By Michelle Knowles
I admit I have a foot fetish. Really, a paw fetish. Ok, I love dog feet. I love to watch the pads squish out when they walk and am very aware of the individual mannerisms of each pet I see; how they hold their paws and how they use them in a conversation.
Many of the paws I see are sore, hurt and/or terribly damaged, and helping them heal is one of my greatest passions.
As groomers, we see our fair share of swollen feet, cysts on pads and chronic swelling that defies all attempts to make them better. Combined with the thorough workup and diagnosis from a veterinarian, there are topical treatments, methods and products that can help alleviate the discomfort of affected dogs. In order to tailor the most effective treatment, one must understand the categories of the issue itself.
We will go over the basic topical therapeutic method of treatment and the different changes that can be made to the regimen steps for underlying and secondary infections. As there are many systemic issues that may have cysts and/or furuncles on the feet as a symptom, this article will simply define the terms and suggest therapeutics that help to soothe these painful conditions of the canine paw.
Pododermatitis or interdigital cysts, which are filled with fluid, are related to the bristly hair between the toe pads and are believed to be caused by the hair keratin being forcefully pushed into the skin by the movement of the dog, by walking on graveled and rough terrain or by injury to the webbing between the toes. The broken hairs or the foreign object, such as foxtail seed, are then suspended in the foot tissue which cause inflammation, itching and may lead to secondary infections. Foxtail seed heads and other types of objects can sometimes burrow into the foot or other area of the body and travel, making a travel track inside the body and possibly introducing bacteria that can cause a secondary infection.
Interdigital Furuncles are a neoplastic hardening or thickening of the webbing and pad tissue of the paw. This is due to a deep bacterial infection that may or may not have origins at the affected site. This issue can be singular or a symptom of a systemic disease which is why a proper diagnosis by a vet is so important. The vet may use different diagnostic tools such as skin scrapes, cytology, follicle plucking, culturing of bacteria or biopsy to determine the cause of the swelling and the nature of the inflammation in the paw or paws.
Topical treatments can help soothe and help alleviate the pain, itching and discomfort of pets who are affected by furuncles or cysts. While the regimen is similar for both types of paw problems, there are small differences when infection is present.
The basic treatment consists of a drawing mask or soak, cleansing the paw/s with an appropriate shampoo, and creating a conditioning cream to support the skin and provide minerals and nutrients to the cells.
Epsom salt soaks are a good way to draw out offending infections and objects that are embedded in the skin. This is a good way to “open” the skin and prepare it to receive the cleanser. You might opt for a clay mask mixture, keeping in mind that the darker clays like green bentonite pull the hardest, in which you could mix oils and minerals.
Ozone soaks are becoming more popular as veterinary studies have confirmed that this is an effective treatment for inflammation, and is anti–bacterial, anti–fungal and anti–viral by nature with the by product of the ozone being pure oxygen. There are many low–cost ozone machine options on the market today and manufacturers offer several models depending on how you would like to administer the ozone. Ozone can be used in any step of the regimen but, in my opinion, is best used in the cleansing step.
Cleansers might include shampoos that are clarifying, limited ingredient for sensitive skin or contain antibacterial and/or antifungal properties in the cases that have secondary infections.
The last step is a balsam that contains conditioner, minerals, nutrients and in the case of secondary infection, anti–bacterial or anti–fungal ingredients. So, the only time you would use “medicated” ingredients or products is when infection is present.
This process should be performed weekly until the skin responds. Lengthen the interval of the treatment by a week at a time until you find the proper interval for the individual pet so that comfort can be maximized.
Caring for precious dog feet is a great act of compassion and well worth your time when you have clients with pets that are suffering with this painful condition.
1.Bajwa, Jangi. “Canine pododermatitis.” The Canadian veterinary journal = La revue veterinaire canadienne vol. 57,9 (2016): 991-3.
2. Miller WH, Griffin CE, Campbell KL. Muller and Kirk’s Small Animal Dermatology. 7th ed. St. Louis, Missouri: Elsevier; 2013. pp. 201–203.
3. Roman, Margo. “Ozone Therapy: Beyond Oxygen: The Most Needed Adjunct to Veterinary Medicine.” Michvma.org, 2017. michvma.org/resources/Documents/MVC/2017%20Proceedings/roman%2001.pdf. Accessed 1 Apr. 2019.
4. Schroeder, Heidi. “Interdigital Cyst Syndrome in Dogs.” VET 360, VetLink, 10 Nov. 2016.
5. vet360.vetlink.co.za/interdigital-cyst-syndrome-in-dogs/. Accessed 1 Apr. 2019.