A swollen paw is a relatively common occurrence in dogs having to wear bandages around their legs.
Paw swelling may occur with a small temporary bandage that is intended to stay on only for a short time, such as one placed after drawing blood or removing an IV catheter, or with a more padded long-term bandage placed to protect a wound or splint a broken bone, for example.
Read on to find out why paw swelling happens with leg bandages in dogs, and what you can do to help your dog if you notice this.
How Does a Dog's Circulatory System Work?
Just like in humans, the canine circulatory system consists of a 4-chambered heart that pumps blood, arteries that deliver oxygen-rich blood from the heart to the body’s tissues, and veins that carry blood from the body back to the heart.
Arteries and veins are connected by tiny blood vessels called capillaries that are found essentially everywhere in the body.
The walls of capillaries are extremely thin to allow oxygen, carbon dioxide, nutrients, and waste products to be exchanged between the blood and body tissues; this is how the body stays nourished and removes its waste.
What Causes a Dog’s Paw to Swell From a Bandage?
Bandages that are placed around a dog’s leg can obstruct normal blood flow in the area below the bandage, or in other words, cut off the circulation to the lower leg/paw.
This usually occurs when bandages are placed too tightly. A too-tight bandage prevents the blood in the paw from flowing up the leg and back to the heart normally, causing the blood to back up and pool in the veins of the paw.
This pooling results in leakage of fluid from the capillaries into the tissues of the paw, producing swelling.
How Long Should Dogs Wear Bandages?
Small temporary bandages, such as the ones made of elastic wrap that are placed after a blood draw, should be removed as soon as the bleeding stops. Usually keeping these on for 5-10 minutes or less is sufficient.
Temporary bandages should not be kept in place for longer than 30 minutes to 1 hour at the most.
Thicker, padded, more long-term bandages should be changed at least once every few days if they are covering a wound, or at least once every 1-3 weeks if they are splinting a broken bone.
When placing a long-term bandage, your veterinarian will tell you how often it needs to be changed; it is very important to follow these directions!
What Happens if a Bandage is Left on For Too Long?
As previously mentioned, bandages that are left on for too long can obstruct the blood flow to the lower leg and paw, eventually causing damage or even death to the affected tissues.
Additionally, bandages may rub against and chafe the underlying skin, potentially forming painful wounds.
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Bandages that irritate the skin or become wet and dirty may lead to the development of skin infections.
Bandages preventing normal use of the leg, such as those splinting a broken bone, can promote muscle wasting in the leg if left on for too long.
What to Do if Your Dog Has a Swollen Paw From Wearing a Bandage
If you notice that your dog’s paw is swollen while there is a bandage in place, you should take action right away.
Temporary bandages (such as those placed following a blood draw) that have been in place for more than a few minutes can usually be safely removed.
If bleeding starts once the bandage is removed, you may either hold pressure on the wound with a gauze pad or cotton ball until the bleeding stops, or replace the bandage around the wound more loosely for another few minutes and then try removal again.
Once the temporary bandage is removed and there is no bleeding, you may massage the swollen paw and/or walk the dog to improve the blood flow to this area and resolve the swelling.
For paw swelling with long-term padded bandages, especially those protecting a wound or splinting a broken bone, DO NOT REMOVE THE BANDAGE UNLESS DIRECTED TO DO SO BY YOUR VETERINARIAN.
Bring your dog to a veterinarian immediately; they will evaluate the paw and potentially remove and change the bandage at the hospital. They can also treat any underlying wounds, or make recommendations for further care if needed.
Other Things to Watch for When Dogs Wear Bandages
In addition to monitoring for paw swelling, what else should I know if my dog needs to wear a bandage?
In addition to monitoring for swelling, you should check the leg/paw below the bandage to ensure it is not abnormally hot or cold to the touch, or red in color.
This can be done by comparing the bandaged paw to the other paws that are not bandaged.
It is important to keep long-term bandages clean and dry as much as possible; when going outside, bandages should be covered with waterproof material, such as a plastic bag, to prevent contamination.
You should also prevent your dog from licking or chewing the bandage; placing an E-collar may be necessary for dogs that are persistent or cannot be closely monitored.
Make sure the bandage stays in place and does not slip off; do not attempt to replace a bandage that has fallen off.
Additionally, monitor the bandage for any foul odors or discoloration; this may indicate an underlying skin infection. If the bandage becomes wet, soiled, loose, displaced, smelly, or excessively itchy or painful to the dog, you should have this evaluated by a veterinarian as soon as possible.