dog and owner, typically when the dog is left in a crate or cage. 

This neglect may not be purposeful, but for the safety and happiness of your dog, it’s essential to recognize the mistakes and take steps to remedy this affliction. This article will discuss the causes and signs of cage foot and what can be done to avoid it.

What Is Cage Feet

Puppy with deformed legs cage feet
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Cage feet occur when a dog remains in a small, ill-fitting cage or crate. The dog’s legs begin to bow out, and the paws can split and burn. As aforementioned, many cases of cage feet accompany those of animal neglect or abuse. However, cage feet can occur in any human/dog relationship. It doesn’t necessarily constitute abuse, so it’s essential to recognize the signs of cage feet and take action if needed.

Basics of Cage Feet and Its Prevention

To fix or avoid cage feet, you must first look at the causes so you can make a plan of action accordingly.

Causes of Cage Feet 

The leading cause of cage feet concerns cages and crates. Sometimes crates have low ceilings, forcing the dog to crouch down. Crates can also be too small and prevent the dog from lying down. 

When a dog remains in an ill-fitting cage for a prolonged time, its feet begin to bow out, making it increasingly difficult to walk properly. Their paws can split and burn, and their toenails can also grow to extreme lengths. For example, the dogs Harlan and Hogan were found with cage feet and extremely overgrown toenails. 

When it comes to avoiding cage feet, crate sizing, habits, and training all come into play. 

Ways to Avoid Cage Feet

Now we know the causes of cage feet, we can look into avoiding this affliction. It all begins with the crate or cage in which you place your dog. 

Crate Sizing

black and white dog in metal cage or crate

Crate sizing plays a critical part in ensuring the comfort of your dog. You want to be sure they are comfortable, thus avoiding cage feet while still being enclosed.

When it comes to choosing a crate, remember these important tips: 

  • Buy a crate that fits your dog’s adult size, even if they’re still a puppy 
  • Be sure the crate is durable and flexible
  • Kennel/airline crates will be best for dogs who like darker spaces, while wire crates work well for others 

A proper crate size eliminates the risk of the cage feet, as your dog can lie down, stand up, and move around in a space that’s right for them. 

Positive Crating Habits

One key cause of cage feet is not allowing your dog any breaks from the crate. Dogs cannot go 12+ hours in a crate, even if the crate fits them well. Crating them overnight for bedtime works, but if you plan to keep them inside longer, give them regular breaks to stench their legs. 

If you must keep your dog inside a crate for 12 hours due to work or other circumstances, look into being a dog walker, especially if you live in a city. This allows your dog to exercise during the day while you’re gone and avoid cage feet. 

Make sure the crate is a happy place for your dog. Put their favorite toys or blankets inside, and give them plenty of food and water. Remember the crate must be a safe, happy place for your dog.

Crate Training 

Puppy in a crate with toys

Positive crate training is imperative. You want your dog to associate good, positive things with going into the crate. Use crate training as a way to make sure they’re comfortable in their crate, as well as prevent the crate from being used as a punishment.

Here are some do’s when it comes to crate training:

  • Do use treats and toys to crate them
  • Do only use the crate for specific times (when they’re scared, bedtime, etc) and NEVER use as punishment 
  • Do keep food and water in the crate when you lock your dog in
  • Do give your dog regular breaks so they can stretch their legs 

Here are some don’ts when it comes to crate training:

  • Don’t use the crate as punishment
  • Don’t lock your dog in for more than 12 hours without a break 
  • Don’t allow your dog to scratch and claw while in the crate; they could injure themselves 

Other Cage Feet Effects

While your dog may not have the extreme cage feet effects of bowed legs and split paws, they may experience some minor, yet still uncomfortable, symptoms of cage feet. 

Keep the dog’s paws clean

sleeping dog paws

A dog’s paws can sometimes burn when left in the area of dirt and bacteria like the floor of a crate. Clean the crate floor routinely, but also make sure to wash your pet’s paws to avoid the dry, burning sensation. 

Trim your pet’s nails 

Taking your dog on a walk helps blunt their toenails, but keeping them in a crate for a long period consistently allows the nails to grow to an unhealthy length. In this case, learn how to trim your dog’s nails safely, or get them cut with a vet or dog groomer. 


Cage feet can lead to many health issues with your dog, including bowed back and trouble walking. Cage feet can be easy to overlook, as the situations in which it occurs aren’t often labeled as abuse. 

Fortunately, cage feet can be easily avoided. By properly caring for your dog, and making sure their crate fits them and their needs. Remember, your dog needs and wants space to move and sleep in, and keep that in mind while choosing a crate. 

Meet our writer

Jen Clifford is an animal behaviorist and veterinary technician with more than a decade of hands-on experience working in small animal and specialty veterinary clinics.

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