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Pododermatitis in Dogs

Pododermatitis is an inflammatory (red, hot, painful) disease that involves the feet of dogs and, less commonly, cats. Owners typically describe their dog as constantly licking and chewing at its paws.

What causes pododermatitis?   Top
Many conditions and/or diseases can cause pododermatitis, including:

  • Infection — bacteria such as Staphylococcus, fungal infection, parasites such as hookworm, demodex mites
  • Allergy — atopy (inhaled allergens), food allergy, contact allergy of paws to various substances
  • Immune disease such as lupus
  • Hormonal disease such as hypothyroidism (low production of the thyroid gland)
  • Cancer such as melanoma
  • Environment — concrete and gravel dog runs, excessive exercise, foreign bodies in the feet, clipping nails too close to the skin, moist housing

  • What are the signs of pododermatitis?   Top
    The signs vary, but always include the toes, nails, footpads, or entire paw.

  • The feet may be grossly swollen, with or without fluid accumulation.
  • The feet may be red and inflamed with nodules, ulcers, and open skin breakdown. Drainage may contain blood or pus.
  • Because of pain and itching, the animal may constantly lick its paws, with resulting hair loss.
  • The tissue surrounding the nails may be especially red and sensitive.
  • Scaling, crusting, and pus or blood filled blisters are occasionally seen.
  • If cancer is the cause, tumors appear as nodules, which can be ulcerated and painful.
  • The animal may appear lame and have difficulty walking, especially if the footpads are involved

  • How is pododermatitis diagnosed?   Top
    A thorough history of your pet is extremely important information for the veterinarian. The pet's environment and general life-style need evaluation. Information should include whether the pet lives indoors or out, is a working dog or a pet, sanitary conditions, other pets affected, trauma, diet, and travel history.

    The diagnostic evaluation may include analysis of skin scrapings from the lesions on the feet, and of any drainage or pus. Culture for fungus is also necessary. Depending on the history and physical examination findings, other tests may include biopsy (removal and examination of affected tissue), bacterial culture, and food elimination diet. Radiographs (X-rays) are done after the initial tests if cancer or generalized disease is suspected.

    How is pododermatitis treated?   Top
    Unfortunately, the cause is often unknown. Even if the cause is determined, management of this disease is often frustrating due to relapses or lack of affordable treatment options. In many cases, the disease can only be managed and not cured; in some cases surgery such as amputation of toes or feet may be the only option for lesion cure.

    Unless surgery is indicated, most pets can be cared for at home. Foot soaks, hot packing, and bandaging may be necessary. Your pet will likely be given a hypoallergenic diet to rule out food hypersensitivity. Your veterinarian can prescribe an appropriate diet. Drug therapy includes long-term antibiotics, anti-fungals, steroids, chemotherapeutic agents (cancer), anti-parasitic agents and hormone replacement. The drug therapy selected will depend upon the underlying cause.

    If the underlying cause is environmental, eliminating the cause should prevent recurrence. For example, pets should be removed from moist environments, unsanitary conditions, and rough surfaces. Good grooming practices should be followed.

    If allergies are involved, skin tests can be performed to determine what the dog is allergic to. A vaccine can then be made to hyposensitise the dog to that allergen. Many dogs improve with hyposensitisation therapy.

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