Foot injuries can be particularly problematic for dogs since it is so very hard to immobilize a dog or limit the movement and pressure on the pads of their feet when they walk. A dog's foot is designed to uniformly and evenly balance the weight when the dog moves, not like a human foot where we can voluntarily shift our weight from the front to the back or from side to side. Dogs can limp or they can just touch down on the tip of the pads for balance, but that is about all the movement options that they have. Responding to foot injuries and providing treatment as soon as possible is key to prevent long-term damage to the foot.
Foot injuries in dogs are usually caused by issues such as cut paws and pads, overly long or splintered toenails, debris or mats of hair trapped between the pads or more serious injuries such as lesions, infections or broken bones in the foot. Each type of foot injury requires special care and treatment and while some can be attended to by the owner it is always a good idea to have the foot examined by a vet to ensure that there are not more injuries and problems than a first glance or surface examination may show.
Cuts on the Foot
Dogs can easily have their pads cut on both natural surfaces and artificial surfaces. The pad of a dog's foot is very leathery and tough but sharp rocks, gravel, broken glass or sharp metal and even wear from walking on very rough surfaces can result in cuts and abrasions. Dogs tend to have a very high pain threshold or tolerance, which means that they can be injured and not appear to show any signs of pain or injury. Don't assume that because the dog is not limping significantly or does not appear to be favoring the foot that the cut or injury is not serious and does not require medical care and attention.
In addition to specific items cutting the foot, the paw and pads can also be damaged by excessive drying and cracking. This condition is most commonly seen in dogs that have health issues and may be suffering from dehydration or other digestive or metabolic disorders that cause the skin to become excessively dry. Some medications can also cause dehydration so it is very important to monitor your dog's feet and overall health if the vet has indicated this could be a side effect of the particular drug or medication.
If the dog's foot is bleeding in any amount, immediately and calmly examine the pad of the foot, without moving or pressing on the area. If there is an obvious gash or cut, carefully and gentle check to see if there is any material embedded in the cut. Typically this will be shards of metal, glass or even a very sharp rock that has penetrated the pad and been forced into the wound through the dog walking on the foot. If at all possible wrap the foot in a clean cloth or bandage, without removing the foreign object. Often the object itself is limiting the blood loss and pulling it out will result in significantly more bleeding. If you can see the object is very small and you know that it is just slightly embedded, you can remove it carefully with tweezers or your fingers, but be very, very careful not to twist it or break part of it off. Objects or parts of objects left in the flesh will result in infections and poor healing of the wound. Immediately spray the area with an antibacterial spray if available and bandage the whole foot to keep dirt out of the open wound. Do not apply creams or salves at this time as these can actually delay the healing process.
Take the dog to the vet as soon as possible and have the vet check for infections or any possible matter still in the wound. The vet may recommend antibiotic creams or even shots if the infection has progressed to a more significant level. The dog may also lick at the wound on the foot and this can be part of the natural healing process, so discuss this with your vet if you have any concerns.
Mats and Debris
On medium to longhaired breeds there is always the chance that a mat or tangle of hair has developed between the pads that is causing an irritation and limping. Sometimes small twigs, leaves and other debris can become embedded in the hair between the pads, leading to further irritation. In situations where this mat is not removed it can lead to lesions and irritations that cause bleeding and may also become seriously infected. Check between the dog's pads by gently applying soft pressure to the top of the pad when holding the dog's foot. This can best be done with the thumb on the top of the paw at the base of the toes and the fingers held on the bottom of the paw. This will cause the pads to spread slightly, allowing you to examine between the pads.
Keep the hair between the dog's pads trimmed and short and carefully examine the areas between the toes to look for any signs of matting or irritation.
Long nails are more prone to breaking as well as curling under and further irritating the pads or causing extreme pressure on the foot. Keep the nails trimmed flat to the floor with good quality, sharp guillotine or slotted style nail trimmers designed specifically for dogs. In addition filing any splinters or sharp areas on the nails is critical to prevent painful breaks and snags.
There are also fungal infections that dog's can get on their nails, just like the fungal infections that can be found in humans. If the dog's nails seem overly soft or discolored or become very dry and brittle have them examined by your vet for signs of fungus or other health conditions.