First Aid for Torn or Injured Foot Pads in Dogs

By Ryan Llera, BSc, DVM; Lynn Buzhardt, DVM

What is the importance of my dog’s foot pads?

Although lowly in position, your dog’s feet occupy a top spot in importance. How can a dog navigate the world without the support of four healthy feet? And the pads on the bottom of those feet are where “the rubber meets the road!”

These pads are the thick, cushioned part of the dog’s feet that absorb every step and provide traction to prevent slipping. Foot pads protect bones and joints from the shock incurred by running and walking. They also insulate the foot from extreme weather (hot and cold) and aid navigation of uneven or rough terrain.

What happens if my dog hurts his foot pads?

Healthy foot pads are crucial, so injuries need prompt attention. If your dog limps, or licks at her pads, he may have a foot pad that is torn, punctured, or burned.

A torn foot pad does not hold stitches well, so cuts and punctures take longer to heal. Walking on the injured foot often opens up the wound and further delays healing. And if infection sets in, your dog may end up with more than just foot problems. Since even minor foot pad injuries can be stubborn, it is a good idea to provide first aid at home and then see your veterinarian promptly.

What should I do if my dog has a torn foot pad?

There are a few first aid basics that you can provide at home until you can see your veterinarian:

  • Clean the wound. Look for debris or foreign objects such as glass or metal shards that may be lodged in the pad. If the foreign object is located where you can easily grasp it with tweezers, gently remove it. Swishing the paw in cool water or spraying the paw with a hose may help dislodge tiny particles. If the debris is lodged deeply, leave it alone. Digging too deeply will only worsen the injury and cause pain. Deep-seated foreign bodies need to be extracted by your veterinarian who can sedate your dog to make the procedure more comfortable. Use mild anti-bacterial soap to disinfect the wound.
  • To control bleeding, apply pressure to the wound with a clean towel. Minor tears will stop bleeding in a matter of minutes, but deeper wounds take longer to stabilize. Also, bleeding may reoccur when your dog puts pressure on the foot. If you cannot stop the bleeding within 10-15 minutes, this is an emergency, take your dog to the emergency veterinary clinic.
  • Contain the wound by applying a bandage. Use gauze pads to cushion the bottom of the foot and absorb blood. The gauze padding will also decrease the pain of walking on the foot. To keep gauze in place, wrap the entire foot in a self-sticking product such as Vet Wrap. It is important to cover the paw from the toes up to and including the ankle (tarsus) or wrist (carpus). Covering the toes will prevent them from swelling and covering the ankle or wrist joint will prevent the bandage from slipping off. Make sure the bandage is not too tight. You should be able to insert two fingers between the bandage and the leg.
  • Change the bandage daily. If your dog chews at the bandage, spray it with an anti-lick product such as bitter apple spray. Keep the bandage dry by taping a plastic bag over it when he walks on wet grass. Pay close attention during bandage changes. If the toes become swollen or if you note a foul odor or moist discharge, consult your veterinarian. These signs may indicate compromised circulation or infection that can result in permanent damage to the foot. If the wound continues to bleed or gapes open after three days, visit your veterinarian who can provide antibiotics and pain medication that will promote faster healing.

What should I do if my dog has a burned foot pad?

In addition to cuts and punctures, dogs often injure their pads when exposed to extreme temperatures or chemicals. Even though foot pads are tough, they can burn on a scorching sidewalk in the middle of the summer or on icy surfaces during the winter. If your dog licks at his feet or limps after a summer or winter stroll, soothe his pads by soaking the foot in room temperature water. If the pads become discolored or if the tissue under the pad becomes exposed, contact your veterinarian. Severe burns need to be treated by your veterinarian.

Burns can also be caused by chemicals. If your dog steps into a caustic substance, hold the foot under running water for several minutes. Then wash the paw in mild soap and rinse thoroughly. Make sure you wear gloves to avoid skin irritation. What burns your dog may burn you too.

Apply antibiotic ointment, such as Polysporin, to the burned foot pad and bandage the paw. Daily bandage changes and close monitoring of the injury are important. Report any changes to your veterinarian.

How can I prevent foot pad injuries?

Try to avoid foot injuries in your dog by surveying the area where your dog plays and walks. Remove any broken glass, sharp objects, or pieces of metal. Avoid hot sidewalks in the summer and icy or salt covered sidewalks or roads in the winter. Remember if you would not want to walk barefoot in certain areas, your pet should not walk there.

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