All dogs lick their paws every now and then. In some cases, however, this licking becomes excessive, which can suggest a problem.
Your dog may appear fixated on licking and chewing at their paws, and this may be accompanied by a swollen dog paw and discoloration of the fur. If you see these signs, you may be dealing with a case of pododermatitis in dogs.
What Is Pododermatitis in Dogs?
Pododermatitis refers to inflammation of the skin on the paws. Pododermatitis may affect a single paw, several paws (often the front paws), or all four paws. It can affect any age, sex, or breed of dog.
Licking and chewing at the paws are common indicators of pododermatitis, and these signs are also often accompanied by swelling and redness of the paws. In severe cases, discomfort associated with pododermatitis may lead to limping.
Pododermatitis is not a specific medical diagnosis. Instead, it’s regarded as a symptom of an underlying condition. Pododermatitis is relatively common in dogs and it can have a number of different underlying causes.
What Causes Dog Pododermatitis?
Pododermatitis has many possible causes. In many cases, pododermatitis is caused by a combination of multiple factors. Here are some of the possible causes.
Many cases of pododermatitis involve bacterial, fungal, parasitic, or viral infection. Bacterial infections are very common in pododermatitis. They can be the primary cause of pododermatitis or they may be a consequence of excessive licking and self-trauma. Fungal (yeast) infections may also occur as a primary or secondary problem. Parasitic skin infections (such as demodectic mange) and some viral infections can also be associated with pododermatitis.
Allergic pododermatitis in dogs is also a common condition. Inhalant allergies, contact allergies, and food allergies are common causes of skin inflammation in dogs. When this skin inflammation affects the paws, the result is pododermatitis.
Trauma or Insect Bites
Some cases of pododermatitis are associated with trauma. If your dog receives an insect bite or other wound on their foot, this can trigger excess licking at the site of discomfort. This licking can contribute to a vicious cycle – the more your dog licks, the more inflamed the foot becomes, leading your dog to lick even more and contributing to ever-worsening pododermatitis. In this way, even a relatively small wound can result in a significant case of pododermatitis.
Penetrating foreign bodies (a splinter or grass awn becoming stuck in the paw) can also lead to chronic pododermatitis, which may be difficult to eliminate with medical treatment.
Less common causes of pododermatitis include autoimmune disease, hormone imbalances, nutritional deficiencies, cancerous growths affecting the paws, and interdigital cysts. Even arthritis in the paws can lead to pododermatitis, because pain can cause licking and constant trauma can lead to pododermatitis.
Symptoms of Pododermatitis in Dogs
Pododermatitis can come on suddenly or it can be a chronic condition. Pododermatitis may affect all four of your dog’s paws or it may affect just one or two paws. Additionally, the signs of pododermatitis can range from mild to severe and can vary considerably.
In dogs with underlying allergies, the signs of pododermatitis may be seasonal in nature. Your dog’s pododermatitis may peak at any season (depending on their specific allergies), but the most common seasonal peak of pododermatitis is in the fall.
Depending on the underlying cause of your dog’s pododermatitis, you may see any of the following signs:
- Swelling of the paw
- Dog paws red
- Hair loss on the paw or lower leg
- Reddish-brown discoloration of the fur (saliva staining)
- Dog licking paws
- Dog itchy paws
- Scabs, blisters, or pustules (red pus-filled bumps) on the paw
- Dog paws red between the toes
- Abnormal thickening of the paw pads
Pododermatitis can also sometimes cause limping, due to paw discomfort. Limping can have a number of potential causes, however, so it’s important to see a veterinarian before assuming that your dog’s limping is caused by pododermatitis.
Your veterinarian will begin with a thorough physical exam, paying close attention to your dog’s skin and paws. Depending on the results of the physical exam, additional tests may be recommended.
These tests might include:
Skin cytology: This test involves removing a sample from the surface of your dog’s skin, using a swab or a sticky piece of tape. This sample is then examined under the microscope. Skin cytology is used to diagnose bacterial pododermatitis in dogs, as well as yeast infections of the skin.
Skin scrape: This test involves rubbing a scalpel blade across the surface of your dog’s skin, collecting a deeper sample than what is obtained in a skin cytology. This test is used to diagnose demodex mites.
Bacterial culture and sensitivity testing: Your veterinarian uses these tests to isolate and identify bacteria found in or on your dog’s skin. A bacterial culture allows your veterinarian to identify the source of your dog’s infection. Sensitivity testing allows your veterinarian to select the most appropriate antibiotics.
Skin biopsy: This test, which is performed under sedation or general anesthesia, involves removing a sample of your dog’s skin for submission to a pathologist. The pathologist will prepare your dog’s tissue sample and examine the sample under a microscope to determine a diagnosis.
Radiographs (X-rays): While not always included in testing to diagnose pododermatitis, radiographs may be used to rule out tumors, arthritis, and other painful conditions that can lead to lameness, self-trauma, and pododermatitis.
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Depending on your dog’s condition, your veterinarian may recommend some or all of these tests to determine the underlying cause of your dog’s pododermatitis.
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How to Treat Pododermatitis in Dogs
Treatment for pododermatitis requires determining the underlying cause and addressing that condition.
Your veterinarian may recommend oral or topical medications. Many cases of pododermatitis require oral antibiotics to treat bacterial infections. Your veterinarian may prescribe oral or topical antifungal medications if your dog has a yeast infection. If your dog has parasites (such as demodex mites) or underlying allergies, medications may also be prescribed to treat these conditions. Rarely, surgery to remove lesions contributing to pododermatitis may be recommended.
There are no effective home treatments for pododermatitis in dogs, because this condition has so many different underlying causes. If you must treat your dog at home before seeking veterinary care, focus on keeping your dog’s feet clean and dry.
Dogs with contact allergies may benefit from having their paws wiped down after walks outside, to remove pollen and other allergens. You can also use an Elizabethan collar (e-collar or cone) or a dog cone alternative to keep your dog from licking their feet. Most likely, however, your dog will need prescription medications from a veterinarian to effectively treat pododermatitis.
How to Prevent Pododermatitis in Dogs
There is no effective way to prevent all cases of pododermatitis. If your dog is predisposed to pododermatitis due to allergies or some other underlying medical condition, your veterinarian may recommend measures to control inflammation and minimize the risk of recurrence.