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canine health problems

Interdigital cysts: How to treat painful lumps between your dog’s toes

Treat your dog’s painful paws right so they can walk without pain

Updated October 19, 2020

Created By

Kaitlyn Arford,
dog toes

a moderately advanced interdigital cyst (furuncle)

The essentials

  • Interdigital cysts are large bumps that form between the toes — They often look red and are filled with blood or pus.
  • Your dog may limp, chew, or lick their paws, alerting owners that something is off — Check their paw pads daily to monitor.
  • Paw balms are a great way to soothe and heal paw problemsBalms help moisturize and heal rashes, dry skin, and, of course, interdigital cysts.
  • Interdigital cysts can get infected and may need antibiotics — Your vet can help.

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 typically look red and sometimes filled with blood or pus. Bacterial infections are a common cause of interdigital cysts. These lesions can lead to secondary infections.

a large interdigital cyst

an advanced interdigital cyst. Some can get even larger, seriously impairing a dog's ability to walk

What causes interdigital cysts?

There are many ways interdigital cysts can develop, but the most common cause is a deep underlying bacterial infection.

Skin conditions like demodicosis, fungal infections, Demodex mites, atopic dermatitis, baldness (alopecia), blackheads (comedones), and skin cancers can cause nodules on paws. Canine atopic dermatitis and demodicosis (mange) can cause recurring interdigital furuncles. Recurring lesions are often caused by reactions to foreign bodies and can cause secondary infections. Recurrent lesions can be a sign of an underlying cause like a skin disease, hypothyroidism, or a yeast infection caused by an overgrowth of Malassezia.

Certain breeds are more prone to interdigital cysts. Dogs who have short hair between the webbing of their toes are most at risk because these hairs can be pushed into hair follicles. This can lead to inflammation and secondary bacterial infections.

Dogs with shorter, coarser hair coats like English bulldogs, Great Danes, Chinese shar peis, basset hounds, mastiffs, and boxers are more likely to have inflamed follicles. Dogs with wide paws like Labrador retrievers, English bulldogs, German shepherds, and Pekingese are also more at risk.

Medical conditions may be to blame. Dogs with arthritis or obesity may put more pressure on the spaces between their toes while walking, leading to interdigital cysts. Paw shape structure abnormalities (poor foot conformation) can also cause problems.

Dogs that often lick or chew at their paws can cause skin and hair irritation that leads to interdigital cysts. Excessive licking can be caused by a medical condition, like allergies, or a behavioral issue, like boredom or anxiety. Foreign materials may embed in a dog’s toes or the webbing between their toes, and dogs may lick to dislodge these.

The environment a dog lives and walks in makes a difference: cages or rough, uneven ground can lead to ingrown hair follicles.

Interdigital cysts, interdigital furunculosis, and follicular pododermatitis are all big words that mean the same thing

Interdigital furuncles, which are often referred to as interdigital cysts, are nodules and lesions located in the interdigital webbing between a dog’s toes. These lesions are areas of deep pyoderma that may be caused by foreign bodies, food allergies, poor foot conformation, or more.

Interdigital furunculosis is often referred to as interdigital cyst formation. Interdigital cysts may also be called follicular pododermatitis.

An interdigital cyst is a pocket of fluid under the skin between the toes. Technically, any abscess in between toes is interdigital furunculosis.

Common symptoms of interdigital cysts

  • Redness
  • Inflammation
  • Excessive licking
  • Bleeding
  • Itching
  • Cysts
  • Discharge of fluids/pus
  • Hairless or red bumps between toes

A vet visit is always a good idea

It’s always a good idea to talk to your pup’s veterinarian if you have any concerns. If you notice your dog excessively licking or any inflammation, it’s time for a trip to the animal hospital.

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

Veterinarians can diagnose interdigital cysts with non-invasive tests like a skin biopsy

Your veterinarian 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 (sometimes for cytology to look for secondary infection). Vets may also test for allergies, bacterial infections, and mites. Your vet may refer you to a veterinary dermatologist.

Make sure to discuss your dog’s behavior, diet, and environment with your vet to help diagnose what’s causing the interdigital cysts. If the underlying condition isn’t diagnosed and treated, the cysts may return and could lead to scarring, more inflammation, and more vet bills.

Veterinarians treat interdigital cysts with antibiotics, medication

Veterinarians have three ways to treat interdigital cysts:

  • Medicine. Vets may prescribe anti-inflammatory medication and antibiotics since cysts are often caused by bacterial infections. 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 to resolve the issue.
  • Surgery. For more severe cases, dogs may have to undergo 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.
  • CO2 laser therapy. In extreme cases, chronic infections may be removed with a CO2 laser. CO2 laser vaporizes the lesions from the webbing to safely cut out cysts using carbon dioxide. This allows the tissue to heal and keeps the normal paw structure intact. However, it may require multiple treatments.

 

How to treat interdigital cysts at home

It’s hard to see your furry friend limping or licking. It’s a painful experience for your dog and painful for you to watch. Thankfully, there are at-home treatment options for interdigital cysts. Your vet may recommend reducing your dog’s weight, regularly cleaning paws, and applying a paw balm. In general, bathing, topical treatments, and overall good hygiene are key parts of initially treating interdigital cysts, particularly for treating chronic lesions.

Make a habit of checking your dog’s paws daily — Dogs trek around on rough surfaces during hot and cold weather, and that can wear out your pet’s paws.

Paw balms, shampoos, and soaks can soothe and alleviate your pup’s pain — Cleansing paws with a shampoo and Epsom salt soak is a good first step. Then keep paws steppin’ comfortably with paw balms that lock in moisture.

If you have an appointment with your veterinarian or veterinary dermatologist, avoid using topicals and soaks — This way, the veterinary dermatologist can see what the dog’s toes look like without treatment.

Since most dogs won’t wear booties, protect their precious paws in other ways — Paw balms infuse your four-footed friend’s paws with all the protection they need. They help heal your dogs’ dry and cracked skin and also have anti-inflammatory properties.

How to pick the right paw balm

Natural ingredients are a must: paw balms and butters should only contain ingredients that are dog-friendly, safe, and edible. Always check the label: some paw balms, like Bhodi Dog Organic Paw Balm, are USDA-certified organic. Others, like Musher’s Secret Natural Paw Wax and Pure and Rescue Pet Rescue Balm, are made with beeswax, a natural moisturizer.

Make sure your balm has moisturizing ingredients. Some of the best are:

  • Coconut oil. This naturally improves a dog’s skin by hydrating and providing relief.
  • Candelilla wax. This forms a protective barrier to keep irritants separated from skin.
  • Vitamin E. This is good for your dog’s skin inside and out. It reduces flakiness and helps promote muscle growth.

Our top balm pick: Skin Soother

We only recommend balms we’d feel safe using on our own skin. That’s part of why we love our favorite healing balm: Skin Soother, an all-natural salve that’s safe.

Skin Soother is loaded with anti-inflammatory ingredients, antioxidants, and antimicrobials. It’s an essential for any first aid kit, as it works on wounds, burns, skin irritants, and interdigital cysts.

Ingredients
Lavender, Chamomile, Frankincense, Sea Buckthorn Oil, Myrrh, Cocoa Butter, Sweet Almond Oil, Coconut Oil, Safflower Oil, Candelilla Wax, Vetiver, Niaouli, Benzoin, Vitamin E

Skin Soother is powered by plants with these moisturizing key ingredients:

  • Chamomile is a soothing solution for sensitive skin.
  • Frankincense is a natural antiseptic used to heal wounds and inflammation.
  • Myrrh is an infection-fighting anti-fungal.
  • It’s 100% natural, safe, and edible.
  • It’s vegan, organic, and cruelty-free.

How to apply Skin Soother

  1. Distract your pup with a treat or toy.
  2. Clean their paws of any dirt or debris.
  3. Use your fingers or a cloth.
  4. Rub into a generous amount of Skin Soother into the affected area.
  5. Reward them with compliments, cuddles, or a treat.

Remember:

  • Apply Skin Soother 2-3 times daily
  • Apply generously to the affected area