If you notice your dog limping, you may be concerned about swollen paws and toes. Swelling of your dog’s paw can happen for a variety of reasons from injury to illness and everything in between. Learn more about the top causes behind swollen feet and how you can help your dog recover.
What Is Swelling?
Swelling is the abnormal change in size of tissue in the body. Often, swelling is caused by fluid filling up the affected area, leading to a ballooned appearance. Swelling can happen for several reasons. Injuries may cause cells and fluids to pool in the injured area to provide healing and repair materials such as blood cells and proteins. Swelling can also happen if there is a problem with the body’s lymph or circulatory system. A backup of fluids that aren’t properly reabsorbed or moved through the body may cause it to pool in other places.
Sometimes, what looks like swelling isn’t. Tumors and growths may resemble a swollen spot but are the formation of overgrown cells. Other issues, such as infection, may cause a swollen appearance but actually be filled with dead white blood cells and bacteria.
Dog Paw Swollen, Toes Swollen, Causes
Swollen paws and toes can be painful for your dog. Here are some of the top causes behind them:
Injury to the foot or foot pad is one of the most common causes of swelling of your dog’s paws and toes. Feet can easily be injured walking over rough ground surfaces, on broken glass, and more. Jumping up onto a rough surface can also cause injuries. In some cases, the foot pad may become dried, leading to cracking. These cracks can peel apart the skin and lead to open wounds.
In addition to swelling, there are a few other signs of an injury to the foot. These include limping or not placing weight on the affected foot, excessive licking or chewing of a particular foot or toe, or yelping in pain. The foot may also become discolored, ooze debris, show scabbing, or have a strange smell if a secondary infection has taken hold.
Treatment for minor foot injuries can be done at home. Keeping your dog off the affected limb with kennel rest, and keeping the foot and pad clean can help. Using an Elizabethan (cone) collar can also prevent excessive licking which can introduce bacteria into the wound. If the wound doesn’t heal in a few days, looks infected, or is causing a limp or severe pain, it should be seen by your vet. They can determine if additional care such as suturing, cleaning, and pain or antibiotic medications are needed.
If you know your dog will be traveling somewhere with rough terrain, such as hot pavement or unmarked trails, dog boots are a great tool. They protect the feet and pad from cuts and abrasions. Foot pad salves can also be used on cracked or dry pads to reduce injury.
Torn or Infected Nails and Nail Bed
The nail is made up of several parts, including the portion that forms and grows out of the toe, the quick, or blood supply, and the actual keratin nail. When thinking about swollen paws, the nail bed is often overlooked. However, many issues with your dog’s nails can lead to swelling of the toes. Nail bed injuries such as a broken nail are the most common. Other issues such as infections, parasites, auto-immune disease, and even cancers can affect the nail.
The nail can be safely trimmed back above the quick without causing pain, however nicking the blood supply can be painful. If the nail is torn, it may cause your dog to limp, yelp in pain, and not want to have their foot touched. Other issues, such as yeast infections or nail parasites may cause a strange odor. Your dog may also obsessively lick the affected toe. Tumors can also cause general swelling; usually a puffiness that encompasses the nail or is at the edge of the toe.
If your dog is limping, licking, or painful, a trip to the vet is best. They may need to sedate your dog to safely trim back any remaining torn nail pieces. For growths or infections, your vet may also take a sample of the affected area to send off to a lab. Depending on the cause, treatment can vary. This includes basic nail trimming and pain medications, or medications to treat parasites and infections. If a tumor is suspected, amputation of the toe as well as further diagnostics to determine spread is the best course of action.
Burns on the paws and toes can happen easily. Hot pavement on a particularly warm day is enough to cause second- and third-degree burns if your dog’s feet are unprotected. Open fires are another cause of burns to the feet. In some cases, small dogs that have leapt onto counters have even managed to burn their feet on stovetops!
Burns often cause pain, limping, and sometimes swelling of the paws and toes. You may notice burnt fur, peeling skin on the foot and pads, or open oozing wounds. If your dog’s feet have been burned, it is best to seek veterinary care right away. Severe enough burns on enough of the body can cause your dog to go into shock or worse.
Your vet can assess the depth of the burn as well as provide supportive treatment in severe cases. IV fluids and rest can help with dehydration and shock caused by large burns. Kennel rest along with pain medications can help with minor burns. Salves and antibiotics are also beneficial to prevent infection and to keep the affected area moist while healing.
The best way to prevent burns is by placing protective gear on your dog’s feet or avoiding pavement during the hottest parts of the day. Supervising your dog around open fires can also help prevent an accident.
Yeast and Fungal Infections
Yeast and fungal infections can occur anywhere on the foot, but tend to take hold between the toes or on the nail bed, where the foot is most moist. Your dog may lick the area or have redness and swelling around the base of the toe. In addition, yeast and other infections often have a telltale “corn chip” or “yeasted bread” smell to them, indicating a problem. In severe cases, the infection may get under the skin causing additional pain, swelling, and even a limp.
At home, keeping the feet clean and dry can help resolve minor issues. An Elizabethan (cone) collar is also a good preventive to keep your dog from licking their feet. If the infection is particularly bothersome or not resolving on its own, vet care is best. Your vet can provide medicated washes and shampoos to treat the feet. In infections that have spread, oral medications can also help. Trimming excess fur on the feet and between the toes can also help prevent trapping excess moisture.
Bee stings, bites, and environmental allergens can all cause an allergic reaction leading to swelling. Environmental allergens are more likely to cause full-body puffiness or redness on the affected area. Stings and bites tend to cause localized swelling of the area, however, this swelling can spread if the reaction is severe. In addition, your dog may yelp in pain, lick or chew the area, or not place weight on the affected limb.
If you notice severe swelling, rapid swelling, or swelling of the face, neck, or throat, seek veterinary care immediately. This is a medical emergency. In most cases, however, swelling can be treated at home. Removing the stinger and thoroughly cleaning the area can help reduce pain and further irritation. Over the counter antihistamines such as Benadryl can be given to stop the spread of the swelling and allergic reaction.
If at-home treatments don’t work, or the reaction is severe, your vet can help. They can offer injectable steroids and antihistamines to quickly stop the allergic response. Your vet may also recommend monitoring and IV fluids for supportive care.
The best way to avoid allergic reactions is to make sure your dog avoids ground nests, brushy wooded areas, or environmental hazards that can cause allergic reactions. If you do notice a bite or sting, treatment as soon as possible can reduce the severity of the swelling.
Inflammation of the joints of the ankle, foot, and toes can lead to swelling. Arthritis can also affect only one joint or limb, or you may notice stiffness and swelling throughout the body. In addition to inflammation causing puffiness, your dog may be reluctant to move. They may also limp, yelp in pain, or not want to move as much. While arthritis is most common in senior dogs, dogs of any age can develop arthritis. Some breeds, such as retrievers and shepherds, are also predisposed to early joint issues.
Your vet can perform a variety of tests to check for problems with the joints and to rule out other issues. X-rays can look at joint placement, swelling of the tissues, and injuries to the bone or ligaments. Mobility tests, general examination, and blood work can also help rule out other underlying problems. From there, your vet can offer a variety of treatment options.
Glucosamine and chondroitin supplements are the top choices for early joint disease treatment. Many senior dog foods now include a small amount of these ingredients, but supplementation may still be needed. Newer supplements such as MSM, Green-lipped mussel, and omega fatty acids can also help repair and protect joints. Prescription NSAIDs such as carprofen and galliprant can help with pain and swelling.
A healthy, balanced diet and regular exercise are also important in preventing arthritis. By keeping your dog at a healthy weight you reduce the strain on the joints and muscles that can lead to arthritis. Well-balanced foods can also provide the right nutrient balance for joint repair and maintenance.
Tumors (Squamous Cell Carcinoma)
Squamous Cell Carcinoma is a tumor type that can affect the toes. Since these tumors are very aggressive, it is best to seek veterinary care right away if you notice a strange growth on your dog’s foot or affecting a singular toe. Most commonly, it is found between the toe pads, or against the nail bed. Dogs with black fur, or large breeds such as Labrador Retrievers are the most affected.
In addition to the growth, your dog may limp, lick or chew the spot, or have a bleeding ulcer that doesn’t heal. Your vet will want to take a biopsy of the growth to determine the cell type. In addition, your vet will most likely want to X-ray or examine the rest of your dog’s body to check for metastasis, as this cancer very quickly and easily spreads. Depending on severity, treatment can range from amputation of the affected toe, to chemotherapy, to palliative care.
Edema and Lymphedema
Some underlying conditions such as heart failure and kidney disease can lead to edema or lymphedema of the paws and toes. You may notice other signs such as exercise intolerance, weight changes, appetite changes, or coughing and wheezing. This is a serious sign of something wrong and should be checked out by your vet as soon as possible. Blood work, X-ray and ultrasound, EKGs, and more can be used to find the underlying cause and get treatment started.
A swollen foot or toe can be a major cause for concern, especially if your dog is limping. Knowing what to look out for and the potential causes behind swollen toes and paws can help you take action quickly and get your dog feeling better. With any potential injury, kennel rest and a trip to the vet are important to helping your dog recover.