A dog’s paws are genuinely remarkable and complex pieces of anatomy. Dogs sweat through their paws which makes them vital for maintaining normal body temperatures. Their paws are an excellent alternative to human stress balls – a few licks at the popcorn-smelling feet, and the stress is gone. However, the dog’s paws are sensitive and prone to a variety of health issues that may result in swelling and limping. Any sign of foot swelling, lameness, leg favoring, and hobbling warrants further investigation. As a pet owner, taking care of your dog includes paying attention to their movements and behavior. When an issue arises, the sooner you recognize the signs and take action, the sooner your dog will get back on all fours.
What Causes Swollen Paws?
As a complex structure, the dog’s paw is made of different body structures, including skin, muscles, ligaments, tendons, joints, bones, nerves, and blood vessels. A swollen paw in a dog may affect one or more of these body structures. Usually, swollen paws in dogs remain unnoticed until limping occurs. In cases where your dog is limping and you suspect one of the dog’s paws is to blame, compare them. If one paw is significantly bigger, it mostly means that it’s swollen. A swollen paw is usually red and warm to the touch.
Causes of Swollen Paws in Dogs
Determining the cause of the paw swelling is vital as treatment, care, and prognosis depends on the underlying condition.These are the most common causes of swollen paws in dogs.
Paw trauma is by far the most common cause of swollen paws. This category includes many different factors like:
- Paw pad burns (hot surfaces or chemicals) and frostbites (cold surfaces)
- Insect bites on the toe pads
- Torn claws, ingrown nails
- Punctured by a foreign object (foxtail, splinter)
- Embedded material (dirt, fur, grass awns)
- Paw pad lacerations (sharp object like glass, metal)
Many bone conditions can result in a swollen paw, including:
- Fractures (claws, foot, toe or leg bones)
- Cysts and tumors
- Panosteitis – inflammation of the leg bones
- Osteomyelitis – specific kind of bone infection.
Joint injury is a common swollen paw cause. There are different types of joint problems:
- Arthritis (old-age, immune-triggered)
- Limb/paw joint tumors
- Limb/paw joint infections
Soft Tissue Damage
The dog’s paw skin, connective tissues, tendons and ligaments, despite of its thick appearance, can easily get injured. The skin and connective tissue are prone to infections and certain types of cancer while tendons and ligaments are prone to rupture.
It may not seem like something related, but the following systemic conditions can result in swollen paws:
- Blood clotting abnormalities
- Liver, kidney, and heart diseases
- Severe allergies (environmental and food allergies)
Symptoms of Inflammation in Paws
The medical term for paw inflammation is pododermatitis. If the dog’s paws are inflamed, the following signs and symptoms can be expected:
- Bleeding or discharge from the paws
- Redness and swelling between the toes or pads
- Biting nails
- Cracking of the pads
- Reluctance to bear weight on the affected leg
- Excessive foot licking and chewing
- Foul odor
- Presence of foot lumps
- Paw pads sloughing
- Excessive foot warmth
Pododermatitis can occur in all dogs regardless of age, breed, and sex. However, based on statistics, the following dog breeds are more likely to develop inflammation in their paws:
- Alaskan Malamute
- Bedlington terrier
- Doberman Pinscher
- Dogue de Bordeaux
- English Bulldog
- Golden Retriever
- Great Dane
- Irish terrier
- Kerry Blue terrier
- Labrador Retriever
- Siberian Husky
Causes of dog paw inflammation and swelling
The reasons for paw inflammations in dogs can be classified in several categories:
- Allergies – This include food, contact, and environmental allergies. Regardless of the type of allergy, skin issues, especially in the paw area, are almost always present.
- Bacterial or fungal infection – in these cases, in addition to the swelling, the feet will be itchy, moist, and foul-smelling.
- Environmental injury – feet inflammations and swelling can be associated with walking on excessively hot or cold surfaces, chemical burns, insect stings, and foreign objects.
- Immune-mediated conditions – paw inflammation is a common sign of many immune-mediated disorders in pets. For example, Pemphigus foliaceus triggers pad hyperkeratosis that results in paw swelling and pain.
- Tumors – leg and paw or toe tumors are common reasons for paw swelling in dogs.
Reasons Why Your Dog is Limping
Limping in dogs is most likely a sign of pain. The important question is, what’s causing the pain? There are many issues that can result in limping. Some are more serious and warrant urgent trips to the vet clinic while others are benign and easier to manage. According to Dr. Jennifer Coates, some of the most common limping causes in dogs are:
- Foreign materials
- Nerve damage
- Infectious conditions
Dog with Lameness – Simple Procedures You Can Do at Home
Providing optimal pet care at home is not possible. However, there are several things you can do to provide temporary relief while waiting for the scheduled appointment with your vet. If your dog’s limping and swelling needs basic home care, follow these steps:
- Carefully examine the paw and the area between the toes (you can use CBD oil infused cookies to relax your pet)
- If there is a visible foreign object remove it wit tweezers and then clean the paw with lukewarm and soapy water
- Soak your dog’s paw in an Epsom salt solution. The salt solution provides quick and temporary relief from the pain and swelling.
If you lack resources, call your trusted vet. Describe the problem and ask if there is anything else you can do to help your dog before the appointment. Based on the severity of your dog’s limping and swelling, sometimes it is best to skip these steps and immediately head towards the nearest vet clinic.
Other Symptoms of Swollen Paws
In addition to the obvious enlargement, redness, and increased warmth, swollen paws trigger many changes. However, not every sign of paw swelling is easily visible. In some cases the signs are more subtle and more generalized. Paw swelling in dogs involves the following symptoms:
- Paw licking and/or chewing
- Redness of the foot and/or toes
- Skin ulcerations
- Localized paw hair loss
- Open wounds and bleeding
- Discharge between toes or paw pads
- Foot pain
- Holding the foot up
- Abnormal feet stance
- Any kind of limping or limb favoring
- Abnormal walking
- Reluctance to walk up and down stairs
- Reluctance to jump
As mentioned, some signs are generalized and can be associated with many health conditions and not just paw swelling. These include:
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- Exercise intolerance
Diagnosing Swollen Paws: When to See the Vet
Paw swelling in dogs is always a good reason to call your veterinarian. When it comes to paw swelling and limping there is not much you can do at home, unless of course, in case of an open wound or foreign object, you can provide first aid, but follow up veterinary care is necessary.
Considering there are many paw swelling causes in dogs, when talking to your vet you will need to be as detailed as possible. Tell your veterinarian what signs you noticed first and when you noticed them. If there was anything unusual since the paw swelling and limping started do not forget to inform your veterinarian as well. Not all questions will be related with the paw problem. For example, your vet may ask about:
- Changes in your dog’s eating, drinking, and bathroom habits
- Non-specific signs like lethargy, vomiting, diarrhea, sneezing, coughing
- Chronic diseases and ongoing medical regimens
Although the veterinarian knows the problem is in the leg, specifically the foot or paw areas of the leg, the physical exam must be performed following a strict protocol. Based on that protocol, the vet must start with a thorough full body examination. Once the full body exam is done, the veterinarian will focus on the affected leg. The vet will check the bones and joints, evaluate the motion range of the legs and joints, assess any visible signs of injury or infection, and search for specific pain areas.
Additional Diagnostic Procedures
Based on the information acquired through the anamnesis and physical exam, the veterinarian might order additional diagnostic tests for further diagnosis and understanding of the dog’s condition.
Blood Test and Urinalysis
These tests will help the veterinarian evaluate the overall physical health of your dog. Unless there are specific concerns, the vet will suggest checking the complete blood cell counts and blood chemistry profile.
Also known as radiographs, x-ray images provide useful information about bones and soft tissues. The vet may need images of the affected leg or both legs if he/she suspects a systemic disease or compensatory problems in the non-favoring limb.
Heart ultrasound (echocardiogram) is performed to rule out heart disease as a paw swelling cause. If liver or kidney problems are suspected, the vet will perform an abdominal ultrasound.
Puncturing and Biopsy
If the veterinarian suspects infection complications like abscess or abnormal growths like cysts or tumors, he/she will puncture the swollen areas of the paw.Puncturing a swollen paw is painful for the dog and is performed under sedation and local anesthesia.Foot tissue biopsy is another painful procedure that warrants sedation and anesthesia. It is ordered when the vet suspects the paw swelling causes are of inflammatory or cancerous nature.
The vet will perform a joint tap if the paw swelling seems to be triggered by inflammation, infections, autoimmune diseases or cancerous formations within the joints. Once again, sedation and light anesthesia is recommended.
Swollen Paw Recovery
The treatment for paw swelling depends on the underlying cause. The underlying cause also determines the prognosis and recovery period length for your dog. When dealing with paw swelling, based on the main problem, the vet is likely to suggest some of the following treatment options:
- Antibiotics – When infection is the main culprit, antibiotics may be the best solution.
- Anti inflammatory drugs – Useful in cases where the swelling cause is inflammation or allergic reaction. Plus, anti inflammatory drugs provide pain relief.
- Steroids – Used when managing immune-mediated disorders. Steroids are generally good for swelling reduction regardless of the underlying cause.
- Chemotherapy – In cases of limb, paw, or toe tumors.
- Surgery – In cases of foreign material, abscesses or tumors.
Beyond Traditional Swollen Paw Recovery
After your vet prescribes the individually tailored treatment plan for your dog, ask about including CBD oil to the management strategy. In the case of paw issues, CBD oil can be used orally to help your dog with the pain and inflammation. Based on what your dog prefers, you can choose between oil products and cookies. There are also CBD oil balms for topical use. In addition to providing comfort and relief they have antiseptic and antibacterial properties. Keep in mind that following the treatment, your dog’s paws will probably be unusually sensitive and need extra care like:
- Applying protective creams and balms on the feet
- Keeping the paws clean and well-moisturized
- Maintaining the hair between the toes short and tidy
- Practicing regular nail trims (do not forget about the upper declaw toe)
- Avoiding rough grounds
- Wearing dog shoes or dog booties
Our Final Thoughts
Paw swelling issues and consequently limping are common problems in pet dogs as these are the most exposed parts of the dog’s body. After all, the dog’s paws are the canine equivalent of our shoes, right? Well, we may use them for the same purpose, but as a recent study shows, the dog’s paws are much cleaner than the bottom of the humans’ shoes. And actually, as you do invest time and effort in keeping your shoes clean, you should do the same with your dog’s paws. You cannot prevent all paw issues in your dog. However, staying on top of your pet’s paw health is a crucial part of adequate pet care. Teach your dog to accept having its feet handled while still a young pup – this will make the weekly paw inspections much more manageable once your dog gets used to it.
Frequently Asked Questions
When should I take my limping dog to the vet?
If your dog is showing some signs of pain or distress you need to take them to the vet clinic immediately.
What can cause a swollen paw on a dog?
A dog can experience a swollen paw due to many reasons – bug stings and bites, splinters, burns and frostbites, toe fractures, pad injuries, nail problems, leg tumors. Depending on severity, some reasons require immediate vet care while others can resolve on their own.
How do I know if my dog has a sprained paw?
Sprained paws manifest with lameness, excessive licking of the feet, legs, or joints, swollen joints and paws, pain, appetite loss, and lethargy. A sprained paw warrants an appointment with your trusted veterinarian.