Foot inflammation in dogs can be quite troublesome consider that dog feet allow dogs to be mobile and carry a dog's weight all day long. Inflammation is a natural response of the body, a process where the dog's white blood cells, along with other substances meant to protect against infection, gather together to fight off any perceived threats, such as foreign invaders, irritants, allergens and pathogens. Regardless of the underlying causes, foot inflammation in dogs need prompt treatment so to repair tissue damage and allow dogs to be back to their normal selves and up on their toes again.
Foot Inflammation in Dogs
As mentioned, the purpose of inflammation is to protect the body from any perceived threats and allow it to heal. It's ultimately a defense mechanism meant to protect from infection and potential injury.
When inflammation affects a dog's feet, it is called pododermatitis. This words derives from the ancient Greek word "podo" meaning foot and dermatitis, meaning inflammation of the skin.
Pododermatitis in dogs affects the skin and connective tissue of the dog's feet. It can affect the paw pads and the skin between the toes (interdigital dermatitis.)
It's important to note that this condition per se is not a diagnosis; rather it is simply a clinical finding. It's therefore important finding the underlying cause that is causing the foot inflammation in dogs in the first place and addressing it accordingly.
Signs of Trouble
Symptoms of foot inflammation in dogs often noticed by dog owners include itching, redness, swelling, loss of fur, presence of ulcers, thick skin in the webbing between the toes, cracked paws, skin odor, painful walking, presence of nodules, and persistent licking, often to the point of staining the fur with a rusty color if the dog happens to have a light-colored coat.
While licking can help remove any dirt of debris, it's important to consider that persistent, chronic licking can lead to secondary problems. Because the feet are kept constantly humid and there is poor air circulation in between the dog's toes, it quite easy for opportunistic yeast and bacteria infections to set in.
Now, these bacteria and yeast normally live on the skin surface, but their numbers may increase when, as opportunists, they detect warmth and humidity or dogs create small scratches when they lick and chew at their toes, explains veterinarian Dr. Fiona.
Some Underlying Causes
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What causes pododermatitis in dogs? There are several potential causes, and as mentioned, it's important identifying them so the most appropriated treatment for foot inflammation in dogs can be started.
Exposure to allergens can cause allergic dermatitis. Dogs do not wear shoes like humans do and therefore their feet are directly exposed to irritants that are on the ground such as chemicals, fertilizers, weed killers, and allergens such as pollen, weeds, molds and grasses. Dogs may also develop itchy feet due to allergies to certain foods.
Demodex species mites are known to cause annoying infections in a dog's feet, and when they do, the condition is called demodectic pododermatitis.
This diagnosis is often missed, yet it is one of the most common causes of recurrent yeast or bacterial infections of dog feet. Demodicosis can be easily ruled out by having a deep skin scraping done, points out, Dr. Alice M. Jeromin, a board-certified veterinarian specializing in dermatology.
Other causes for foot inflammation in dogs include hookworm infestations, pelodera infestations, reactions to medications, autoimmune conditions (pemphigus foliaceous, lupus) trauma causing a secondary infection (a foreign body embedded inside the foot pad, bug bite, splinter), boredom and stress,(acral lick dermatitis), endocrine disorders (thyroid, adrenal) and in some cases, even cancer (melanoma, squamous cell carcinoma and mast cell tumor). Sometimes, a real cause is never found despite extensive testing, and vets refer to these cases as "idiopathic."
At the Vet's Office
Your vet will ask you several questions about when the symptoms started, what food you are feeding, if you are giving any new treats or supplements, if your dog is kept indoors or out, etc.
After gaining a detailed history, your vet will perform an in-depth physical examination and may order a battery of tests.
Skin cytology, examination of cells collected from the body under a microscope, is an important starting point to determine presence of infection or cancer.
A bacterial or fungal culture can reveal presence of the pesky inhabitants of dog skin. A skin biopsy including three different samples can turn helpful when sent out to a pathologist to interpret them.
Bloodwork can help determine if there are any underlying metabolic disorders especially in dogs who present with inflammation affecting all four feet. Several tests to detect allergies can turn useful, especially when done through a veterinary dermatologist.
Treatment varies based on the underlying cause of inflammation of the dog's foot. If the dog is found to be allergic, avoidance of the offending food or allergen is needed. A food trial with an hypoallergenic diet can be suggested. Steroids and antihistamines can be prescribed. If there are bacterial or fungal infections, the vet will prescribe antibiotics or anti-fungal medications often for as long as up to 12 weeks. If there is an immune system disorder, steroids are often prescribed and cancer is treated with surgery, radiation or chemotherapy based on the type.