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canine health problems
pododermatitis on dog's paw

Inflamed doggie paws

The essentials

  • It’s a symptom of a condition — Pododermatitis doesn’t describe what’s wrong with your dog. It’s usually a symptom of an underlying condition, such as a bacterial infection.
  • Pododermatitis has many causes — Paw pododermatitis can be caused by a range of things, from allergies and disorders to fungal infections and hormonal imbalances.
  • It can be very painful — Minor cases will cause sore paws, blisters, and discomfort, but severe cases can be very painful and have a significant impact on your dog’s quality of life.
  • Always consult your vet — If your dog has inflamed or sore paws, they need to be checked out by a vet, even if it doesn’t look serious. Only a proper diagnosis can tell your vet (and you) what the underlying cause is, and what treatment will help your pup recover.

What is paw pododermatitis?

The simplest definition of paw pododermatitis is “inflammation of the skin of the paw.” Your dog’s paws are very sensitive, and pododermatitis causes the skin between your dog’s foot pads and toes to become inflamed and red. Sometimes, sores and wounds can develop, making it very difficult for your doggie to walk around.

👉 Pododermatitis isn’t an illness, it’s a symptom of a condition. 

That means it’s a sign that something else is going on with your dog. Pododermatitis has many potential causes, so getting your veterinarian’s opinion is important.

Certain dog breeds are more prone to it

No dog is immune to paw pododermatitis, but some are more likely to experience it than others. If you’re a pet parent of one of the breeds in the list below, you should be extra careful to watch for signs of pododermatitis. These breeds have larger, wider paws — and therefore more vulnerable skin underneath them — making them more likely to develop it.

  • Labrador breeds including Labrador retrievers
  • Pekingese
  • Terrier breeds
  • English bulldogs
  • Basset hounds
  • Mastiffs
  • Boxers
  • Great Danes
  • German shepherds
  • Dachshunds

What causes paw pododermatitis?

Allergies. Reactions to food, pollen, and other irritants can lead to the development of paw pododermatitis. If your dog has seasonal or food allergies, they may have been exposed to those allergens and their paws are suffering as a result of canine atopic dermatitis.

Parasites. Demodex mites can cause chronic pododermatitis and mange. Dogs with chronic issues should be evaluated and treated for demodex mites and other parasites, such as hookworm and ticks.

Environmental. If your dog steps in feces, vomit, stagnant water, or other contaminated material, their paws can pick up germs, parasites, or allergens. Contaminated material can get stuck in between their footpads and toes, causing pododermatitis to develop completely unseen. Additionally, your dog may have stepped on a thorn or gotten a splinter that is embedded in their skin and causing this issue. This is also known as “contact dermatitis”.

Bacteria. Exposure to harmful bacterias, whether through skin contact, ingestion, or fluids, can result in several problems for your pup, including paw pododermatitis. Bacterial infections are treated with antibacterial medications and should clear up within a few weeks.

Fungal infections. If your dog steps in a fungus, it can spread and cause painful pododermatitis sores and ulcers to develop on their paws. Ringworm is a common fungal infection that affects dogs, and it, too, can be picked up from the soil a dog walks in. Yeast infections are another common infection seen on doggie paws.

Immune-related. Problems with your dog’s immune system can cause a series of reactions and skin problems, including pododermatitis. Autoimmune disorders such as pemphigus vulgaris should be checked for and treated accordingly by your vet.

Hormonal and metabolic. Hormonal issues, especially severe ones like Cushing’s Disease and hypothyroidism, cause a host of problems for dogs, including paw pododermatitis. If you’ve noticed your dog is losing hair, is eating or drinking too much, and has sores/lesions on their paws, get them tested for Cushing’s as soon as you can.

Nail trauma. Dogs can break nails easily if they are being very active on hard surfaces such as concrete. As the nail heals, it can get infected, leading to painful sores.

Symptoms of inflamed paws

Besides your pup’s excessive licking, these are common signs of paw pododermatitis:

  • Swollen and red paws. Look at the skin on your dog’s paw (called the footpad). If it seems red or inflamed, paw pododermatitis is a likely explanation.
  • Bumps between the toes. You shouldn’t just be checking your dog’s foot pads and toes. You should also look between their toes, where contaminants and sores may be hidden from sight. Bumps between the toes, also called interdigital cysts or follicular cysts, describe pododermatitis between the toes.
  • Pus from lesions. Does your pup have sores on their feet? They may open up and leak pus and discharge. Aside from being rather gross, this pus is a sure sign of paw pododermatitis. It also means that your dog’s paws are in a lot of pain, so getting to the vet sooner rather than later is recommended.
  • Hair loss on paws. It’s not just the bottoms of your dog’s paws that hold signs of pododermatitis; the tops and sides of their paws can also give you clues. If your dog is losing hair on their paws or even up their legs, pododermatitis is likely.
  • Crusts or scabs in or between toes. Crusty, scabby toes and foot pads are very painful for dogs, and they can even open up, leaking pus and blood.
  • Hyperpigmentation. If your dog’s skin looks dark brown or black, their body is likely reacting to something.

How is paw pododermatitis treated?

Visit your vet for an official diagnosis — Your vet will evaluate your dog’s physical condition and medical history before beginning the testing phase. Often, pododermatitis can be recognized by sight, but the causes always require testing.

Several tests will be conducted — Your vet will perform several tests, including cytology, biopsies, skin scrapes, take hair and blood samples, and more to determine what is wrong with your dog. They won’t stop at just one test, because paw pododermatitis can be caused by more than one thing at the same time. So, a full round of testing is needed. In some cases, you’ll need to see a specialist called a veterinary dermatologist to get a complete diagnosis.

A diagnosis will be made — Once your vet has finished testing, they’ll be able to make a complete and accurate diagnosis. They may make one diagnosis or multiple. Depending on exactly what’s wrong with your pup, treatment recommendations will vary.

Your vet will recommend treatment — Usually, treatment involves a few weeks’ worth of antibiotics at minimum. Depending on the case, your vet will also recommend more treatments such as foot soaks, as well as ongoing visits and therapy to monitor recovery progress.

Preventing environmental, parasitic, and allergic pododermatitis

It’s important to work with your veterinarian to create a plan that eliminates your pup’s allergen so they can avoid pododermatitis flare-ups.

Keep your dog’s environment clean — Keep your dog’s play and sleeping area clean is one of the best ways to prevent pododermatitis. Feces, urine, and vomit should never be allowed to remain in the places your dog spends time.

👉 If your dog has allergies, you should also work to keep their environment allergen-free. 

Don’t overlook dirty paws — Dirty paws don’t just leave tracks in your house; they can also result in painful sores and lesions. If you notice dirty paws, get them cleaned as soon as you can. It’s good for your house and your dog!

Consider booties — This is a simple, effective way to keep your dog’s paws from coming into contact with contaminated materials. Dog booties (like these grippy dog boots)  will limit contact with allergens in the environment, helping to prevent recurring pododermatitis.

Treat your pup’s seasonal allergies — If your dog has seasonal allergies, take them to the vet to be diagnosed so that they can receive any medications they may need. Also, it’s a good idea to wipe down their paws and noses after walks during allergy season; this limits exposure to allergens.

👉 Ask your vet if your pup could benefit from an aller-immune supplement to ease seasonal allergy symptoms. 

Soothe and prevent dog paw irritation with a balm — A good paw balm can help your dog’s skin remain moisturized and avoid cracking and irritation. This will prevent infections and pododermatitis from developing.

Our favorite balm to soothe red, inflamed paws: Paw Soother

This balm from Natural Dog Company, is one of the most popular balms on the market for a reason: it works. Paw Soother does a great job of soothing, moisturizing, and healing sore paws, and it smells amazing, too!

Even better, this balm comes without all the chemicals and add-ins that could be bad for your dog. It’s made with vegan, organic ingredients like coconut oil, rosemary, and Vitamin C that will soothe your dog’s sore paws effectively, without the need for synthetic or non-natural ingredients.

Frequently asked questions

Will pododermatitis go away on its own?

It rarely goes away on its own. Paw pododermatitis isn’t a simple skin irritation; it has wide-ranging causes, and all of them require focused, intentional treatment. Even more important, pododermatitis is painful for dogs. That means procrastinating getting treatment is prolonging their suffering. So, if you think your dog has paw pododermatitis, don’t hesitate to have them evaluated.

Is pododermatitis painful for dogs?

Yes. The level of pain your dog feels can range from light soreness to severe, almost crippling pain, depending on how bad their condition is. Some dogs may not feel much pain, but due to the nature of paw pododermatitis and the importance of the paws, most dogs are going to be feeling it acutely.

Is pododermatitis curable?

Many cases require ongoing treatment and management; it may never fully go away. This is heavily dependent upon the cause — Environmental causes will go away if you keep their environment clean, but allergy-caused cases may not. Pododermatitis caused by allergies will stay away as long as proper treatment for allergies is maintained, but it will likely return if treatment has stopped.