This article was updated on January 10th, 2024
Seeing skin issues is a nearly everyday thing for us at our veterinary clinic. This article will help you identify the lump, bump or sore on your dog’s paw with the help of pictures from our veterinarian team. We will cover the most frequent causes, but it’s important to keep in mind that you should always consult your vet for a proper diagnosis.
Most common lumps, bumps or sores found on dog paws
Let’s take a look at some of the most common reasons why your dog may have a new growth on their paws:
1. Interdigital cysts
These red bumps pop up between your dog’s toes and are often filled with blood or pus. They can become quite large, as shown on the picture below. If painful enough, your dog will either limp or lick them excessively. Treatment often involves an antibiotic and anti-inflammatory if they are causing a lot of swelling. Learn more about Interdigital Cysts: Home Remedies and Treatments.
2. Foreign body
Your dog’s feet go almost everywhere! This gives grass seeds, thorns, and thistle stickers an easy route to get into them and cause problems. Once foreign bodies make their way into the skin between a dog’s toes or into the foot pad, they’re free to set up a nasty inflammatory reaction complete with redness, swelling, and heat.
These lumps or skin lesions will cause a dog to lick and chew their feet and may start to ooze thick, colored discharge. Without treatment, foreign bodies can cause abscesses. In some cases, they may even cause infections.
To resolve these lumps or sores, veterinary treatment is usually necessary. Leaving an infection or foreign body can make it worse and increase the likelihood of complications.
Soaking the foot and getting antibiotics from your veterinarian will get rid of most foreign body issues. If foreign material is present, your vet can sometimes remove it with local anesthetic, but more thorough surgical exploration under sedation or general anesthetic may be necessary (estimated cost: from $50-$100 for a vet visit and antibiotics to $500 or more for surgical removal).
3. Sores due to excessive paw licking (lick granuloma)
A lick granuloma is a lump or lesion brought on by excessive licking. While mild licking can be soothing and even healing for your dog, excessive paw licking will likely be irritating. It may create raised lumps, usually with a raw surface. Lick granulomas may bleed or become infected.
Many dogs recover well from lick granulomas, although the prognosis is variable depending on the cause and severity of the problem. If lick granulomas are left untreated, they may become more severe and difficult to resolve.
Treatment needs to be aimed at curing whatever is causing the licking. This may be itchiness from allergies or irritants, pain from arthritis, boredom, or anxiety. Once the underlying cause is under control, the wound can be treated with topical or oral antibiotics and an e-collar to prevent further licking (estimated cost: $100-$500 or more for diagnostics and treatment, depending on the underlying cause).
Learn more about Dogs Constantly Licking their Paws.
Histiocytomas are benign skin growths that are relatively common in younger dogs. They are typically small (< 2cm), round, raised, and reddish-pink. Histiocytomas are more common on the head, neck, and ears but can occur on toes and paws.
These growths grow very quickly but are not cancerous, and typically not painful. Most histiocytomas will go away on their own within a couple of months. Larger ones that are bothersome may need to be surgically removed.
Learn more about Histiocytomas or Red Bumps in dogs.
5. Cancerous tumors
The two main culprits of cancerous tumors or lumps on a dog’s paw are ‘digital squamous cell carcinoma’ and ‘digital melanoma’. Both are typically fast-growing lumps that often change shape over time (see picture below or this picture from VeterianKey.com: squamous cell carcinomas between the toes).
These lumps can ulcerate, bleed, or cause the neighboring tissue to die. Dogs may also have a swollen toe, limp, or lick their foot.
Pictured below is a melanoma on a dog’s leg. Melanomas can occur anywhere in the skin and are the second most common tumor associated with the toes in dogs. Breeds, including Schnauzers, Irish Setters, Golden Retrievers, Rottweilers, Poodles and Labrador Retrievers are at higher risk, but regardless of breed, black-coated dogs are more likely to develop melanoma.
Early diagnosis is essential as melanomas that occur on the paws or toes are usually much more aggressive than those affecting other areas. There is a high risk of spread to other tissues and they may damage underlying bone, causing pain and lameness.
If this type of tumor is diagnosed, your vet will often recommend investigations to rule out spread to other organs. Treatment usually involves amputation of the affected toe but may also include radiotherapy and immunotherapy.
Lumps that develop rapidly or cause irritation are more concerning. Monitoring these for an extended period at home is not recommended as most malignant skin tumors require surgery, and early diagnosis increases the likelihood of successful treatment.
The prognosis for these paw or toe tumors is very variable depending on the type, size, whether the tumor has spread (metastasis), and what treatment is chosen. If the tumor is removed completely and there is no metastasis, the prognosis can be good.
6. Skin tags
Skin tags are benign growths that develop on the surface of your dog’s skin. They come in different sizes, shapes and colors, but are often attached to the skin via a narrow stalk (leaving them dangling in space). Below is a collection of pictures showing skin tags.
Learn more about Skin Tags.
Papillomas, also known as warts, are common in dogs. They are caused by a papillomavirus and, in many cases, resolve on their own over months to years. Papillomas usually appear as small raised lumps, which commonly have an irregular, bumpy surface and can be pink, tan, or the same color as the surrounding skin.
Young dogs are most commonly affected and can have multiple papillomas across the body, especially the face, mouth, and neck.
Papillomas are not typically itchy or painful but, in some cases, can become infected or rarely develop into other types of tumors. If a papilloma is causing irritation, it should be checked by your vet. Papillomas do not typically require treatment, but if they are causing irritation, surgical removal or a biopsy to rule out malignant tumors may be recommended. It is important to regularly check any papillomas for changes, growth, or irritation.
Just like people, dogs can get corns on their feet. These are growths that occur on the foot pad, which is the keratinized part of a dog’s foot. They can be very painful, causing limping and licking of the affected foot. Corns are thought to be caused by a papilloma virus infection, similar to warts, or some kind of repetitive pressure or irritation. View a corn picture here.
Corns are often treated by a veterinarian with ointments, manual abrasion, or surgical removal. Look to spend $100-$500 or more, depending on the treatment of choice.
Other types of lumps and bumps:
View our article about 12 common lumps and bumps on dogs.
Could your dog’s bump or lump on the paw be cancerous?
Not all cancerous lumps are obvious. Some signs that a lump may be cancerous include:
- Rapid growth
- Pain (potentially causing lameness)
- Irritation (causing licking and chewing)
- Ulceration of the skin
- Changes to nail growth or lost nails
Other factors that increase the likelihood of a cancerous lump include old age and certain breed predispositions (e.g. Boxers commonly develop mast cell tumors). Learn more.
How to get a diagnosis
Sores & foreign bodies: as veterinarians, we diagnose many foot-related issues based on history and physical examination – lesions caused by infection or foreign bodies are often easily recognized and treatment initiated. In some cases, for example, if a more severe infection is suspected, swabs or skin scrapes may be performed to look for specific bacteria or parasites. This may cost around $50 to $200, depending on the tests being performed.
If you are able to take high-quality, clear photos or video of a lump, your vet may be able to give a reasonable idea of the likely cause via email or video call. It can be helpful to use an object like a ruler or coin for scale if taking close-up photos. For a definitive diagnosis, however, further tests will be needed. In many cases, your vet will need to see your dog in person.
Lumps and bumps: It can be very challenging to find out what a lump is just by looking at it. When your veterinarian sees a lump or bump on your dog’s paw, they’re going to want to find out exactly what it is. That usually involves sticking a needle in it and finding out what cells are making it up.
Most of the time, your vet will be able to diagnose the issue by looking at the cells under a microscope, but they may also want to send a sample to a pathologist.
- Simple “fine needle aspirations” (FNAs) cost about $150-300
- Biopsies done under anesthetic may cost $400-600.
- Learn more about Fine Needle Aspirates and Biopsies.
Depending on what your vet initially finds, they may also want to take X-rays. Bloodwork will be done if they suspect cancer to help determine if it has spread.
Signs that it is ok to wait-&-see
In almost all cases, a new or changing lump on your dog’s toes should be checked by your vet. Many of these lumps are treatable but require veterinary attention (e.g. foreign bodies, infections, interdigital cysts etc.) and may progress and cause pain and complications if left untreated. Lumps like warts and histiocytomas do not require any treatment, but some malignant tumors may be mistaken for these benign lumps. Delayed diagnosis and treatment of a malignant tumor can have serious consequences for your dog’s health and prognosis.
Three steps you can take at home to help with paw bumps
Any new lump or bump should always be checked out by a veterinarian. This is simply because you never know exactly what you’re dealing with until you know what types of cells make up a lump. That being said, there are some instances when you can first try at-home treatments.
For example, if you know that the cause of a paw lump is a foreign body or an interdigital cyst, you may try the following:
1. Clean and soak with warm water and soap
Dog paws can be hard to keep clean. But for minor lumps and bumps like interdigital cysts or foreign body abscesses, that’s just what they need. Clean your dog’s leg with warm water and a mild soap. Rinse thoroughly. You can also soak the paw in warm water and Epsom salts to further cleanse it and to help draw out any little thorns or stickers that may be causing problems.
2. Cover it up
After the paw is clean and dry, you may want to apply a light wrap to continue to keep it clean. This can also keep your dog from working it over with their tongue. A baby or kid’s sock works really well, depending on the size of your dog. Otherwise, a layer or two of vet wrap will do the job. If you’ve never wrapped a dog’s foot before, be sure to get some professional advice first.
Veterinarian Tip: Be very careful when wrapping a dog’s leg or paw! If the bandage is too tight or gets wet and tightens, your dog may lose blood supply and possibly their foot. Bandages on dogs should be placed by a veterinary professional.
3. Monitor it
Lumps and bumps change quickly, so be sure to keep a frequent eye on what’s going on with your dog’s paw. Any changes in size, shape, or color should be immediately seen by a veterinarian. Additionally, if a cyst or abscess doesn’t get better within a couple of days of at-home treatment, see your veterinarian.
What you should know before the vet visit
Be sure to tell your vet:
- when you first noticed the lump
- if it’s changed in size, shape, or color since then.
You’ll also want to tell them if you’ve tried any at-home treatments and if the lump got better or worse with those treatments.
FAQ with our vet
What does a cancerous lump feel like on a dog?
Cancerous lumps can feel and look different depending on what type they are. However, most are firm, and they often have an irregular shape that grows quickly. Some cancerous lumps may be fixed, while others are moveable. That is why it’s so important to get a vet’s diagnosis on any lumps or bumps.
What does a cyst look like on a dog’s paw?
Cysts are small or large lumps that are often fluid-filled. They may rupture and leak pus or blood.
What does a sarcoma look like on a dog’s paw?
Sarcomas are often seen as raised lumps that feel firm. They are often ulcerated and may bleed. Sarcomas can also cause swelling of the toe.
How do I know if a bump on my dog’s paw is serious?
Generally, lumps that grow quickly or are irregularly shaped and colored indicate a malignant tumor. But not all bad lumps may look like this. So, it’s important to get a veterinary diagnosis for any lump or bump that shows up on your dog’s paw or anywhere on their body.
Grassinger, J. M., Floren, A., Müller, T., Cerezo-Echevarria, A., Beitzinger, C., Conrad, D., Törner, K., Staudacher, M., & Aupperle-Lellbach, H. (2021). Digital Lesions in Dogs: A Statistical Breed Analysis of 2912 Cases. Veterinary sciences, 8(7), 136. https://doi.org/10.3390/vetsci8070136
Disclaimer: This website's content is not a substitute for veterinary care. Always consult with your veterinarian for healthcare decisions. Read More.