Your dog’s paw pads act much like the soles of sneakers, protecting your dog’s foot and cushioning each step. Paw pads are tough, but they can still be cut by sharp objects or worn off if your dog runs hard on rough terrain. What should you do when your dog cuts or tears a pad?
1. Clean the wound.
Gently flush the wound with water or an antiseptic, such as diluted chlorhexidine solution. If there is obvious debris, such as rocks or glass, remove it carefully. Don’t force anything that is lodged deep into the foot.
2. Control bleeding.
Apply pressure to the wound to stop any bleeding. Use a clean towel and an ice pack if available to encourage blood-vessel constriction. If only the outer layer of the pad has been worn off, there may not be much bleeding, but deeper wounds and punctures can bleed heavily. The time it takes for bleeding to stop will vary with the severity of the wound.
3. Evaluate the damage.
Minor paw injuries can be managed at home, but more severe ones require veterinary attention. Uncontrolled bleeding is an emergency – if your dog’s foot continues to bleed after several minutes of pressure, call your veterinarian and head for the clinic. Deep or jagged cuts may require sutures for optimal healing. Your dog may need to be sedated for sufficient cleaning of the wound if there is persistent debris, such as little bits of gravel, and something that is firmly lodged in the foot will need to be surgically removed. Your dog may also need antibiotics to protect against infection. If you are at all unsure, err on the side of a vet visit – your veterinarian can give you peace of mind and can give your dog the care he needs.
Place nonstick gauze or a Telfa pad directly over the cut. If available, a dab of triple antibiotic ointment is a good idea to prevent infection. This can be secured with paper tape. Then wrap your dog’s foot using roll gauze, Vetrap, or an elastic bandage. The bandage should be snug enough to stay on, but also needs to be loose enough to allow for proper circulation to your dog’s foot. You should be able to slide two fingers under the bandage. To prevent the bandage from slipping off, wrap all the way up to and including the next joint on your dog’s leg: carpus or wrist in front, hock in back. You can also place more tape around the top of the bandage.
Keep the bandage dry. Moisture provides an entrance for bacteria to get through the bandage and into the wound. You can use a commercial bootie to protect the bandage when your dog goes outside or just tape a plastic bag over it. Most paw bandages need to be changed daily, especially if there is still bleeding or a discharge present.
For minor scrapes that look like a rug burn, a liquid bandage can be used to cover the exposed nerve endings without needing a full traditional bandage. Keep the foot elevated while the liquid bandage dries, and don’t let your dog lick it.
5. Allow time for healing.
Your dog’s cut paw pad will heal faster if it’s protected until fully healed. Keep him quiet, and prevent him from running or chewing at the bandage (this may require the use of an Elizabethan collar). Even after your dog’s pad has healed enough that it isn’t painful to touch, it will still be tender and vulnerable to reinjury. Avoid activities that could damage the healing pad, or use a bootie to protect the foot. Healing time will vary depending on the size of the cut.
Kate Eldredge is a licensed veterinary technician from Plattsburgh, New York. She also trains, shows, and breeds Belgian Tervuren and is working on her canine-rehabilitation certification.