A dog paw injury is fairly common. However, knowing that doesn’t make it any easier on your dog or on you. Your dog is in pain and you have to watch him suffer, so you both feel just terrible!
The good news here is, lots of effective treatments are available to help ease your dog’s suffering (and your own). Even better, for most injuries, you can learn to treat your dog’s paw at home so neither of you has to cope with the stress and expense of visiting the veterinarian.
Whether the paw pad injury is minor or severe, you can find high quality treatment information for the most common dog paw injuries in this article.
Facts about dog paws
The first step to successfully treating a dog paw injury is to get a better understanding of dog paw anatomy. The dog paw is actually a wonderfully sophisticated appendage that bears more than a passing resemblance to our own hands and feet.
Here are some fascinating facts about your dog’s paws:
– Dogs have four major bones in each paw. These four bones are called the metatarsals and the metacarpals.
– A dog’s paw is similar in anatomy to the joint structure of human hands and feet. The bones are jointed in three places so that the toes can bend and move in great detail (although a dog can’t wiggle their toes like you can).
– Dogs are digitigrade mammals. This means that they walk on their toes, not on their paw pads or toenails.
– The word “paw” is thought to the word “pauta.” This word can be traced back to the ancient Roman empire during its 500-year rule of Gaul, a large region in Western Europe. Pauta literally translates to mean “clog.”
– There are three basic dog paw shapes. The three shapes are cat, hare and webbed. For mixed-breed dogs, it is common to see hybrid paw shapes, such as the “cat-webbed.” Originally, the paw shape evolved to help that dog breed better navigate its native terrain.
– Historians are still not certain how the dog got its name. It is possible the word “dog” has Germanic origins, specifically arising from the root word “dokga.”
– Different dog breeds have different numbers of toes. All dogs have at least four toes on all four paws. Some dogs, however, have an extra toe located slightly higher up on the paw. This is called “dewclaw” and anatomy experts believe it may be a vestigial thumb! Some dogs have dewclaws only on their front paws, while others have dewclaws on all four paws. Some dogs also have two dewclaws on their rear paws.
– A dog paw has five paw pads. The metacarpal pad is the central, large paw pad that often looks like it is heart-shaped. The metatarsal pad is the large paw pad to the rear of the paw. The carpal pad is located just in front of the dewclaw. The digital pads are located slightly behind the nail bed on each toe.
– Dog paws have their own sweat glands. These glands are located just inside the outermost layer of skin. The glands help dogs hydrate and protect their paws.
Common paw pad injuries
Even with dog anatomy specifically designed to help protect paw pads from injury, it is not possible to prevent all types of injuries from occurring. Some injuries are more common than others, simply because of how the average dog tends to spend her time.
This list represents the most common dog carpal pad injury issues you are likely to encounter:
- Lodged items. Grass seeds, cockleburs, small pebbles, wood chips, broken glass and other uncomfortable items can get lodged in between your dog’s paw pads.
- Burns. The most common reason why your dog’s paw pads might sustain burns is because of walking on too-hot surfaces. When the surface is very hot, such as sun-heated concrete or sand, your dog’s paw pads may also form blisters or skin ulcers.
- Chapping and cracking. Cold weather can be just as hard on your dog’s sensitive paw pads as hot weather. Here, you may see paw pads cracking, chapping, blistering or infection, especially if any toxic substance has gotten frozen into the ice.
- Allergies. Dogs can suffer from allergies just like people can. When dogs get allergies, the histamines produced by your dog’s immune system can cause the sensitive paw pads to itch. If you see your dog licking or scratching at her paws and you can’t find any other reason, it might be allergies!
- Nutritional deficiencies. If your dog isn’t getting sufficient daily vitamins and minerals from his diet, these deficiencies can cause his skin to crack, itch, flake or become dry and irritated.
- Auto-immune disease. Certain dog breeds can be more susceptible to auto-immune diseases. These diseases make your dog’s immune system think it is under attack when it isn’t. This can cause your dog’s paw pads to become irritated, inflamed, itchy, cracked or ulcerated.
Paw injury symptoms
In most cases, your dog will likely display genetically stoic behavior. This behavior, which has evolved from the canine’s wild ancestors, is a protective instinct to avoid appearing weak or vulnerable. This behavior can make it hard to detect when your dog is not feeling well.
But when it comes to a dog paw pad injury, if it is bothersome or painful enough, your dog will show it with these symptoms:
- Picking the whole paw up off the ground and walking on three legs.
- Limping when putting pressure on the injured paw pads.
- Whimpering in pain when the injured pad is touched.
- Licking at the paw pads repeatedly.
- Blood, pus or odor arising from the paw pad area.
How to treat paw injuries
It can be intensely distressing to witness your dog exhibiting any of the symptoms of an injured paw pad. There can also be the tendency to panic, especially if you are a new dog owner or this is the first time your dog has gotten injured in this way.
But panicking won’t help your dog or you. What will help is to follow these steps:
1. Inspect the paw
Your first order of business is to identify the injured paw and conduct a thorough inspection. If your dog seems protective of the paw, you can use a favorite toy or treat to distract her so you can take a look. You will want to look for small lodged items first by checking between each toe and around each paw pad. Next, look for any signs of abrasion, swelling, blistering, cracking, irritation or bleeding. Also check for odor by sniffing the paw – an “off” odor could indicate infection.
2. Clean the wound
The best way to clean the wounded area is with semi-warm or room temperature water and a soft, clean washcloth. Add a bit of unscented castile soap to the water. Your first step here should be to remove any debris or trapped matter. Many dog owners find that a tweezers works well to do this. If your dog doesn’t seem to want to let you remove trapped matter and you are not comfortable doing so, just do your best to gently wash the wound site and schedule a veterinarian visit.
3. Sooth any burns
If the wound turns out to be a skin burn or blister, you will want to try to soothe the pain your dog is feeling before moving on to the disinfectant stage. Some ice or a cold pack wrapped in a soft towel and applied to the burn site can temporarily ease pain so you can at least get a closer look at the injury. Any burn that blisters should be seen by your veterinarian as well.
4. Disinfect the wound
If you were able to fully remove any lodged matter and clean the wound, your next task will be to disinfect the wound site. This is critical to avoid infection setting in or prevent existing infection from getting worse. You can use Betadine (povidone iodine) diluted in water. Betadine (unlike hydrogen peroxide or rubbing alcohol) won’t sting, so your dog will likely tolerate it better. To do this, first let the paw air dry. Then use a clean cotton ball to dab on some diluted Betadine. Finally, let the Betadine air dry.
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5. Apply antiseptic
If the wound is still bleeding, you will need to do your best to stop the bleeding before you apply antiseptic to the wound site. You can use a clean soft folded cloth or surgical gauze and apply pressure until the site clots. If you are not able to get the wound to stop bleeding, stop what you are doing and take your dog to the vet. If you are able to stop any bleeding, once the disinfectant has dried, you can use an antiseptic cream in a light coating over the wound. Neosporin or Vetericyn are both safe for your dog even if he tries to lick it off.
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6. Wrap the wound for protection
The toughest part is always going to be keeping the wound clean and dry while it heals. Your dog will want to lick at the wound site, so you will need to keep the wound bandaged or protected with a sock-let as best you can until the wound has healed. A good strategy is to lightly wrap the wounded paw in surgical gauze and then wrap a layer of self-adhesive sports tape around the gauze. Apply a deterrent spray to stop your dog licking.
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7. Monitor the wound
You should check the wound at least once to twice daily depending on how active your dog is. You should change the dressing at least once per day until the wound heals.
If it does not get better, go to the vet. If you have taken all of the steps listed here and you do not see improvement to the wound site or to your dog’s comfort level after a day or so, you should definitely take your dog to the vet for a checkup. There may be some deeper issue, such as infection or ulceration, that is causing additional pain. It is best to visit the vet quickly rather than wait and risk the wound site getting worse.
How to prevent paw injuries
Dogs will be dogs, and sometimes all of our best efforts to keep them safe and healthy and all in one piece simply don’t pan out. In other words, a dog paw pad injury can happen even when you take every precaution, and it is not your fault.
However, these preventative tips can help you keep injuries and wounds to a minimum:
Stay away from unusually hot or cold surfaces
It is true that dog paw pads are made for walking, but unless your dog is used to plenty of outdoor time in rough terrain, those paw pads are soft rather than tough and can be injured easily. If you don’t want to walk on it barefooted, you can bet it will be uncomfortable for your dog too!
Avoid small debris or broken glass
Unfortunately, humans can be very careless in how waste gets discarded. It won’t always be possible to scope out small glass bits in the grass or a hidden nail or pop top. But always just keep an eye out and avoid any area that seems unusually full of debris that might cause your dog paw pad pain.
Use Mushers Secret Pet Protection Wax
This wax was first developed to protect the paw pads of sled dogs, whose paws are routinely exposed to bitter cold temperatures. Once applied, it forms a thick protective layer between your dog’s paw pads and the surface. This wax is natural and food-grade so it is safe even if your dog licks at it. It is also semi-permeable, which means your dog’s paws will still sweat naturally to maintain optimal moisture balance. All you have to do is spread the wax on your dog’s paws and rub it in once or twice per week depending on how active your dog is. Take care to rub it up between the paw pads and toes as well for complete protection.
Use dog boots
Dog boots are normally worn by working dogs in rough terrains. They protect your dog’s paw just like our shoes protect our feet. Glass, seeds and any other sharp objects are prevented from getting in.
These tips can definitely help you prevent a dog paw pad injury, both by knowing what dangers to look for and by using Mushers Secret Pet Protection Wax to minimize the risk of many common paw pad injuries.
But in the case when your dog does sustain an injury in the paw pad area, you can also use these tips to provide prompt first aid either as a stand-alone at-home remedy or until you can get your dog to the veterinarian for professional medical evaluation and care.