Written by Dr. Nina Mantione
The warmer months bring lazy days in the sun, trips to the beach, and the incessant lick, lick, lick of a dog with itchy feet. Sound familiar? Because anyone who has ever lived with a dog that has an allergic pododermatitis will attest that this constant licking will drive the dog and his family crazy.
Pododermatitis is a typically itchy inflammation of the feet which is generally secondary to allergies. I did say we see it in the warmer months, but there are plenty of dogs who will have symptoms all year round, depending on the type of allergy they have and their geographical location. And not to be left out, cats can actually get this condition too, but it is far more common in their canine friends.
Pododermatitis can occur in all of the feet at once or in just some of the feet. Affected dogs will lick, sometimes almost constantly, at their itchy paws, and begin to create a never ending cycle of irritation and inflammation.
Affected paws will almost always be moist (from all of that licking) and red. Often I will see the telltale sign of salivary staining in light colored dogs, which is a pinkish discoloration of the fur surrounding the area they have been licking at. Dogs with more severe pododermatitis can have swollen painful feet and will often come into my office limping on their offending paws. On my physical exam, I will usually find inflammation, redness and sometimes even ulcerated areas between their toes and on the bottoms of their feet. This is caused by the inflammation that occurs secondary to the allergies as well as the trauma caused by the constant licking. All of that licking also causes a chronic wetness between the toes, which creates a very cozy habitat for bacteria and yeast to thrive.
Treatment of pododermatitis involves treating those inflamed itchy feet, but most importantly it involves managing those underlying allergies. For the affected feet, I will often prescribe antibiotics or antifungals depending on whether or not I suspect a bacterial and/or yeast infection. I will control that itchy inflammation with steroids, either topical and/or oral depending on the severity of the problem. Keeping the feet, all four of them, clean and dry will also go a long way to prevent recurrences. Although it is a lot of work, washing those allergy prone paws on a daily basis is helpful to remove any allergens that can sit on the skin and cause problems.
Allergy management is the same as that for other pet allergic conditions, and involves avoiding any known triggers, the use of steroids and antihistamines, as well as the possible use of immunomodulating medications, skin testing and even allergy shots.
If you think your pet has a pododermatitis, see your veterinarian as soon as possible to help improve and control those itchy paws!