Dog paw infections are one of the more common issues that we treat in a veterinary hospital. Any source of irritation or inflammation can trigger dogs to lick at their paws more often than usual, and this licking can easily set a dog up for an infection of the paws.
Paw infections can affect a single paw or all four paws, depending on the underlying cause. Some paw infections are associated with generalized skin disease, while other dogs have paw infections in the absence of any other skin issues.
Read on to learn more about this common condition in dogs.
Common Dog Paw Infections & Issues [With Pictures]
Paw infections and paw inflammation (also known as pododermatitis) can have a wide variety of potential causes. Many of these conditions are nearly impossible to distinguish on visual appearance alone, meaning that you will likely need a veterinary exam and diagnostic tests to determine the underlying cause of your dog’s paw issues.
Allergic Pododermatitis (Dog Paw Inflammation)
Allergic pododermatitis is a common cause of paw inflammation in dogs. Affected dogs develop redness and swelling between the toes and all over the paw. In many cases, the paws are damp due to licking and chewing. Allergic dermatitis often affects all four paws, although it’s possible to only have one or two paws affected. Allergies can usually be managed with medication, but they are never fully cured. Your dog will likely require lifelong treatment with oral, injectable, or topical allergy medications, as well as lifestyle changes to reduce their exposure to allergens. If you suspect that your dog may have allergic pododermatitis, seek veterinary care to discuss an appropriate treatment plan and rule out secondary infections. The costs associated with treating allergic dermatitis depend on the severity of your dog’s allergies, the presence of secondary infections, and how well your dog responds to medications.
A bacterial infection can occur as an isolated condition or it can develop secondary to allergic pododermatitis or other skin diseases. Signs of a bacterial infection may be clinically indistinguishable from allergic pododermatitis. In some cases, however, dogs may develop pus and draining tracts as a result of the infection. Bacterial infections of the paws can vary in severity, but most cases can be treated with several weeks of oral antibiotics. If you suspect that your dog may have a bacterial infection, prompt veterinary care is essential in order to allow a speedy resolution with treatment. The cost of antibiotics will depend on your dog’s size and the duration of antibiotic therapy that is needed, but most cases can be treated for less than $150.
Although your dog’s skin always contains a small amount of yeast on its surface, a yeast infection occurs when these yeast begin to proliferate unchecked. In many cases a yeast infection of the paws is clinically indistinguishable from a bacterial infection or allergic dermatitis. Therefore, your veterinarian will perform diagnostic tests to determine the cause of your dog’s paw infection. Once diagnosed, a yeast infection is typically treated with a combination of oral and topical antifungal medications. The cost of treatment may vary, depending on your dog’s size and the severity of the infection, but many cases can be treated for less than $100.
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When a dog’s toenails become excessively long, they can curl all the way around and begin to grow into the skin. This is more likely to occur on the dewclaws, because they do not have pressure from the ground to slow their growth. An ingrown toenail can be identified by the presence of a long, curled toenail, often with irritation or pus visible at the site where the nail is putting pressure on the skin. Your veterinarian will treat this condition by trimming the overgrown toenail, then prescribing oral antibiotics to treat the infection. In many cases, your dog may also receive additional medications to treat pain and inflammation. Treatment typically costs less than $100, although costs may be higher if your dog must be sedated to permit a nail trim.
Broken toenails are relatively common injuries in dogs. Unfortunately, a broken toenail can lead a dog to lick or chew at their paw excessively, contributing to a paw infection. In addition to redness and inflammation of the paw, you will likely be able to see the torn or damaged toenail. Your veterinarian will treat this by trimming the broken nail, bandaging the foot (if needed), and prescribing a combination of pain medication and antibiotics. This treatment typically costs less than $150, although costs may be higher if your dog requires sedation.
Penetrating Foreign Body or Wound
A foreign object, such as a stick, sandspur, or foxtail (grass awn) can lead to significant infection and inflammation of the paw. In addition to generalized swelling and redness, you may be able to see the foreign object or a visible wound where it punctured the skin. Treatment options vary, depending on whether the foreign object is still present and requires surgical extraction under anesthesia or whether your dog can be treated with simple antibiotics. Treatment costs may vary from $50-500, depending on the care that your dog needs.
Any injury to your dog’s paw pads can contribute to a paw infection, by causing discomfort and leading your dog to lick excessively at the paws. Pad injuries can be caused by long walks on rough pavement, standing on an especially hot surface, or walking on sharp rocks. In most cases, you will be able to see visible damage to the surface of your dog’s paw pads. A pad injury should always be evaluated by a veterinarian. Your veterinarian may recommend bandaging the paw, and your dog will likely be treated with pain medication and antibiotics. In some cases, pad injuries can be repaired with surgery. Costs may range from $50-500, depending on the level of care that your dog requires.
Signs of a Serious Dog Paw Problem
Signs that your dog should see a veterinarian include:
- Redness of the paws
- Swollen paws
- Excessive licking or chewing of the paws
- Bleeding from the paws
- Reluctance to walk
If your dog appears especially uncomfortable, or you notice significant bleeding from the paws, you should ensure that your dog receives care as soon as possible. Even mild paw infections should be treated within a few days, because postponing treatment can allow the problem to worsen and make treatment more challenging.
For example, significant paw inflammation (as seen below) requires a veterinary visit as soon as possible:
Home Care for Dog Paw Infections
If your dog’s paws are inflamed or infected, there are a few things that you can do to keep your dog comfortable until your veterinary visit.
First, begin by cleaning your dog’s paws thoroughly. If your dog has stepped into some sort of irritating substance, a thorough cleaning may be enough to remove the offending substance and help alleviate some of the inflammation.
Next, prevent your dog from licking at their paws excessively. Inflamed paws itch, which triggers your dog to lick at the paws. Unfortunately, licking at the paws will cause more irritation and can create a moist environment that promotes infection. Therefore, you need to keep your dog from licking at the paws. An e-collar or cone can be used to block your dog’s ability to access their paws.
Finally, avoid activities that will irritate your dog’s paws further. Long walks on hot pavement and walking on rocky or rough surfaces could exacerbate your dog’s paw irritation. It’s best to keep your dog on smooth, soft, non-irritating surfaces, at least until you’re able to have your dog evaluated by a veterinarian.
Dog Paw Infections: Causes & Prevention
Paw infections can have a wide variety of potential causes.
One of the most common causes of paw infections and paw inflammation is underlying allergies. Just like their human owners, many dogs are allergic to tree pollen, weeds, and grasses. Unlike humans, however, dogs are more likely to develop itchy skin than a runny nose and watery eyes. In many cases, allergic skin disease shows up on the paws. Preventing paw infections due to allergies will require managing your dog’s underlying allergies. Work with your veterinarian to find a treatment protocol that works for your dog, realizing that your dog will likely require lifelong care.
Proper hygiene and grooming can also help reduce the risk of dog paw infections. Some infections occur due to broken or ingrown toenails. Additionally, matted fur may trap moisture and debris close to the skin, putting your dog at greater risk of a skin infection. Keeping the fur on your dog’s paws trimmed and the nails at an appropriate length can reduce the risk of skin infections.
Paw infections can also be caused by environmental hazards. For example, sandspurs and foxtails (grass awns) may contribute to paw infections in some areas of the country. If your dog is prone to these sorts of paw infections, work with your veterinarian to identify high-risk environments and limit your dog’s access to these areas. If your dog must walk in areas that are rough or treacherous, you may want to consider using booties to protect your dog’s paws.
Veterinary Treatment of Dog Paw Infections
Your veterinarian will begin with a thorough physical exam. They will look closely at your dog’s paws, while also evaluating the rest of your dog’s skin and your dog’s overall health.
Next, your veterinarian will likely recommend a number of diagnostic tests. Common tests that may be recommended for a dog with a paw infection include:
- Skin scraping: Your veterinarian will run an oil-coated scalpel blade across the surface of your dog’s skin, then examine the collected sample under low power on a microscope. This test looks for mites that can live on the surface of the skin (scabies) or within the hair follicles (demodex).
- Fungal culture: Your veterinarian will obtain hair samples from your dog’s paws, place them on a petri dish containing fungal growth medium, and incubate the samples to assess for fungal growth. This test is used to test for ringworm.
- Skin cytology: Your veterinarian will collect a sample from the surface of your dog’s skin, stain the sample, and examine it under a high-powered microscope. This allows the diagnosis of bacterial and yeast infections.
Depending on the results of your dog’s diagnostic tests, your veterinarian will prescribe appropriate treatments for your dog’s paw condition. In many cases, paw infections are treated with oral antibiotics and/or antifungals that you will give at home. Your veterinarian may also recommend topical treatments, such as ointments, medicated powders, or medicated shampoos. Additionally, your veterinarian may recommend the use of an e-collar to prevent your dog from licking and chewing at their paws.
Less commonly, treatments such as surgical wound exploration, bandaging of the paw, or other measures may be recommended.
5 Tips for Healthy Dog Paw Care
- Keep your dog’s nails trimmed to an appropriate length.
- Carefully trim excess fur around your dog’s paws (if you have a long-haired dog), to prevent matting and reduce the number of foreign objects that may become trapped in your dog’s hair.
- Check your dog’s paws daily, looking for wounds, toenail injuries, and inflammation.
- Pay attention to your dog’s routine behavior, looking for excessive licking at the paws that may indicate an infection.
- Contact your veterinarian if you notice any problems or changes in your dog’s paws.
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