This Christmas we went to visit my parents and their terrier, Finn.
Finn was adopted from Elizabeth’s Animal Rescue and Sanctuary in Florida.
Finn is a wirehaired dachshund with a little bit of something else peppered in. He is an avid barker at bunnies and squirrels and he has a favorite stuffed dog named George. He also has a penchant for eating lizards, but we try not to talk about that.
Finn also has a terrible issue with itchy paws. So today, in honor of Finnbar, we are going to be talking about the many possible causes of itchy paws.
What is Causing Your Dog’s Itchy Paws?
Yeast is an infection most commonly seen in dog’s ears, but it can also be found on dog’s paws as well.
Yeast infections are seen in dogs with compromised immune systems, but may also be the result of dietary imbalances, allergies, or excessively moist paws.
Yeast infections on the paws are often characterized with rust colored fur as see in the picture to the left. Dogs with a yeast infection of the paws may also have symptoms in the armpits, ears, and other folds of skin where moisture can collect easily.
A dog with yeast overgrowth on their paws will bite, chew, and itch their paws to try and satisfy the constant irritation and itch caused by the yeast. Yeast comes with a very telltale odor (if you’re ever owned a Labrador then you know the smell well), it is a musty odor and is usually paired with oily skin or thick brown debris in the ears.
Treatment for a yeast infection varies but generally, it includes a soothing element as well as an anti-fungal treatment to eliminate the infection.
It is important when treating a yeast infection on your dog’s paws, to determine the cause of the yeast overgrowth so that future infection can be prevented. The first step in doing this is usually to assess your pet’s overall health, to observe the environment for any causes of excessive moisture, and if necessary, address dietary concerns that may be contributing to the overgrowth of yeast.
Dog food allergies can contribute to itchy paws, however, when yeast is not present (this can only be confirmed with a skin scraping, but an absence of the rust colored paws can be an indicator), dog food allergies usually present with broader symptoms than localized itching.
Other common symptoms of food allergies include biting at the feet, inflammation of the ears, recurrent yeast infections of the ears or skin, itching of the face, itching around the anus, hair loss, hot spots, and bacterial skin infections.
Food allergies are often the first “go to” in dogs that show itching or recurrent skin infection. Treatment involves addressing immediate symptoms such as hot spots and then identifying the allergen.
Allergy testing can be done to narrow down the allergen causing your dog trouble, but this is often expensive and many pet owners choose, instead, to carry out an elimination diet instead. This involves putting your dog on an “allergy” friendly diet that eliminates the most common allergens and then reintroducing possible allergens while watching for the recurrence of symptoms. Treatment may also include the administration of steroids or topical soothing ointment to tackle immediate symptoms.
The most common food allergens for dogs are beef, chicken, corn, wheat, and soy. It is possible for dogs to have other food allergies, but these are most often seen and so the target of the elimination diet.
Bacterial infection on your dog’s paws is almost always accompanied by redness and irritation of the skin.
Bacterial infections can result from a wide range of bacteria, both those naturally present in the dog’s body and those found outside the body.
Bacterial infections can be localized or generalized in terms of how symptoms affect your dog, this is a result of just how advanced the infection is and where and how it began.
As with yeast, it is more common for dogs with a compromised immune system to experience bacterial infections.
In addition to redness and irritation, other possible signs of a bacterial infection can include sores, broken skin, bleeding, discharge, pus, thickening of the skin, and lameness. Bacterial infections may often include odor, but it is not always present.
Treatment of bacterial infections requires antibiotic treatment which may be topical, systemic, or both depending on the severity of the infection. Swelling, itching, and other symptoms may also require the administration of steroids.
There is a variety of parasites that can cause irritation of your dog’s paws. The most common parasites that cause redness, itching and irritation are fleas and mites.
When irritation is due to a flea allergy or reaction to flea bites, you will notice small black flecks on your pet’s paws. Infestation will also be generalized as fleas tend not to stick to one part of the body.
Mites are also common causes of paw irritation, the most commonly seen being sarcoptic mange mites, demodectic mange mites, harvest mites (chiggers), and Cheyletiella mites.
Mite infection is almost always accompanied by hair loss, skin swelling, redness, biting of the affected area, and itching. While mite infections may begin locally, they can quickly spread all over the body.
Infection with all parasites, including mites, involves coming into contact with the parasite in question.
All mite infections can be identified through a skin scraping and treatment involves “dipping” or shampooing the dog with a solution designed to kill the specific parasite causing the irritation.
Other Causes of Paw Irritation
There are quite a few other causes of paw irritation to consider in addition to those discussed above. If these more common causes of paw itching don’t seem to fit your dog, consider the following and discuss them with your vet…
- Hot spots
- Lick granulomas
- Seborrheic dermatitis
- Environmental allergens (things like grass pollen or chemical applications to grass)
- Skin dryness
- Anxiety or obsessive behavior
- Foreign body
So, what should you do?
The first thing you need to do is talk to your vet. Before your dog’s itchy paws can be addressed, it’s important to get a definitive diagnosis so that the treatment can be effective.
DO NOT use at home “remedies”. Not only do many of these “remedies” not work, but they often make the situation worse and cause your dog pain.
Once you have a professional diagnosis, stick with the treatment plan offered by your veterinarian or consult a licensed holistic veterinarian to discuss other treatment options.