One of the more common lesions I see in hunting dogs, outdoor explorers, and even the good ole couch companions with all the snow and ice on the ground is pododermatitis: red, swollen, itchy feet. The causes vary widely, but for hunting dogs, explorers, and your winter backyard ice trekkers, environmental irritation is most likely the culprit. Other possible causes are auto-immunity, allergies, hormonal, infectious, etc. Regardless of the origin, you can try some easy tricks at home to resolve the issue. If the condition persists, you may need to trek over the ice yourself down to the vet’s office.
Hunting dogs, especially bird dogs trudging through marshes and reeds, where their feet are constantly wet and walking through rough terrain, challenge the soft surfaces in their feet. A small scratch in this environment can result in an infection that spreads to the whole foot, making it a painful, red, swollen mess. Unfortunately, we are also seeing more of these lesions in companion dogs as winter rolls in. These dogs are running around on ice, even in smaller backyards. The skin between their paw pads gets irritated or scratched and is kept moist by the packed snow. A dark, warm, moist environment is a playground for microbes and spells disaster for your pet.
Solutions for Treating & Preventing Hot Foot in Dogs
It sounds like a ridiculous small measure, but ice and snow are hard on feet, and mushers use them for a reason. Protect the pads, protect the skin.
Few important notes:
- DO NOT LEAVE THEM ON ALL THE TIME.
- Dogs only sweat from their paw pads, and if you leave an insulator on all the time, you will get a moist, warm dark environment and a build-up of sloughing skin and cheesy discharge — a primo environment for microorganisms.
- Pick a sturdy bootie that will stay on.
- Velcro helps.
- A rubber lining on the bottom can be nice but isn’t always necessary, and you may be sacrificing traction for durability.
- It doesn’t need to cover more than the foot; sleeves are not necessary.
- If your dog has hot feet, you may need to put thinner booties on your pup while inside to prevent your dog from licking them. Using a thinner bootie can prevent sealing in too much heat, but the booty-wearing sessions still need to be sporadic; don’t leave them on all the time, and don’t leave your dog alone while the booties are off. If you have trouble with this, try an e-collar (cone of shame).
Fill your bathtub up about 3-4 inches with warm water. Add a few cups of Epsom salts, stir them in, and have your dog stand in there for 15-20 minutes. This foot soak will encourage healing and drying out the inflamed, moist dermatitis lesions that can occur between the toes. Be sure to rinse well with clean water after the soak; don’t leave the salt on the skin.
Be cautious with this remedy because if you overdo it, you can easily burn the skin. A 1:10 vinegar dilution with distilled white vinegar and water can be used on wipes or cotton pads to kill yeast infections in the skin. Wipe carefully between the paw pads with this mixture 1-2 times daily, and you may be able to resolve yeast infections at home. Yeast lives on the skin in small numbers naturally, but if the skin gets moist and the yeast gets out of control, this is a good weapon to battle it back.
Neosporin, bacitracin, and other ointments create a moisture barrier that can keep the microbes safe and close to the skin. You want to dry out the paws and make the environment inhospitable for microbes, so avoid using ointments. Alcohol-based antibiotic sprays sting more but resolve the lesions faster.
There are a lot of different causes for pododermatitis, not all of them are environmental. If your dog’s hot foot condition does not go away, even if the severity waxes and wanes, the environment may not be your problem. At this point, you need to get a vet involved. Hot foot in dogs can sometimes be persistent, severe, and difficult to treat. There are cases of skin infection between the toes that get so severe they cause lameness and limping in dogs. While these tips can help minor, straightforward cases of irritation of the skin, if the hot foot doesn’t clear up in a hurry, it’s time to call in the reinforcements. Head to the vet. We can resolve dermatitis a lot easier if you bring your dog in early. If you wait, you risk dealing with abscessing and scarring.
Shoe shopping, even if it is for your dogs, can be fun! If you need help, just ask!
Tier 1 Veterinary Medical Center in Palmer is Alaska’s only comprehensive animal hospital. We are available by appointment, in addition to accepting emergencies and walk-ins. With CT, MRI, and Ultrasound available on-site, our facility provides advanced treatment options for your pet. Contact us today to schedule an appointment.
Dr. Paige Wallace is the Urgent Care Coordinator at Tier 1 Veterinary Medical Center. Born and raised right here in the Mat-Su Valley, Dr. Wallace received her education and veterinary training through her service in the United States Army. She served as a Captain with the 218th Medical Detachment Veterinary Service Support, under the 62nd Medical Brigade. Dr. Wallace has extensive experience treating trauma cases in remote areas and with limited resources, bringing a wealth of knowledge and think-on-your-feet experience to the Tier 1 VMC team.