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Why Your Dog Is Limping With a Swollen Paw

A swollen paw is due to inflammation. There are several reasons why your dog’s paw is inflamed, including trauma to the paw, disease, or damage to the joint, tendon, or ligament. Contact your vet to correctly diagnose and treat the swollen paw.

Dog limps are concerning for any owner, and there are many reasons why your dog might be limping. 

A common cause of limping is a swollen paw.

Swelling indicates the place of origin of an injury. Treating the cause of the swelling itself will resolve the limp. 

Injury to the paws is common in dogs. If your dog spends lots of time outdoors, it is likely to encounter sharp objects that can cause injury and infection. 

Other diseases and conditions unrelated to an injury can also be a cause of paw swelling in dogs.

What is Paw Swelling?

Swelling of the paws is clinically referred to as Pododermatitis. This refers to the inflammation of the paw and paw pad at the bottom of the dog’s foot. 

Pododermatitis has many different causes. It is important to diagnose and treat the underlying condition so complete recovery can take place. 

Dogs’ paws have many different parts. Skin, bone, tendons, ligaments, and muscles all make up the paw. One of more of these areas can be affected, causing your dog’s paw to swell. 

A vet can diagnose the condition affecting your dog’s paw by examining the paw in connection to the rest of its body.

What is Paw Swelling

What Causes a Dog’s Paws to Swell?

There are many different causes of paw swelling. Damage to parts of the paw caused by injury can lead to inflammation. Swelling can also be caused by various diseases and conditions unrelated to injury. 

Here are 5 common causes of paw swelling resulting in limping:

  • Trauma to the paw
  • Infections
  • Tendon and Ligament Damage
  • Parasites
  • Allergies
  • Hyperkeratosis

1. Trauma to the Paw

Injured Paw

Paw trauma is one of the most common reasons why dogs experience paw swelling. Sharp and abrasive objects and surfaces can cause cuts and other kinds of damage to your dog’s paws. These items can also get stuck between your dog’s toes. 

Rough terrain can be hard on your dog’s feet. This includes extreme temperatures. A hot road or pavement can cause damage to dogs’ feet, resulting in swelling and limping. 

If you cannot keep your hand against the surface for more than 10 seconds, your dog should not be walking on it. Freezing snow should also be avoided. 

Walking on a hot surface can cause burning, blisters, and cracks. Surfaces that are too hot or too cold can also cause dry, cracked, and injured paws. This can also lead to swelling and infections. 

A dog’s paws should be kept clean by washing them in lukewarm water with soap. This also helps disinfect any wounds. Paws damaged by hot or cold surfaces typically recover in a few days. Limit activity until your dog’s paws are healed. [1]

Other injuries may require surgery or medication depending on their severity. 

Related: My Dog Is Limping But Not Crying

2. Infections

Dog Paw Infections

Bacteria and fungi can cause infections in a dog’s paw. All kinds of pathogens can infect an injured paw. One of the most common conditions is pyodermas.

Pyodermas are a known skin issue in dogs. These infections are mostly caused by bacteria but can also be caused by fungi such as yeast. 

Pyodermas are characterized by the production of pus. This pus is not always visible. It is important to have your dog examined by a vet if a pyoderma is suspected. 

There are two categories of pyodermas referred to as primary and secondary pyodermas. 

Primary pyodermas go away completely after treatment and do not recur. Secondary pyodermas are more common. These are infections that become recurrent. It weakens the skin’s ability to fight off infection. These can be caused by various bacteria. 

Treatment for a bacterial pyoderma involves the use of antibiotics like amoxicillin, cephalexin, and clindamycin.

In addition to antibiotics, medicated topical sprays and shampoos are used. These treatments are similar to fungal infections. The medications and topical treatments used will target fungi.[2]

3. Tendon and Ligament Damage

Tendon and Ligament Damage

Active dogs often damage their tendons and ligaments. Tendons are structures that connect bone to muscle. Strains are damage to the tendons or muscles caused by physical activity. 

Tendon damage is commonly a result of several activities:

  • Overexertion.
  • Falling.
  • Sudden changes in movement.
  • Overweight/Obesity.
  • Past injuries.

Swelling is a common symptom of a strain. Dog owners should also look out for limping, whimpering, or any other unusual changes in eating or behavior. 

Sprains are damage to the ligaments. Ligaments are made of fibrous tissue that connects two bones. Accidents related to physical activity along with joint degeneration can cause sprains in dogs. 

Sprains are categorized in grades 1-3.

Sprain GradeSymptoms
Grade IThe dog is in pain but can still walk and move the injured joint. The affected ligament has sustained a mild tear. This can be treated by a vet using a splint and medication for pain and inflammation. 
Grade IIThe dog is limping and there is swelling at the joint. The tear or stretch to the ligament is much greater. The dog is unable to move the joint correctly. A splint and medication will be required. Treatment can include surgery if the damage is severe
Grade IIIThe dog cannot bear weight on its paw or walk at all. There is a complete tear or serious damage to the ligament. Bones shift out of place. Surgery is most likely to be required at this level.

4. Parasites

Dog Paw with Parasites

Parasites are organisms that use the body of the host to feed and multiply. This harms the host. Parasites can also spread potentially life-threatening diseases.

Dogs are commonly infected by the following parasites:

  • Roundworms.
  • Ticks.
  • Fleas.
  • Mites.
  • Tapeworm.
  • Heartworm.

A roundworm called Dracunculis insignis is a parasite that gets into the connective tissue underneath the skin of a dog’s legs. These worms can also cause ulcers on the dog’s skin. Vets treat this condition by manually removing the parasite. They may prescribe an antiparasitic medication. 

Another roundworm called Pelodera strongyloides invades the skin causing a condition called Pelodera dermatitis. Sores can be red, bumpy, and partially or completely hairless. There can also be severe itching that causes the dog to bite or rub the affected area, although this is not always a symptom. 

Dogs are most likely to become infected with this parasite by spending time on damp and dirty bedding.

Moving your dog to a dry area can lead to a complete recovery. Medication and treatment by a vet are in some cases required. [3]

5. Allergies 

Dog Paw Allergies

Dogs can experience allergic reactions that lead to paw-swelling. Allergies are common in dogs between the ages of 6 months and 3 years. 

Paw inflammation can be caused by:

  • Eczema
  • Food allergies
  • Flea allergies
  • Allergies to certain substances. 

Medications like antihistamines and steroids can be prescribed for allergies. Other medications and ointments are sometimes required. These treatments need to be prescribed by a vet.[4]

6. Hyperkeratosis

Image Source

Two conditions are characterized by the over-growth of keratin in dogs’ paws: 

  1. Familial footpad hyperkeratosis.
  2. Idiopathic nasodigital hyperkeratosis.

In both cases, paws appear crusted, cracked, and sometimes horny. This is caused by the overproduction of keratin in the skin. 

Familial footpad hyperkeratosis is a condition affecting specific dog breeds:

  • Labrador retrievers.
  • Golden retrievers.
  • Irish setters.
  • Irish terriers.
  • Kerry blue terriers.
  • Bedlington terriers.
  • Dogue de Bordeaux.

This condition usually appears in puppies around 6 months old.

Idiopathic Nasodigital Hyperkeratosis can affect any dog breed. It is more commonly seen in older dogs. 

These hyperkeratosis conditions cannot be cured but symptoms can be treated. Steroidal and antibiotic creams may be used for fissures. 

Blades and filing can be used to get rid of keratin. It is also important to keep your dog’s nails short. Soaking your dog’s feet in 50% propylene glycol can help. Your vet is the best resource for diagnosing and treating your dog.[5]


When Should I Take My Dog to the Vet for Limping?

You should take your dog to the vet for limping when it is accompanied by a fever, dangling, or broken limb at an abnormal angle, limbs that feel hot to the touch, and any moderate to severe swelling. 

How Do I Treat My Dog’s Swollen Paw?

To treat your dog’s swollen paw, it can be helpful to soak in an Epsom salt solution for 10 minutes. This can ease swelling of many causes. Contact your vet for further guidance. 

About Misfit Animals Staff

The Misfit Animals staff consists of animal lovers, pet enthusiasts, veterinarians, zoologists, and other animal experts. Our goal is to provide people with information on proper animal care.

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