Injuries to the Canine Footpad
The footpad is considered the toughest part of the animal’s skin. It is the thick, spongy structure located on each digit and under the metacarpal and metatarsal joints of dogs and cats. This specialized part of the body absorbs the shock and pressure from standing and running. All footpads are made of a thickened layer of skin and a rough surface. In dogs the outer layer is usually pigmented.
Due to the location and function of footpads, they are often injured. The pads contain many blood vessels and they can bleed a lot when injured. Generally, footpad injuries include lacerations, punctures, abrasions, burns, traumatic pad removal and tumors. Due to the constant pressure and use of the foot, some extensive pad injuries do not heal.
What to Watch For
Signs of injuries to the canine footpad may include:
- Limping or not putting weight on the foot
- Discoloration of the pad
- Excessive licking of the pad
Diagnosis of Footpad Injuries in Dogs
Most pad injuries are diagnosed based on physical examination findings. Although lacerations, punctures, and abrasions are evident on examination of the pad, your veterinarian may not be able to determine the cause of the trauma.
Diagnosing tumors of the footpad requires additional tests. Under local anesthetic or general anesthesia, your veterinarian will surgically remove a biopsy sample of the suspicious mass and submit it to a pathologist for examination. The pathologist will review it and determine whether the mass is infectious, inflammatory or cancerous.
Treatment of Footpad Injuries in Dogs
The majority of footpad injuries are related to lacerations, punctures, and abrasions. However, veterinary care will vary, depending on the severity of the injury.
If your pet has a mild trauma such as a small laceration, abrasion or puncture, your veterinarian will thoroughly clean the wound with povidone iodine or chlorhexidine and apply a light temporary bandage. Your pet might require an Elizabethan collar to prevent him from licking at the feet.
For any bandaged paw, frequent bandage changes are necessary regardless of the severity of the injury. Your pet sweats from his footpads so moisture develops in the bandage. This can slow healing and result in infections. You will need to change his bandage every 2-3 days.
More extensive lacerations require proper management in order to heal. If your pet has an extensive laceration, each time he steps down, the pad spreads and the edges of the laceration spread apart. This makes healing difficult. As with minor cuts, your veterinarian will thoroughly clean the wound with povidone iodine or chlorhexidine. Then your veterinarian will suture the wound in an attempt to keep the edges of the laceration together to promote healing. He or she will then place a thick non-adherent bandage or even a splint to help reduce the pressure applied to the pad.
Some injuries to the pad involve a layer of the pad being torn off. Suturing is not possible in these situations. Your veterinarian will thoroughly clean the pad and apply a non-adherent bandage or splint.
The splint is used to display the forces of walking to allow the wound to heal and to help prevent infection by keeping the wound clean and dry. Application of Aloe Vera gel early in the course of treatment has also been found to promote healing.
Occasionally, severe injury to the pads results in a complete loss of the pad, and treatment is determined by which pad is lost. Those pads associated with the middle toes are most important for weight bearing. For cats and small dogs walking on the foot with missing pads may not cause any problems. However, for larger dogs or pets that spend significant time outdoors, a footpad graft may be necessary.
In this procedure, a nearby pad is grafted onto the area that is missing the vital pad. The pad located just above the primary pads (at the level of the wrist or ankle) can also be transposed to the injured area.
In severe cases, a toe can be removed and the pad associated with that pad transposed to the weight bearing area of the foot. This is considered a salvage procedure, however, and is only done in extreme cases.
Home Care of Footpad Injuries in Dogs
For minor pad injuries, soaking and cleaning with povidone iodine or chlorhexidine should be sufficient. Do not allow your pet to lick at the wound as this could result in infection.
For more extensive wounds, you should call your veterinarian.
Some pad injuries are true accidents and difficult to prevent. Nevertheless, you can keep your pet’s environment safe by keeping the area free of sharp objects. Also, make sure you do not allow your pet to walk in areas that are littered with trash.