I was walking through the house last summer when I noticed bloody paw prints all through the house. Alarmed, I lifted my dog’s paws, one-by-one. The culprit was a huge gash on the big-toe pad. As soon as I saw all the blood and that swollen dog paw, I was sure he must be in a lot of pain. Remarkably, he didn’t seem to be in any pain at all!
Lumps, bumps, bruises, and cuts are common and normal in a healthy, active dog. If you’re anything like me, you probably jump to the worst case scenario when your dog comes down with something.
To help ease your concerns, I am going to explain all of the most likely problems causing your dog’s swollen paw. You will have a better understanding of the reasons behind swollen dog paws, how to manage it at home, and when to know if a trip to the veterinarian is recommended.
Everyday Causes of Swollen Dog Paws
When you consider that your dog runs around “barefoot” all day, it’s amazing they don’t have injuries more often than they do. Some of the more common things that could cause swollen dog paws include the following:
An inflamed paw could easily be caused by a bacterial infection. Bacteria enters the body through a cut or abrasion. It could be visible bacteria, like dirt and mud, or it might be an airborne bacteria. Immediately cleaning cuts and scrapes can prevent a bacterial infection. Unfortunately, you might not even realize your dog’s paw is cut or injured until the swelling beings.
Left-over debris from home renovations (nails, tools, etc.) can cause injury to a dog’s paw as can a variety of things. Periodically scan your yard for objects that could become embedded in your dog’s paw.
Dogs who walk or run on asphalt, cement, or rough trails can easily injure a nail. Generally, a dog’s nails are strong and healthy. They are usually able to withstand the common wear-and-tear of everyday life.
Fractured nails might happen if the nails have been allowed to grow too long. The general rule of thumb is: if you can hear your dog’s nails clicking on the floor, it’s time to trim their nails. Unfortunately, learning how to cut your dog’s nails the right away isn’t always easy, especially if you have a nervous dog. Cutting nails the wrong way can result in a split nail which can lead to infection.
Nervous about clipping your dog’s nails? Let a professional groomer do it!
Pad injury or cuts (leading to infection)
Think about the places you bring your dog and then consider whether you’d feel comfortable running around in your bare feet? Twigs, sticks, pea gravel, hot asphalt, children’s toys, automobile parts, broken glass, nails, and just about everything else you can imagine are often found in parking lots, yards or on the side of the street.
Dogs are susceptible to the same bites and stings as us. Their sensitive paws can easily become inflamed from insect bites. Other common places for insect bites in dogs are on the belly, legs, and groin area. Insect/fly bites typically leave red marks on the skin. Your dog might gnaw or try to dig at them if they’re particularly itchy.
Although insect bites are more likely to occur in the areas of the body mentioned above, it’s not impossible. Snake, spider, and fly bites are all possible depending on your geographic location.
NOTE: Dogs can be allergic to stings and bites the same way that humans are. If you detect facial swelling or your dog seems to have trouble breathing, contact a veterinarian right away.
Embedded object in the paw
It’s very possible your dog has something embedded in his paw. If he’s in pain, you may need to muzzle him long enough to conduct a quick exam to see if you can find the culprit. Use a muzzle and have someone else hold the dog’s head so that you can feely look at his paws.
An embedded object can be any size. If you can see it, and it’s safe to do so, gently pull the embedded object from the paw. Wipe around the wound with a disinfectant or antibacterial cream, bandage the area, and keep an eye on it.
In some parts of the world (Australia, United Kingdom), grass seeds are commonplace, but painfully serious for dogs who get them. The seeds are small and arrow-shaped at the tip. During the summertime, these grass bits easily get tangled up in the dog’s fur, particularly the paw.
This type of grass seed will burrow into the dog’s fur and make its way to the skin. It soon embeds itself into the skin and will work its way right into the dog’s body where it will get infected.
No matter where you live, consider grass seeds, or other types of flora and fauna that might cause infection and swelling in your dog’s paw.
This isn’t very likely to happen, but there is always a chance. Dogs with very short, fine fur may be at greater risk of a reaction through poison ivy. Poison Ivy affects humans more harshly than animals. If you know you’ve been in an area where poison ivy resides, this could very well be the reason for your dog’s swollen pads.
Pododermatitis is a skin inflammation caused by bacteria, fungus, or a parasite infection. Pododermatitis is caused when primary conditions like thyroid disorders, cancer, poor grooming, or poor air quality affect your dog’s skin. The skin becomes inflamed and painful. Your dog might be itching relentlessly. There may even be discharge from the paws.
Treatment first involves diagnosing the underlying condition. Whatever the cause, antibiotics will likely be given to clear out the bacteria.
In areas where winters are long and cold, cities often use a large type of salt to help melt the ice and prevent accidents. Unfortunately, that salt get stuck between the dog’s paws and can become very irritated and painful.
Winter conditions, especially frigid temperatures, pose a risk of frostbite for dogs left in the cold for extended periods of time. Sometimes, however, sensitive paws can become irritated after a short walk in the cold.
How to Stop Your Dog’s Paw From Bleeding
If there is a relatively big cut on the paw pads, there is going to be a lot of blood. The paws are sensitive and difficult to heal.
A gash may require a trip to the veterinarian who will staple the wound back together. It’s uncomfortable for the dog but very quick and efficient.
A minor cut doesn’t mean it won’t bleed. In fact, you might be surprised and a little shocked at how much blood there is. Stopping your dog’s paw from bleeding isn’t easy unless you can keep your dog still for a time.
Clean the area with hydrogen peroxide or antibacterial wipes. You’ll want to flush the area with warm water first and then give the paw a swipe to clear it of any external bacteria.
A non-stick pad should be placed over the cut and then wrapped with gauze. There’s a good chance your dog will have that gauze torn off within minutes. There are a few things you can do to delay this from happening:
- Buy bitter bandages made for dogs. They’re coated in an unpleasant flavor that deters your dog from chewing the bandage away. Unfortunately, some dogs are so determined that they will get it off regardless. At the very least, it might buy enough time for the bleeding to stop.
- Use a neck cone (Elizabethan cone) to prevent your dog from being able to get his/her mouth on the bandage.
- Have extra bandages and tape ready. Dogs are pretty persistent and sooner or later, that bandage will come off.
More Tips on Causes of Swollen Dog Paws
If the paw is inflamed, but there are not open wounds anywhere, take a minute to do a quick assessment.
- How do the nails look?
- Are there any broken nails?
- Are the nails discolored anywhere?
- Are there any lumps or bumps on the paw? (Very gently feel around, especially between the toes where they might remain unseen).
- Does your dog have a fever? (You can sometimes gauge a fever my feeling the inside of your dog’s ears. The most accurate way is to use a thermometer made specifically for dogs. Use lubricant and wear gloves. Gently insert the thermometer into the dog’s rectum.)
FEVER IS A SIGN OF INFECTION
The normal temperature for dogs is anywhere in the 101 degrees F to 102.5 degrees F.
It’s very possible that the infection was brewing for a few days or longer. If your dog was going about his/her day business-as-usual, you woulnd’t have noticed any changes. The inflammation is one key indicator, especially if there is any redness, pain, itching, or pus.
How to Treat an Infected Dog Paw
The good news is that infections are treatable. The trick is in discovering what caused the infection in the first place. It’s very possible your dog got a small nick, cut, or bite that simply became infected. On the other hand, there could be an underlying condition that you’re not aware of.
Anytime your dog has a serious enough injury to warrant first aid a test for fever, you really should bring him/her to the veterinarian for a professional assessment. A bacterial infection usually warrants a round of antibiotics. If that happens, be sure to ask your veterinarian about probiotics to protect gut flora.
My dog responds very well to Fortiflora (seen in the image below):
Swollen dog paws are an indication that something is wrong. In most cases, it’s nothing too serious. Allergies can cause inflammation and intense itching.
A swollen dog paw isn’t necessarily a cause for concern. After doing a check to make sure there’s nothing embedded in the paw, clean the area and try to wrap the paw to prevent bacteria from entering the wound. Paws tend to bleed a lot, so don’t be alarmed if that is the case with your dog.
A small wound should stop bleeding within a couple of hours. If the wound is quite large or gaping, it’s going to bleed for a while. In fact, if you can see a piece of the paw hanging open or there appears to be a large slice taken out, you’re better off bringing your dog to the veterinarian for assessment.
At the end of the day, time and a little TLC is the only true healer. Watch for signs of infection and pay attention to your dog’s behaviour. Infection doesn’t always set in right away. If you notice your dog limping or not putting weight on the paw, he/she may have something more serious going on.
When in doubt always bring your dog to the veterinarian for assessment.
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Veterinary Clinics: Small Animal Practice