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Dog with a red, sore, inflamed paw

The essentials

  • Canine pododermatitis is 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.
  • It has many causes — A wide range of things can be responsible, from allergies and disorders to fungal infections and hormonal imbalances.
  • 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.

Paw pad dermatitis is an inflammatory condition that primarily affects the foot pads of dogs, but it can be common in cats as well. As a responsible pet owner, understanding the causes, symptoms, treatments, and preventive measures for this condition is essential to ensure your pet’s comfort and overall well-being.

What is paw pad dermatitis?

Paw pad dermatitis refers to inflammation of the skin on the pads of an animal’s feet. The condition can manifest in a wide range of forms, from mild redness and scaling to severe swelling, cracking, and bleeding.

The simplest definition of pododermatitis is “inflammation of the skin of the feet or paw pads .” 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. Canine 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 clinical signs of pododermatitis. These breeds have wider set paws — and therefore more vulnerable skin underneath them — making them more likely to develop it.

Possible causes of Pododermatitis and Paw Pad Irritation:

Allergies. One of the most common reasons. Allergic reactions to pollen and other irritants can lead to the development of paw pododermatitis or canine atopic dermatitis.

Food allergies. Some dogs can develop food allergies that can manifest in their skin and paws. Any irritation has the potential to develop into pododermatitis.

Trauma. Walking on rough surfaces, hot pavements, or stepping on sharp objects can damage the paw pads.

Environmental. If your dog steps in feces, vomit, stagnant water, or other contaminated material, their paws can pick up foreign bodies, 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 causing this issue. This is also known as “contact dermatitis.”

Chemical irritants. Household cleaning agents, de-icing salts, or lawn chemicals can cause chemical burns or irritation.

Infections. Fungal or bacterial infections can lead to paw pad inflammation, pododermatitis, and, in some cases, a secondary infection like a yeast infection.

Demodex mites. Demodectic mange, caused by Demodex canis mites, can lead to pododermatitis in dogs. These mites usually inhabit the hair follicles but can proliferate excessively in some dogs, especially those with compromised immune systems. This can lead to localized or generalized skin inflammation, including the paws.

Scabies mites. Sarcoptic mange, caused by Sarcoptes scabies mites, is another potential cause. These mites burrow into the skin, causing intense itching, which can affect various areas, including the paws.

Fleas and ticks. In dogs that are hypersensitive or allergic to flea bites, even a single bite can cause intense itching and inflammation. The paws can be one of the areas affected if the dog repeatedly bites or licks them due to the discomfort. Some dogs may also have reactions to tick bites, leading to localized inflammation at the bite site.

Immune-related. Problems with your dog’s immune system can cause a series of reactions and skin problems, including pododermatitis. Autoimmune diseases such as pemphigus vulgaris should be checked for and treated accordingly by your vet, especially since they could lead to secondary infections.

Genetic predispositions. Some breeds may be genetically predisposed to paw pad issues.

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, consult your vet as soon as possible. They’ll likely want to run some diagnostic tests on your pup.

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.
  • Limping or favoring one side. Your pup will likely experience pain in the affected area, possibly leading to a limp or not wanting to put their foot down.
  • Cracking or bleeding. Especially if the inflammation is caused by trauma to the foot or nail.
  • Licking or chewing the affected paw. Usually the result of painful or itchy feet, this can be a debilitating symptom that can also lead to other medical issues like hot spots or a secondary infection, especially if caused by a foreign body or irritant.
  • 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 irritation, friction, or inflammation (like from allergies).

How is paw pododermatitis treated?

Visit your vet for an official diagnosis — The first step is finding out the causes of pododermatitis. 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 skin cytology, biopsies, skin scrapes, hair plucks, blood tests, sensitivity testing, and possibly take fungal cultures 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, this involves a few weeks’ worth of topical therapy with antibiotics, at minimum. Depending on the severity of the case, your vet may also recommend more advanced treatments such as foot soaks, oral medications, surgery, or 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 — Keeping 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. This also helps with keeping allergens down.

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 will limit contact with allergens in the environment, helping to prevent recurring pododermatitis. Just don’t leave booties on for too long, as they can trap moisture!

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.

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.

Prevention checklist

  • Regular checks. Examine your pet’s paws regularly for signs of injury or irritation.
  • Clean paws. After walks, especially in unfamiliar terrains or during winter (because of salt on the roads), clean your pet’s paws with a damp cloth.
  • Limit exposure. If your pet is allergic to certain surfaces or substances, minimize their exposure.
  • Paw protection. Use protective boots in extreme weather or rough terrains.
  • Quality diet. A balanced diet can boost your pet’s immune system, helping fend off infections.

Paw pad dermatitis can be painful for pets, but with awareness and proactive care, pet owners can manage or even prevent this condition. Regularly checking your pet’s paws and seeking early veterinary intervention when issues arise can make a significant difference in your pet’s quality of life.

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 and 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.