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Everything You Need to Know About Swollen Dog Paws

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.

Swollen Dog Paws and the Ordinary Things That Cause Them

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 injuries that could cause swollen dog paws include:

Minor Infection

An inflamed paw could easily be caused by a bacterial infection. Bacteria enters the body through a cut or abrasion.

It can be caused by airborne bacteria, but (in a dog’s paw) is more likely caused by bacteria in the soil.

Use the Right Product to Avoid Minor Infection

White blood cells multiply in an attempt to fight the bacteria. They gather around the offending substance and create a protective pocket (inflammation). The swelling is a sign that the body’s immune system is working properly. It creates signs (warmth, redness, swelling, and pain) that tell us something is wrong.

Before the skin becomes infected, clean the cut right away. Use antiseptic wipes or peroxide on a clean, soft cloth to wipe away any impurities as soon as you see open skin.

Prevent your dog from licking at the cut until it heals over. The more your dog licks at it, the longer it will take to heal, and the greater the chance of infection.

Nail Injury

Dogs who walk or run on asphalt, cement, or rocky terrain 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.  However, any outdoor activity could cause the dog’s nails to wear down, chip, and even break.

Trim your dog’s nails regularly or take him/her to the groomer. My rule of thumb is:  if you can hear your dog’s nails tapping on the floor when he/she walks, it’s time to trim the nails.

You have to watch this HILARIOUS video of a nutty dog getting his nails trimmed.

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.

Insect bites

I am from Nova Scotia, and the types of insect bites we get around here are nothing more than a nuisance. It hurts when they bite, but there’s nothing venomous or particularly dangerous. However, there are a few exceptions.  Allergies to bees, mosquitoes, and deer flies have been shown to leave quite a welt on the skin after being bitten. It’s painful and itchy. The area becomes red and swelling occurs around the site of the bite.

Dogs are susceptible to the same bites and stings as us. Their sensitive paws can easily become inflamed from allergies, bites, diseases and congenital conditions.

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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 Disinfectant Formulated for Dogs

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, using tweezers if necessary. Wipe around the wound with a disinfectant or antibacterial cream formulated for dogs.

Grass Seed

In some parts of the world (Australia, United Kingdom), grass seeds are common, but painfully serious for dogs who get them. The seeds are small and arrow-shaped at the tip. Grass bits easily get tangled 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.

Poison Ivy

I never thought dog’s could be affected by poison ivy, but apparently they can. Short dogs with less fur coverage could easily walk through a patch of poison ivy, creating a blistered rash over any skin exposed to the toxic oil.

Of course, any dog could walk over the plant, causing red, irritated paws. You’ll notice tiny bumps that look like pimples.  Given the location of the paws, there’s a good chance those “pimples” (called papules) will break open. If that happens, the irritant spreads further.

Use gloves before touching or treating the area if you suspect your dog has been exposed to poison ivy.  Call the veterinarian. He/she will be able to prescribe a topical ointment to treat the area.

The video below is a lighthearted take on a very itchy dog.


This type of infection doesn’t necessarily cause swollen dog paws, but it can cause itchy, irritated skin. You might notice a thickening of the skin and a strong musty odor. Yeast infections are common in dogs and can be caused by medications (steroids), suppressed immune system, and an increase in oil secretions on the skin.

Mild cases are treated with anti-fungal, medicated shampoos. More severe cases may require anti-fungal medications.


Pododermatitis isn’t actually a condition, but the term used to describe skin inflammation. In particular, it is the inflammation of skin between the toes and foot pads.

This type of inflammation can be caused by:

Swollen Dog Paws Are Rarely Caused by Cancer, But…

Sometimes, nodules felt between your dog’s toes are cancerous tumors. A reddish, small nodule could be a sign of squamous cell carcinoma and should be looked at by a veterinarian.

Squamous cell carcinoma is a malignant cancer that usually only affects one toe. Normally, it affects the skin, bone, and tissue around the nail. 

If the veterinarian suspects cancer, he/she will likely want to do a biopsy on the tissue before proceeding with treatment.

Big Cut –  Big Blood

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.  This happened to my dog and it took a lot of gauze and wrap to hold the cut together and stop the bleeding.

After a day of trying to manage the cut, I took him to the veterinarian. The veterinarian STAPLED his paw back together. I was horrified but surprised at how little it bothered my dog.

If There is no Cut

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.  Normal temperatures range from 101 degrees to 102.5 degrees).

Your dog’s nature will dictate how this assessment and care goes down. Some dogs will need a muzzle or restraint, and other dogs will let you do the at-home examination with ease.

My dog falls into the latter category, with a few exceptions. He’s nervous, but I’m able to manage him safely on my own.  If there is any risk of biting whatsoever, do not attempt these things on your own.


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 would not have noticed any changes. The inflammation is one key indicator, especially if there is any redness, pain, itching, or pus.


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, or a test for fever, you really should bring him/her to the veterinarian for a professional assessment.

Summing it Up

Generally, swollen dog paws are the result of a paw injuries, allergies, or disease.

If you can easily identify the cause of swelling, and you’ve carefully removed any embedded objects, carefully clean the area and apply ice. If the condition does not improve or gets worse, please bring your dog to the veterinarian.

Now that you have solid knowledge on what causes swollen dog paws, go ahead and share it with your friends and family.  Other dog lovers will appreciate this free gift!

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