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Red dog paw and toes

Red skin between doggie toes

The essentials

  • Red paws on dogs can be a vicious cycle — The more dogs lick and chew, the worse the redness can get, making the healing process frustrating for pets and owners.
  • Treatment will depend on the cause — There are many reasons why a dog’s paws may be red, so it’s important to know the underlying cause so that you can treat it with allergy medicine, antibiotics, or potentially just a good cleaning.
  • Environmental allergies may be the culprit — Dogs can be allergic to various things, from pollen and grass to food items and fleas.

A dog’s paws handle lots of daily wear and tear, so it’s no surprise that they can sometimes end up red, swollen, and inflamed. But when does it become a cause for concern? Dogs can have red paws for many reasons, including allergies, contact dermatitis, yeast infections, or chronic inflammation, to name a few. Follow along to learn more about the possible causes of red paws on dogs, plus treatment and prevention tips.

Signs of red paws on dogs

When dog paws are red, they sometimes have accompanying symptoms that signal whether the cause is harmless or potentially dangerous. For example, a dog licking or chewing its paw may be suffering from a mild allergy, whereas a dog with a burn or lesion may also be limping or unwilling to walk. Here are some other clinical signs you might see in addition to red paws:

  • Excessive paw licking, chewing, or gnawing
  • Limping
  • Signs of irritation in other areas, like itchy ears 
  • Kicking feet
  • Unwillingness to walk
  • Saliva staining (pink fur)
  • Foul smell

13 potential causes of red paws

Allergies to food or touching certain allergens can cause red paws on dogs. Skin infections can as well, along with common irritants like parasites and trauma. There are various reasons why your dog’s paws might be red. Treatment will be dependent on the underlying problem.

  1. Pododermatitis. Defined as inflammation of the skin and lesions on the paw. Affected areas may include interdigital spaces, footpads, nail folds, and nails, and multiple paws can be affected at once.
  2. Allergies. Dogs can be allergic to a variety of sources (pollen, mold, grass, specific foods, fleas, etc). The allergic reaction can lead to itchy feet and inflamed skin, especially around their paws — these symptoms may also be referred to as contact dermatitis.
  3. Yeast infections. Yeast is naturally occurring in most pets, but it’s when conditions are favorable (like inflamed or moist areas) that a yeast infection can flare up and lead to itchy paws. The most common areas they occur in are the ears, paws, armpits, groin, and folds of the skin in some breeds.
  4. Parasites. Parasites like ticks, mites, and fleas can make their home on your dog’s feet and bite their paw pads, causing them to bite and chew them in an attempt to relieve the itching. Some parasites can’t be seen by the naked eye and will need a skin scrape from your veterinarian to be diagnosed.
  5. Ringworm. Despite the name, ringworm is a fungus versus a worm. Patches of ringworm may look like scaly patches or red lesions on the skin and usually come with some hair loss in the area. Lesions mostly appear on a dog’s paws, legs, head, and ears, but can show up on any part of the body.
  6. Bacterial infections. Like yeast, bacteria are also naturally occurring. They just exist on the skin! But when skin is inflamed, bacteria can fall through the “cracks” in the paw skin’s barrier to cause infection. The infected paw pad is usually swollen and reddish in appearance and sometimes comes with a foul odor.
  7. Burns from hot pavement. Extreme temperatures from hot pavement or frozen ground can cause severe burns to your dog’s paw pads. This can cause them to lick them obsessively in an attempt to relieve the pain.
  8. Blisters, cuts, and abrasions. If your pup cuts their paw on something or develops blisters, it’s easy for the area to become irritated and inflamed.
  9. Cysts and growths. Interdigital cysts are growths that form between your dog’s toes, usually in the webbing. Short-haired breeds or those with wide paws may be most susceptible.
  10. Anxiety or boredom. If your dog is constantly licking or chewing its paws, and no other serious root cause can be diagnosed, it may be a behavioral issue. Some dogs that are bored or anxious will engage in compulsive behavior. Unfortunately, the more they lick and chew, the more irritated and red their paws become, and a painful cycle starts again.
  11. Foreign body. It’s easy for your dog to get foreign objects, like grass awns or a burr, stuck in their paw when they walk around outside. If something’s stuck, they may bite and chew at it for relief and, in turn, have red, irritated paws.
  12. Ingrown toenail. If you don’t trim your dog’s nails regularly, some nails may grow too long and can curl back and start digging into the paw pad, causing pain and irritation.
  13. Insect bites and stings. Just like us, dogs can have allergic reactions to bug bites. It may not be clear what bug may have bitten or stung them, but most lead to itching and redness in the area.

Environmental allergies occur more often than food allergies do, and chemicals and cleaning sprays aren't quite 'allergic' like grass, pollen, weeds, trees, and mites/molds are.

Dr. Erica Irish

How to treat your dog’s red paws

As with any ailment, the treatment often depends on the cause. If you think your dog may have an allergy or a small cut, consider checking and cleaning their paws thoroughly to see if the redness subsides. However, always call your veterinarian for a physical examination if symptoms persist or worsen.

Check your dog’s paws — Is there an object caught between their toes or in a paw pad? Are they any signs of a cut or trauma? Be sure to take a closer look.

Clean your dog’s paws — For redness that may be caused by yeast infections or allergies, or for redness caused by an object that you easily removed, follow up by cleaning your dog’s affected paw with a medicated shampoo and warm water. Here’s one we recommend from TropiClean.

Call your vet for a physical exam — If your pup is in pain and you can’t see a stuck object, blister or burn, you should schedule a vet visit immediately to have your dog checked. More severe cases of red paws on dogs may be due to parasitic infections or pododermatitis that can only be diagnosed and treated by a vet and prescription antibiotics.

Ways to treat red paw pad symptoms at home

Specific treatment options will vary based on what’s causing your dog’s red paws. If your pup’s red paws are due to bacterial infections or fungal infections, medicated shampoos can help soothe symptoms and moisturize the area.

Here’s a shampoo we recommend from TropiClean.

Preventing your pup from getting red paws

While you should always watch out for your doggie’s paws, it’s especially important during the summer and winter months. Here are a few steps to take to ensure your dog doesn’t end up with irritated paw pads.

Frequently do a paw check — Be sure to inspect your pup’s paws after they’ve been outside to make sure they didn’t accidentally step on anything or cut themselves on sharp objects.

PawTection can help prevent burns and blisters on your dog’s pawsPawTection creates a protective barrier between your pup’s paws and hot asphalt or rough terrain. To use it, simply rub it onto their paw pads before going on walks. It can also soothe dry or irritated paw pads.

Avoid walking your dog during harsh weather conditions — Extreme temps can cause burns and lesions on your pup’s feet. Stick to early morning or late evening walks in the summer. In the winter, snow, ice, and chemicals on the ground can irritate your dog’s paws. Pet parents can even try doggie booties for extra protection!

Keep your pup up to date on flea and tick medications — Fleas, ticks, and other parasites can be easily avoided by keeping your dog on monthly preventatives.

Treat your pup’s seasonal allergies — Ask your vet how to help manage your dog’s allergies. You can also use an aller-immune system supplement like Zesty Paws Aller-Immune Bites or salmon oil with omega-3s to promote skin health.

Properly trim and maintain your dog’s nails — Keep up with regular nail trims to prevent them from overgrowing and potentially causing issues in the future.

Avoid allergens — Keep your pup away from potential allergens in and out of your home, including dust, weeds, cleaning chemicals, chemicals spray on grass, etc.

Frequently asked questions

What causes a dog’s paws to be red?

There are several potential reasons why your dog’s paws could be red, including allergies, contact dermatitis, burns or lesions, and even some more serious conditions like parasites, bacterial infections, and pododermatitis.

Why are my dog’s paws red between the toes?

If your dog’s paws are red because of an allergy or other condition, it’s likely that the irritation will spread to other areas of the paw, like in between the toes. This may be caused by excessive licking, chewing, or gnawing as well. Other more serious reasons why a dog’s paws may be red in between the toes is because of cysts or growths like interdigital cysts.