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French bulldog resting

The essentials

  • Interdigital cysts in dogs are common in certain breeds — These bumpy sores in the webbing between your dog’s toes (interdigital) might make walking painful.
  • Limping or paw chewing and licking are signs — Gently check your dog’s paw pads daily to monitor.
  • It’s possible to treat interdigital cysts at home — In some cases, however, your dog may need in-office treatments. Your vet can help in both situations.

What are interdigital cysts?

Interdigital cysts are large lesions that form between a dog’s toes, typically in the webbing of their front paws. Interdigital cysts may be a reddish purple color and are sometimes filled with blood or pus. Bacterial infections are a common cause of interdigital cysts. These lesions can lead to secondary infections.

Causes of interdigital cysts

Veterinarians aren’t always sure what causes a dog’s interdigital cyst, but they often see them in certain breeds, including short-haired dogs like the American bulldog, Great Danes, and Shar-Peis. Skin conditions like canine atopic dermatitis (eczema) and canine demodicosis (mange) can cause recurring interdigital furuncles, the proper name for these bumps or boils. These conditions may cause dogs to lick or chew at their paws, causing skin and hair irritation that leads to a cycle of interdigital cysts.

Trauma to the skin or obesity may play a role as well. Overweight dogs or dogs with arthritis may put more pressure on the spaces between their toes while walking, leading to interdigital cysts.

Interdigital cysts and short-haired breeds

Dogs with short hair between the webbing of their toes are most at risk because these hairs often push into hair follicles. When in-grown hairs, or keratin, become embedded in the skin, this can lead to inflammation and secondary bacterial infections. Dogs with wide paws like the fox red Labrador retriever, German shepherd, and Pekingese are also more at risk.

interdigital cyst on dog toes

a moderately advanced interdigital cyst (furuncle)

Common symptoms of interdigital cysts

It may not be obvious that your dog has an interdigital cyst, especially if they don’t like  having their feet examined or it’s difficult to see on a hairy paw. Watch out for these symptoms:

  • Limping or holding up one foot. If your dog favors one leg, take a closer look. Though this isn’t the most common cause of interdigital cysts, foreign bodies like a sharp thistle or grass awn could be embedded in a paw.
  • Excessive licking. Dogs lick their paws for different reasons, but allergies could be one culprit.
  • Inflammation, bleeding, or hair loss on the back or front paws. In addition to these obvious signs of trouble, your dog might yelp when the foot is touched or have an unpleasant, musty odor associated with its feet and toes.

Treating interdigital cysts

When you spot any of the signs above, it’s time to call the veterinarian.  Your vet will inspect the interdigital cysts and may begin with non-invasive tests like skin impressions, skin scrapes, or hair samples. They may take a skin culture for non-healing infections, or biopsy tissue for lab analysis. Vets may also test for skin and food allergies, bacterial infections, and mites. Your vet may refer you to a veterinary dermatologist.

Describe your dog’s behavior, diet, and environment to help diagnose what’s causing the interdigital cysts. If the underlying condition isn’t diagnosed and treated, the cysts may return and lead to a cycle of recurring infections.

👉 If your dog’s paws are bleeding, see a veterinarian immediately.

3 ways to treat interdigital cysts

Treatments range from medication to more serious treatments like surgery and laser therapy.

  1. Medicine. Because interdigital furunculosis is often caused by bacterial infections, vets may prescribe anti-inflammatory medication and antibiotics. A cream antibiotic is rarely enough, so dogs may need oral anti-inflammatory medication, too. It may take several weeks of antibiotics, anti-inflammatory medications, and foot soaks with antifungal ingredients such as Ketoconazole or Chlorhexidine to resolve the issue.
  2. Surgery. A surgical specialist can extract affected webbing and suture toes. Surgeons may recommend fusion podoplasty , a surgery that removes the web between a dog’s toes. This can help, but it can also lead to orthopedic issues. Paws will need to be bandaged after surgical procedures, and veterinarians may recommend protective footwear.
  3. Carbon dioxide laser therapy. In severe cases, chronic infections may be removed with laser therapy, safely removing the nodules from the webbing without changing the paw structure. However, it may require multiple treatments.

👉 Avoid topicals and soaks before you visit the vet or veterinary dermatologist, so they can see what your dog’s toes look like without treatment.

Preventing interdigital cysts

Preventing every lesion on your dog’s paws may be impossible, but some basic paw hygiene can go a long way.

  • Check your dog’s paws daily — Dogs trek around on rough surfaces during hot and cold weather which can wear on their paws.
  • Keep an eye on your dog’s weight — This is a good idea for several health reasons, but obesity puts unnecessary strain on a dog’s paws.
  • Use a paw balm — In addition to regular baths and other routine grooming, paw balms heal your dog’s dry and cracked skin. They also have anti-inflammatory properties. Clean paws with warm water, dog shampoo, and an Epsom salt soak first. Then, keep paws steppin’ comfortably with paw balms made of natural ingredients that lock in moisture.

Frequently asked questions

How do you treat interdigital cysts in dogs?

Common treatments include allergy medication, antibiotics and anti-inflammatory medication. In more extreme cases, your veterinarian may recommend surgery or carbon dioxide laser therapy. 

Will an interdigital cyst go away on its own? 

It will not go away without proper treatment, but once you begin the prescribed course, the lesions should eventually heal. Home treatments such as apple cider vinegar will most likely not be effective. 

Do I need to take my dog to the vet for an interdigital cyst? 

It’s best to take your dog to the vet for a proper diagnosis. If your dog experiences recurring lesions or your dog falls into one of the susceptible breed types, talk to your veterinarian at a regular checkup about prevention and ongoing maintenance to avoid any emergency trips.