By: Orvis Staff
As awful as it sounds, canine pododermatitis is not a disease, but a condition caused by any one or more of a multitude of underlying problems—think of it as a catch-all term to describe an affected doggie’s inflamed paws. Inflammation leads to irritation, and your dog may begin to “worry” his toes, nails, and foot pads. This behavior in turn can lead to secondary infections, serving only to amplify the initial symptoms in a bothersome catch-22. If your dog has red and itchy paws—chronically licking or chewing his feet or foot pads—or can’t walk normally on hard surfaces, he may have pododermatitis.
Other symptoms may include localized swelling of the nodules between his toes, and development of open and draining fistulas (abnormal openings in his skin) with a pus-like or bloody discharge and a foul odor. Symptoms may be limited to your dog’s feet, but more typically occur elsewhere on his skin, too.
Whether he’s a serious working canine, or chiefly enjoys barking at delivery trucks and treeing the neighborhood squirrels, pododermatitis can stop your dog in his tracks. Read on to learn how you can help make him more comfortable.
What Causes Canine Pododermatitis?
Various diseases and foot infections can cause canine pododermatitis, including bacterial or yeast infections, allergic dermatitis, trauma with a secondary bacterial or fungal infection, demodicosis (parasites), or neoplasia (the formation of new or abnormal tissue). Less common causes include autoimmune diseases, congenital (inherited) conditions, endocrine and metabolic disorders, and skin cancers. While your dog’s pododermatitis may not be life-threatening, it certainly affects his quality of life, and you owe it to him to get to the bottom of it.
Common Underlying Diseases That Cause Pododermatitis
If your dog shows signs of pododermatitis, the veterinarian is most likely to name one of these as the culprit:
Demodicosis is a skin disease caused by a parasitic mite called Demodex canis. This tiny critter occurs naturally in your dog’s skin and usually behaves itself, leading a quiet existence in the hair follicles—when the dog’s immune system is healthy. But when it’s compromised, the critter population goes haywire and the result is a severe inflammatory skin disease. Your dog’s paws can swell, the skin can scale, and the hair can fall out—but demodicosis rarely affects only the paws. It’s the first thing your vet will consider when a dog presents symptoms. While it’s a treatable disease, remission can take a long time, and some dogs will need follow-up therapy to prevent recurrences.
These can be fungal (yeast) or bacterial, and are fairly common:
- Yeast infections (yeast dermatitis) often affect the skin between a dog’s toes and other skin folds, as seen in itching, redness, a greasy discharge, and occasionally a brown discoloration of the dog’s toenails. You may notice excessive licking and red toenail beds in your dog’s feet, which comes from the licking. Yeast infections are most often themselves secondary to an underlying problem called atopic dermatitis (explained below). Symptoms may be worse on the paws and foot pads than on other parts of the dog’s body.
- Ringworm (which is neither a worm, nor ring-shaped) is another fungus, found in the soil. Your dog may pick it up out and about—at a dog park, for example—and it may lead to pododermatitis in his paws.
- Bacterial infections – Symptoms of bacterial infections include licking or biting the feet, itching, pain, redness, swelling, hair loss, crusting, draining sinuses, and possibly an abscess.
Atopic (Allergic) Dermatitis
Atopic dermatitis is an itchy, inflammatory skin disease associated with environmental allergens, much like hay fever in people. Skin allergies start in young dogs, who may scratch, rub, lick, or chew the paws. Other affected areas include the face, ears, limbs, flanks, and belly. Atopic dermatitis is the most common cause of paw licking and chewing. Skin or blood tests will reveal the specific airborne allergens that cause atopic dermatitis. Although it requires lifelong treatment, atopic dermatitis is fairly easy to manage, and a dog who has it should enjoy a good quality of life.
How to Treat Pododermatitis in Dogs
Treatment options for pododermatitis are wide-ranging because of the multitude of underlying causes. Identifying the precise cause, and focusing the treatment on that, promise the best prognosis. And the sooner the better—waiting until there is scarring or a flare-up of symptoms is not advised.
Demodicosis – Localized demodicosis does not typically require treating, but for generalized demodicosis, where much of a dog’s body and his paws are affected, your vet may prescribe one of the following three medications:
- Amitraz dip, an FDA-approved medication applied weekly or bi-weekly, typically by a technician at a veterinary hospital
- Ivermectin, a liquid deworming agent for cows, which may be given orally to treat demodicosis in dogs
- Milbemycin oxime, a heartworm preventive tablet that can also be given daily to treat demodicosis
Treatments should continue until scrapings of the dog’s skin performed two to four weeks apart reveal no evidence of mites.
Yeast Infections – After a test reveals that yeast is the problem, your vet will prescribe topical products, antifungal wipes, and shampoos to treat the infection. Failing these treatments, antihistamines, steroids, and anti-itch meds may help.
Ringworm – Depending on the severity of your dog’s infection, the vet may prescribe a medicated shampoo or ointment, or a lime or sulfur dip to kill the ringworm fungus, along with an oral medication in severe cases. Look for signs of improvement in one to three weeks. Note: Ringworm is contagious—your dog can spread it to other pets, and even to you, but using medicated bath products on him and thoroughly cleaning your home and your dog’s living environment can stop its spread.
Bacterial Infections – As is true of the Demodex canis parasite that causes demodicosis, bacteria and yeast are normal inhabitants of a healthy dog, kept in check by his immune system—an imbalance that leads to an infection often betrays an underlying problem, most often atopic (or allergic) dermatitis. After your vet confirms this diagnosis, treatment options can vary from antibacterial shampoos, soaks, sprays, and wipes, to a course of antibiotics in more severe cases.
Atopic Dermatitis – Your vet may prescribe antifungals (if there is yeast), antihistamines, steroids, and anti-itch meds, but may also want to rule out food allergies or flea allergy dermatitis (FAD) as the cause of his itchy, red paws. For food allergies, a trial to introduce a new protein, or an elimination diet—removing ingredients and then reintroducing them one at a time—may reveal the specific allergen. And preventive flea and tick meds will take care of FAD fairly quickly. When all else fails, the veterinarian may refer you to a dermatologist for advanced testing.
Your dog’s feet have important work to do, to say nothing of play. If you catch him chewing on his feet, take a closer look. Red and itchy dog paws could be early signs of canine pododermatitis. The sooner you get your pal to the vet and start treatments for whatever ails him, the sooner you can get back to the important business of tracking down quarry with your dog—whether it’s a pheasant or a frisbee.