The pads on a dog's paws are made up of very thick and hairless skin that is cushioned to help support the foot and act as a shock absorber. There are seven pads on a front paw; four digital pads, the main metacarpal pad, a digital pad on the dew claw (although some owners have this claw removed) and a stopper' pad on the ankle, covering the carpal bone. There are five on a back paw; four digital pads and the main metatarsal pad. These areas are easy to injure, the most common injuries being cuts, thorns and grass seeds.
The signs of a paw pad injury vary depending on the severity and cause. For small cuts, thorns and grass seeds the signs often only include a slight limp, which can be easily missed or thought to be an injury to the muscle. However, a veterinarian will check the paw pads for signs of injury whenever a dog shows a mysterious limp with no obvious cause. There are some signs that owners should watch out for that do point to a paw pad injury though.
•Cuts and bleeding
•Discolouration of the pad
•Swelling in the surrounding area
•Limping or a refusal to put any weight on the foot
If an injury is suspected, you should seek veterinary advice as infections can settle in fairly quickly due to the bacteria on the ground being walked upon. Treating a footpad injury is not so easy though. It may be necessary to muzzle the dog before treatment as the area will be very sensitive; even timid animals can become aggressive when pain and fear are an issue.
It is essential to keep the area clean and dry. Use a warm salt water solution and gently wipe any dirt away before drying with a clean towel. Try not to let the dog lick at the wound. The vet will use a surgical scrub to sterilize the pad as much as possible. Bandages can be difficult to apply and keep on, but some veterinary surgeries or pet shops can supply you with a boot to help keep the pad clean. Occasionally stitches and / or antibiotics are necessary. The dog may be given an Elizabethan or Buster collar to wear to prevent them from licking the wound.
Light walks are encouraged, but until the pad is completely healed, it would be unadvisable to allow excessive exercise that promotes putting weight on the foot. If the bandage does not stay on, the foot should be washed and dried after each venture outside. However, do not clean the wound too much as this can prevent quick healing.
Thorns and grass seeds need to be removed as they can bury deeper into the wound and cause massive infections. Untreated foreign bodies can lead to the necessary removal of a claw or pad. Whilst a dog can live quite happily with a missing claw or pad, it can lead to further damage to the bones in the leg as the dog's weight is shifted to a more supportive pad or claw. New surgery techniques do mean that footpad grafts are possible, although this is expensive and usually only carried out by university or college surgeries; general veterinary practices may not have the equipment or experience necessary.
Regular grooming and checks can help to spot early pad injuries, but unfortunately there is no actual way to prevent them.