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canine health problems
Red dog paw and toes

Red skin between doggie toes

A dog’s paws handle lots of daily wear and tear, so it’s no surprise that they can end up red, swollen, and inflamed at times. Inflammation typically shows up in two main areas — on their paw pads and between their toes.

14 potential causes of red paws 

There are many irritants and conditions that may be the reason for your dog’s red paws, and treatment will be dependent on the underlying problem.

1. Pododermatitis. Defined as inflammation and lesions on the skin of the paw. Inflamed areas may include interdigital spaces, footpads, nail folds, and nails, and multiple paws can be affected at once. It’s not considered a diagnosis, but more of a symptom from other underlying causes.

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, inflamed skin, especially around their paws.

3. Contact dermatitis. An allergic reaction from coming into contact with certain substances. The most common causes include grass, other allergens, lawn chemicals, etc.

4. Yeast infections. Yeast is naturally-occurring in most pets, but it’s when conditions are favorable (like moist or inflamed) a yeast infection can flare up. The most common in areas they occur are the ears, paws, armpits, groin, and folds of the skin in some breeds.

5. Parasites. Parasites like ticks, mites, and fleas can make their home in 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 vet to be diagnosed.

6. Ringworm. Despite the name, ringworm is actually 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.

7. Bacterial infections. Like yeast, bacteria is also naturally-occurring. It just exists 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.

8. 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.

9. 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.

10. Cysts and growths. Interdigital cysts are growths that form between your dog’s toes, usually in the webbing. They typically appear red and can sometimes be filled with blood or pus.

11. Biting, chewing, or excessive licking. If you find your dog constantly licking and chewing their feet, there’s a good chance that an underlying cause needs to be addressed. The more they lick and chew, the more irritated their paws become and a painful cycle starts until the cause is treated.

12. Something stuck in your dog’s paw (like a grass awn or burr). It’s easy for your dog to get a foreign body, like a burr, 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.

13. 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.

14. 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.

How to treat your dog’s red paws

  1. First, check your dog’s paws. Is there an object caught between their toes or in a paw pad? Are there any signs of a cut or trauma?
  2. If your pup is in pain and you can’t see a stuck object, blister, or burn, you should call your vet and have your dog looked at.
  3. For conditions such as allergies, yeast infections, parasites, and pododermatitis, you should visit your vet so they can help diagnose the reason behind their red paws and set up a treatment plan. It’s possible your pup will need antibiotics if it’s an infection.

How common are environmental allergies?

We asked our vet, Dr. Erica Irish, about environmental vs. seasonal vs. food allergies to determine which are more likely to cause irritated paws. Dr. Irish noted that other indoor allergens like dust mites and storage mites can also be a factor when it comes to doggie allergies.

“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, DVM

Ways to treat red paw pad symptoms at home

Treatment will vary based on what’s causing your dog’s red paws. If your vet determines that your pup’s red paws are caused by burns, blisters, or allergies, paw balms can help your pup while they recover. Balms protect against daily wear-and-tear and irritants, plus they soothe already-irritated skin.

Try an easy-to-use balm stick like Paw Soother or paw wax like Paw Nectar — both have all-natural ingredients and can relieve your dog’s paw irritation within days (or sometimes immediately!).

Preventing your pup from getting red paws

While you should always be watching out for your doggie’s paws, it’s especially important during the hot summer and wintery 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.

PawTection can help prevent burns and blisters on your dog’s paws — PawTection creates a protective barrier between your pup’s paws and hot asphalt or rough terrain. 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 try an aller-immune supplement like Premium Care’s Allergy Immune Treats or salmon oil with omega 3’s 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 environmental allergies — Keep your pup away from environmental allergies around your home like cleaning chemicals, chemicals in carpets, chemicals spray on grass or landscaping, etc.