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Dog Paw Infections: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments

Close up of dog paw
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Paws are a fascinating and essential part of a dog’s body. They come in many shapes and sizes yet share the same anatomy and perform the same functions, including shock absorption, insulation, and balance support.

Keeping the paws healthy is key to a dog’s ability to move about their environment comfortably and easily.

Paw infections are often painful and irritating, making life difficult for dogs. Unfortunately, given the paws’ location, these infections are challenging to treat and may take a long time to heal.

The sooner you recognize their paws are infected, the sooner you can get your dog the veterinary care they need. 

Types of Dog Paw Infections

Dog scratching paw

Generally, infections are caused by microorganisms, such as bacteria, that invade the body and activate the immune system. 

The main types of dog paw infections are:

Causes of Dog Paw Infections

Dog paw infections occur when the paws’ protective padding is damaged, allowing microorganisms to enter the paw and multiply.

Here are a few ways in which the paw can become damaged and prone to infection:

Trauma. Trauma to the paw can be as tiny as a puncture wound or as large as a long gash. Either way, microorganisms enter that wound and cause a painful infection.

Allergies. Common dog allergies include food, fleas, and environmental. Allergies make a dog’s paws feel incredibly itchy, leading to constant licking and biting at the area. This will eventually damage the paws’ protective covering, allowing bacteria or other microorganisms to enter.

Immune suppression. A dog’s immune system may be suppressed because of treatment, such as for cancer. A suppressed immune system cannot mount a strong immune response to fight off an infection.

Body type. Dogs with skinny legs and thin paw padding, such as Greyhounds, are prone to paw infections.

Dog Paw Infection Symptoms

Dog on belly with paws up

The symptoms of an infected dog paw are usually quite evident and similar regardless of the underlying cause.

Here are signs of a paw infection to look for:

  • Redness
  • Swelling
  • Visible injury
  • Pain in the paw
  • Discolored nails
  • Foul smell from the paw
  • Reluctance to have paws touched
  • Greasy or discolored paw discharge
  • Difficulty walking or refusal to walk
  • Vocalizing when trying to walk
  • Constant licking or biting at the paws
  • Signs of allergies (e.g., watery eyes, skin rash, itchy skin)

These symptoms range in severity according to the infection’s severity, and knowing the normal appearance of your dog’s paws will help you recognize anything out of the ordinary more quickly. 

Diagnosing Dog Paw Infections

Dog holding out paw to owner

If your dog is showing signs of a paw infection, your veterinarian will need to diagnose the infection and perform a few basic tests to determine the infection’s cause.

Your veterinarian will first take a history from you and conduct a physical exam, paying close attention to your dog’s paws. Tell them your dog’s symptoms and when they first appeared, and if your dog recently suffered a paw injury. Your veterinarian will ask you other questions to get more details from you about the problem.

To look for microorganisms in the paw, your veterinarian also will do a few simple tests, such as a skin scrape and tape impression. For the skin scrape, they’ll gently scrape a thin layer of the paw pad to collect skin cells, then place this scraping on a microscope slide. For a tape impression, your vet will press a piece of tape across the affected paw and place the tape on a microscope slide.

Once analyzed under a microscope, the appearance of the microorganisms will allow your veterinarian to determine whether bacteria, yeast, or fungi caused the infection.

Additional diagnostic testing is needed for severe paw infections. X-rays of your dog’s paw and leg will help your vet determine if the infection has spread beyond the paw. Blood work indicates whether the infection has entered your dog’s bloodstream.

Dog Paw Infection Treatments

Close up of dog's paws

Treatment for a paw infection depends on the underlying cause and the infection’s severity and duration. Allow at least a few days for the paw to heal.

Medications to treat dog paw infections include antibiotics and antifungals. They can be applied topically to the paw as an ointment or, for severe infections, given by mouth. Pain medications are given to relieve pain and discomfort.

Infected dog paws must also be cleaned to remove as much dirt, debris, and damaged tissue as possible. After the paw is cleaned, it is bandaged to protect it from further injury, allowing it to heal as fully as possible.

Cleaning and bandaging may be challenging, depending on how well your dog tolerates their infected paw being handled. Your veterinarian will provide at-home instructions for cleaning and bandaging the infected paw, and your dog will wear an e-collar during treatment to keep them from biting and picking at the bandage.

Follow your veterinarian’s treatment instructions to ensure that the infection clears and the paw fully heals. Let them know if you’re having trouble keeping the paw clean and bandaged.

How to Prevent Dog Paw Infections

Lady and dog sitting in forrest

Dogs love to run and play, so preventing a paw infection may not be easy. However, a few prevention strategies can help make paw infections much less likely for your dog:

Regular grooming. Keep your dog’s nails trimmed. Overgrown nails can curl under and puncture the paw pad.

Paw protection. Put booties on your dog’s paws when your dog goes outside.

Keep an eye on the paws. Inspect your dog’s paws regularly, especially after going outside.

Wash after walks. Clean and dry your dog’s paws after taking a walk or vigorous outdoor play. Dog paw cleaners can make this process easy and efficient. 

Allergy treatment. Manage your dog’s allergies to make the paws feel less itchy.

Prevent pests. Have your dog on year-round flea and tick prevention to avoid itchy bites.

Dog paw infections can be very uncomfortable, but they are treatable and preventable. Taking good care of your dog’s paws will help keep them healthy and infection free.