My Dog's Paws Are Red
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While swelling and redness of a dog's paws can be observed, it is common for guardians to be first aware of this problem when we notice our dog keeps licking their paws. Whatever the underlying cause, if there is swelling and redness it is likely to be irritating for the dog. Licking their paws is a way to relieve their frustration, but it can also exacerbate the redness and even lead to secondary infections.
Since there are various reasons why a dog's paws are red, AnimalWised looks at the causes of redness in a dog's paws and what treatment options are available. Doing so can help prevent localized problems such as lameness in the affected paw, as well as systemic problems which threaten their entire organism.
Why does my dog have red paws?
The medical word for redness of the skin is erythema.When we see that a dog has erythema on their paws, it is helpful to know where it is located:
- Skin: it can be difficult to detect initial erythema on skin if it is hidden under a lot of fur. Depending on the cause, hair loss can occur and make it more apparent. It is more common to observe reddening of the skin around a dog's armpits, groin, inside of their extremities or between their toes.
- Paw pads: redness will be more apparent in dogs that have unpigmented paw pads, although in severe injuries it may also be seen on the pigmented dark-colored paw pads.
Once we have distinguished the location of the redness, we can look at the causes of erythema on dog paws,
Various types of allergies can cause reddening of the skin on a dog's paws. The most important ones are:
- Food allergy: in dogs with food allergies, erythema is usually observed at the interdigital level (i.e. between the digits or toes), in the groin or in the armpits. In addition to the extremities, redness is also be seen on the belly and face, especially around the mouth and eyes. In these cases, the erythema appears associated with other clinical signs, such as itching and alopecia.
- Atopic dermatitis: in this case, the allergy is caused by environmental allergens such as pollen or dust mites. It presents in a very similar way to a food allergy, with erythema, itching and alopecia. It is a process common to certain breeds such as the French Bulldog due to a genetic predisposition to this pathology.
- Flea bite hypersensitivity: caused by allergens in the saliva that the flea deposits when feeding on the dog's skin. Not all dogs with fleas suffer from this process, only those that develop a hypersensitivity reaction to their allergens. In this case, the redness usually appears on the inside of the limbs, in the lower back and around the tail. It is usually accompanied by itching, alopecia and scabs.
- Contact dermatitis: this is an allergic reaction that occurs when the skin comes into contact with certain products. These are often synthetic chemicals such as cleaning products or varnish, but can include natural substances such as grass. Generally, the redness appears in the area where there is less hair, since their coat acts as a barrier. For this reason, it is common for the dog to have redness on their paw pads, between their toes, on their rear or under their armpits.
The pathogenic microorganisms that cause skin infections are often bacteria or fungi. When these agents cause an infection in the skin of the paws or other areas of the body, one of the signs that can be observed is erythema or redness of the skin. The most common infections are:
- Superficial pyoderma: a bacterial infection, usually caused by Staphylococcus intermedius. In addition to the reddening of the skin, areas of alopecia with pustules (accumulation of pus in the epidermis) and moderate itching can be observed.
- Dermatophytosis: an infection caused by fungi of the genera Microsporum and Trichophyton. Generally, reddish and round lesions appear on the skin, accompanied by alopecia.
The parasitic diseases that can affect the skin of a dog's extremities are mainly caused by mites:
- Demodicosis: caused by the mite Demodex canis. Colloquially it is known as ‘red mange’ since erythema or redness is one of the main clinical signs of this disease. Alopecia, thickening of the skin, and other variable signs such as papules, pustules, scabs, hyperpigmentation, etc. can be observed.
- Sarcoptic mange: produced by the mite Sarcoptes scabiei. It is characteristic that the face, the edge of the ears and the bony projections of the extremities (such as the elbows, tarsi or hocks) are initially affected. In addition to redness, alopecia, peeling, scabs and very intense itching are observed. Learn more with our article on why a dog has a swollen face.
Anything which is sharp enough to pierce the skin of the dog's paws can lead to redness. Sharp objects such as broken glass, nails or even natural materials such as sticks can result in swelling. This is due to the body trying to reject the object from its tissue, usually accompanied by secondary bacterial infection. Since the foreign body breaks into the skin, the dog usually tries to lick their paws to relieve associated pain.
One common foreign object which can stick into a dog's paws are foxtails. These are arrow-shaped grass clusters (spikelets) which are used to disperse seeds for growing new plants. These very sharp spikes proliferate in spring and summer, often sticking into the dog's skin. Their paws are especially affected and it is common for them to pierce in between the dog's toes, causing redness, pain, inflammation and potentially leading to infection.
Learn more about prevention and treatment of foxtails in dogs.
Both high and low temperatures can cause inflammation and redness in the pads of dog paws. In summer, ground temperatures can become very high and burn their sensitive skin. This is especially so on dark pavements such as asphalt. Skin damage can also be caused by freezing winter temperatures, when the ground is covered by ice or snow.
Walking for a long time or performing intense exercise on very abrasive ground can erode the skin and even ulcerate. These ground types include asphalt, cement or beach sand, especially if they are hot in summer.
Cysts and tumors
It is possible that an abnormal growth can lead to redness of the dog's paw. Tumors, whether benign or malign, can appear almost anywhere on a dog, leading to inflammation. This swelling is not always red, but it can be, especially if it is ulcerative.
One type of growth affects a dog's paws in particular. This is known as an interdigital cyst. Interdigital cysts in dogs can be due to various causes, some of them detailed above. It is common for the dog's paws to be red between pads due to these cysts and they will likely lick them a lot. Treatment will depend on the underlying cause.
Symptoms associated with red paws in dogs
Erythema (redness) of a dog's skin is not a disease, but a symptom of the various causes outlined above. However, it is associated with a grouped of symptoms associated with skin damage. These dermatological signs also include:
- Alopecia (hair loss)
- Flaking or dandruff
- Papules (small reddish pimples)
- Pustules (accumulation of pus)
- Erosions and ulcers
- Pruritus (itching)
Looking at the different dermatological effects will help a veterinarian determine the underlying cause of the problem. We should always relate as much as we can when we take them to a clinic to help with a diagnosis.
Treatment of red paws in dogs
As you have been able to discover throughout the article, there are multiple causes that can cause red paws in dogs. For this reason, whenever you detect this clinical sign, it is advised you go to your veterinarian. They can assess the cause of this dermatological problem and establish the most appropriate treatment.
For example, in case of food allergy it will be necessary to find the food that produces the reaction and eliminate it from their diet. When a bacterial infection occurs, it may be necessary to administer antibiotics and even use a specific antibacterial shampoo. If demodectic mange is the cause, administering the appropriate antiparasitic is the main treatment.
As we can see, the treatment varies enormously from one cause to another. This is why it is essential to identify why the dog has a red leg in order to cure it. In general, the problems which cause redness can be treated if they are due to parasites, infections or foreign bodies. With allergies and other skin diseases, the symptoms may need to be managed rather than the disease cured. Tumor treatment will depend on the extent of their growth and whether or not they are cancerous.
For related information, consult our article on skin tumors in dogs.
Home remedies for red paws in dogs
When we talk about home remedies for anything, we know they are not replacement treatments for those prescribed by the veterinarian. However, there are supportive treatments or symptom management techniques which can prove beneficial when our dog is affected by an inflammatory erythema on their paws. They will be affected by the specific cause:
- Allergies may be treated with immunotherapy drugs prescribed by the vet. If the allergy is in any way related to nutrition, a hypoallergenic or elimination diet may be required. Symptomatic treatments can be established to control itching, based on glucocorticoids and oclacitinib.
- Infectious processes should be treated with antibiotics or antifungals. These can be oral or topical. Antiseptics such as benzoyl peroxide may also be useful. It is also important to carry out a correct cleaning and disinfection of the animal's environment, using sodium hypochlorite solutions (dilution 1/10).
- Parasitic diseases require treatment with antiparasitic drugs. In addition, the pharmacological treatment can be complemented with the use of an antiparasitic shampoo specific for dogs. Removal of any parasites in their living area is also important.
- Injuries to the pads or in the interdigital area (due to foreign bodies, burns, abrasion, etc.) require periodic disinfection with topical antiseptics and may even need bandaged.
If the redness in your dog's paws is caused by dermatitis, you can consult this other article on atopic dermatitis in dogs.
How to prevent red paws in dogs?
Some of the causes of red paws in dogs, such as allergies, cannot be prevented. However, many other causes can be avoided by means of a simple preventive measure. These may include:
- Maintaining a high level of hygiene in the animal's living environment.
- Comply with the internal and external deworming program prescribed by your veterinarian.
- Take care of the dog's plantar area on the paw pads. Periodically trim the nails, avoid walking on very abrasive, very hot or very cold floors, avoid excess moisture in the pads and pay attention to the presence of spikes or sharp elements when walking.
- Moisturize the pads when they are dry or cracked. Ointments with centella asiatica extract, aloe vera or Vaseline can be applied. They can provide the pads with the hydration and elasticity when needed.
This article is purely informative. AnimalWised does not have the authority to prescribe any veterinary treatment or create a diagnosis. We invite you to take your pet to the veterinarian if they are suffering from any condition or pain.
If you want to read similar articles to My Dog's Paws Are Red, we recommend you visit our Skin problems category.
- Hnilica, K.A. (2011). Small animal dermatology: a color atlas and therapeutic guide. Elsevier/Saunders.
- Muller, G.H. (2001). Muller & Kirk's small animal dermatology. W. B. Saunders.