Oftentimes, when dog companion parents notice something a bit odd about their companion dog’s paws, they assume the dog stepped in, walked through, or got something lodged in the paws. This very well could be the case. However, dog paw inflammation can also be a sign of a more complicated problem.
The medical name for paw inflammation in dogs is canine pododermatitis.
How Confusion Can Start
Paw inflammation ranges from reddened paws to interdigital furuncles.
Interdigital furuncles are often referred to by the misnomer of “interdigital cysts”. Furuncles are actually a type of boil.
We know it is a furuncle because that is how it looks under a microscope.
However, one or more follicular cysts in the paw exist as an actual syndrome that could be a subtype of interdigital furuncles or a separate disease.
But, that is just one example to demonstrate why diagnosis and knowing the potential factors for paw inflammation are clinically important.
The causes of paw inflammation can be due to multiple diseases and conditions. However, veterinarians have broken these down into several categories.
You may think paw bacterial, fungal or parasitic infections are from contact. This could be true, but sometimes the microbe is systemic and the manifestation on the paw has occurred by other means.
Blastomycosis, a potentially serious fungal infection, is a good example.
The fungus causing blastomycosis lives mainly around the area of the United States and Canada surrounding the Great Lakes, and the Ohio and Mississippi River Valleys.
The fungus normally enters the body from inhalation from the spores. Dogs also can get blastomycosis through contact, but this is rare. From there, the fungus spreads around the body and can cause skin or paw lesions.
Breed type pre-disposition is very important with this condition. Dogs with a short and coarse hair coat may be more likely to have inflamed and ruptured follicles. Breeds with this type of hair coat include English bulldogs, Great Danes, Basset hounds, mastiffs, bull terriers and boxers.
Dogs with wider paws can be more likely to bear weight on the haired skin between the pads because the paws splay out upon standing. Breeds with this type of paw shape, or conformation, include Labrador retrievers, English bulldogs, German shepherds and Pekingese.
Other Examples of Causes of Paw Inflammation
- Seasonal or environmental allergy
- Food sensitivity and intolerance (e.g. NutriScan)
- Contact dermatitis
- Immune-mediated – Signs are typically crusts (scabs), ulcerations and occasional blisters. All four feet are commonly involved, especially the footpads and nailbeds.
- Hypothyroidism and thyroiditis
- Cushing’s disease (hyperadrenocorticism)
- Tumors – Squamous cell carcinoma, melanoma, mast cell tumor, keratoacanthoma, inverted papilloma
- Environmental – Trauma from concrete and gravel dog runs, excessive exercise or running on hard surfaces, clipper burn, grass awns, foreign bodies like foxtails
- Obesity (a sign of chronic cellular inflammation)
Presenting signs can help veterinarians narrow down what diagnostic tests to run on the affected animal.
As a pet companion caregiver, please pay attention to excessive paw licking; the best thing to do is to check your dog’s paws daily for:
- Reddened inflammation
- Reddish brown staining of the paw fur
- Thickened and crusty paw pads
- Boils (furuncles)
Clearly, treatment depends upon the diagnosis.
As we have expressed concern in previous articles, many conditions are often misdiagnosed as bacterial because the proper tests were not run or a bacterial infection is secondary to a larger systemic issue. So, please also include full diagnostic laboratory testing if your companion is diagnosed as having a bacterial or other infection.
Bajwa, Jangi. “Canine Pododermatitis.” The Canadian Veterinary Journal, vol. 57, no. 9, Sept. 2016, pp. 991–993, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4982575.
“Interdigital Cysts in Dogs.” VIN – Veterinary Partner, 10 Sept. 2018, http://veterinarypartner.vin.com/default.aspx?pid=19239&id=8713573.
“Overview of Interdigital Furunculosis – Integumentary System.” Merck Veterinary Manual, http://www.merckvetmanual.com/integumentary-system/interdigital-furunculosis/overview-of-interdigital-furunculosis.