A bloody paw is a fairly common occurrence in dogs. Identifying the source of the blood is critical in determining whether the injury is minor, serious, or grave. If you know how the injury occurred, you may already have a good idea what to expect when you examine your dog's paw more closely. If you don't, prepare yourself for anything. If the injury possibly includes a fracture, make plans to see your vet.
What to Look For
Start by following the directions on how to assess severity of bleeding as outlined in “How to Assess Severity of Bleeding” [not available online]. In the process, you will undoubtedly discover the source of the blood and determine whether or not you feel comfortable proceeding at home or doing your best to temporarily control the bleeding until your vet can have a look.
What to Do
Now, ask yourself the following questions:
Is the bleeding severe, moderate, or mild? Moderate to severe bleeding should always be handled by your veterinarian. Follow the directions for controlling bleeding as outlined in “How to Control Bleeding” [not available online], but get your vet to see the injury as soon as possible.
Is the bleeding from a cut or laceration? If you can see the full extent of the slice, and the bleeding is minimal, clean the entire area with your 50/50 water and hydrogen peroxide mixture. If your dog resists strenuously, it may be safer to allow your vet to handle this. Alternatively, if you think you can handle your dog, apply a muzzle and resume your efforts, possibly with the help of a friend. You may find it easier to dip the whole paw into a bowl of the hydrogen peroxide mixture to thoroughly disinfect the wound and the areas around it.
Once you're finished, apply a non-adherent dressing and bandage to the paw, being certain not to wrap it too tightly. If possible, always leave the toes exposed so that you can easily check for signs of swelling. This would result if the bandage were too tight and would require re-bandaging the wound more loosely. White athletic socks make excellent over-bandage protection since you probably have some already, you can cut them as needed, and blood shows up well when it seeps through them, providing you with a signal that you may need your vet's help after all.
Many of the lacerations to the paw area involve the interdigital webbing and require suturing to ensure proper healing. If the laceration is to the pads of your dog's paw, sutures are only worthwhile if the slice is deep enough to reach the flesh beneath the pad. This is probably best left to your vet to decide.
Is there a foreign body stuck in the wound? Always be cautious when a foreign object is lodged in your dog's skin. Unless you know exactly what it is and that it won't cause any more harm if you remove it, you're better off leaving it for your vet to handle. If you feel confident that there is no danger in removing it, do so carefully, and be ready to control any bleeding that may result from its removal.
Is the bleeding coming from a damaged toenail? A cracked or broken toenail can be a painful bloody mess. If the bleeding is minimal, proper disinfecting, cleansing and dressing may allow healing and recovery without veterinary intervention. If the bleeding persists after you have done your best to control it and/or bandage the paw, your veterinarian may need to cauterize the blood vessels in order to stop the bleeding.
Before beginning your exam, put on heavy gloves to protect your hands from anything sharp that could be lodged in your dog's paw.