If you've never given your dog's paw pads much thought, you should! Pads are the thick, spongy, rubbery part of your dog's paw. Dogs rely on their paw pads to absorb shock, make traction with the surface on which they're walking (or running, sliding, slipping, etc.), insulate their paws from extreme temperatures, and to protect them from whatever is underfoot. Watch your dog's paws when you take him out for a walk or a play session, and you’ll realize how much punishment his pads take on a daily basis.
With ground contact occurring every step of a dog's life, paw pads have evolved into a tough and resilient part of his body. But, tough as they are, paw pads are not made of armor. That’s why it's not uncommon for vets to find dogs with paw pad injuries coming into the office for emergency care.
Typical paw pad injuries
Common paw pad injuries include lacerations, punctures and abrasions. If a dog steps on glass or other sharp objects, even the toughest paw pad can get cut. Paw pads can also be injured by extreme temperatures, and it’s not unknown for dogs to experience burned paw pads on very hot days. In addition, paw pads can be hurt by chemical spills on the ground.
How to tell if your dog has a paw pad injury
If you've personally seen your dog step into a chemical or tread on glass or an extremely hot surface, you’ll probably know almost immediately if he has injured his paw pads. However, injuries may not always be witnessed firsthand, and sometimes the symptoms occur a short time after the actual injury taken place.
Symptoms of paw pad injuries include bleeding, limping, excessive licking of the pad, discoloration, and reluctance on your dog’s part to put weight on his paw.
What to do if your dog injures a paw pad
Treatment depends on the type of injury sustained. Here are a few first aid tips:
Cleaning the wound—First, determine if there is any debris, such as glass, in the wound. If there is, remove it. Washing the injured paw is a good idea, if clean water is available. Swishing the paw in the water could help to dislodge any small pieces of debris that might still be in the injury.
Stop the bleeding—Once the paw has been cleaned, apply pressure on the paw pad with a bandage or other clean and absorbent material. Try to maintain some pressure on the wound until the bleeding stops. If the cut is small, the bleeding may stop in short order. However, if the cut is very deep, you may not be able to stop the bleeding on your own—and a trip to the veterinarian’s office for expert care will be necessary.
Soothing burns—If you’ve ever attempted to walk barefoot on a sun-bathed sidewalk in the summer, you know how scorching it can be. Even though paw pads are tough, they can still burn. You can help soothe the burn with an icepack or the cool, gentle running water of a garden hose or faucet. If your dog steps into a harsh chemical, immediately flush the entire paw with cool water. Keep the water running until all traces of the chemical are washed away.
Next stop: the vet's office
Your dog's paws are difficult-to-heal areas of his body. That's why even less-severe injuries could require a visit to the vet's office. Many paw pad injuries require proper cleaning and bandaging—and some may need more intensive care. Your vet will also tell you how to properly care for the treated injury at home during the time it takes the paw to heal.
An ounce of prevention
To help prevent paw pad injuries, inspect areas where your dog will be playing. Remove all sharp debris and wash away chemical spills. In the summer, try to keep your dog from walking on extremely hot surfaces—grass and earth are almost always cooler and more inviting to walk on under the summer sun. And when taking your dog out for a walk, watch the ground in front of your dog to avoid any dangerous surprises.