Help! My Dog’s Paws Are Red

It’s been busy this week, but in all hustle and bustle, you notice your dog has been licking and chewing on one of his paws a lot the last two days. You check them and realize that your dog’s paws are red and inflamed. What on earth could be causing it?

Several things actually. Dogs can have a red paw (or paws) for a variety of different reasons. Some dogs get red paw pads because of an injury, and some dogs get red paws because of health conditions like canine food allergies, fleas, contact dermatitis, parasites, secondary infections, and yeast infections.

Dogs can even get red paws as a result of boredom and canine anxiety. This is because when dogs are bored or anxious, they often compulsively chew and lick at their paws and feet as a way to entertain themselves, while inadvertently causing inflammation and irritation.

How Pain Causes Red Paws

A dog with pain in one of their feet will chew and lick at it in an attempt to alleviate the discomfort. In the process, their paws may become red in appearance. You will most often see only one red paw if it is pain related. If you think your dog may be in pain, check his foot and look for the source. Be sure to inspect the pad and in between your dog’s toes for any foreign objects or debris. Dogs can easily pick up things like thorns, burrs, rocks, slivers of glass, or pieces of metal when outside and any of them can create a painful injury.

If you do see something foreign on inspection, use tweezers to remove the offending object, then wash and disinfect your dog’s paw so it’s free of dirt and germs. Be sure to monitor your dog closely. If you notice the area where your dog’s paw was injured look as though it’s beginning to swell, or it feels hot to the touch, or if it starts to ooze any kind of pus, see your vet right away because these could be signs of a bacterial infection. Also, if your dog has torn its paw pad or has a deep cut that won’t close on its own, your dog may need stitches.

How Food Allergies Cause Red Paws

Sometimes dogs get red (and itchy) paws because of a yeast infection, often related to some kind of food allergy. Dogs with this kind of sensitivity have an issue with types of grains found in their food, like corn, wheat, or soy. If they don’t tolerate one or more of these grains well, they will develop a canine allergic reaction and become vulnerable to a secondary infection.

If you suspect an allergy and/or an infection may be the culprit, you may need to change your dog’s food in order to treat the underlying food allergy as well as see your vet so that your dog’s yeast infection can be treated with medication. Your vet can also offer additional tips to help keep your canine healthy and comfy.

Yeast infections are also common in dogs that have weak immune systems or that suffer from some kind of infectious hereditary disease. Both conditions can make them more susceptible than most dogs, and the paws are a favorite place for yeast to proliferate. They particularly like the moist areas between the toes and on your dog’s footpad. Make sure you check the rest of your dog’s body as well because yeast can also multiply in other areas such as your dog’s groin, ears, and muzzle

How Contact Dermatitis Causes Red Paws

Contact dermatitis happens when your dog’s paws come into contact with something that they are sensitive to and it irritates their skin. This can literally be almost anything in your dog’s environment, from carpet and floor cleaners, to certain fabrics and fibers, to salts found on icy roads, to irritants on your lawn (or your neighbor’s lawn) that they have a reaction to.

It’s hard to prevent these types of irritations because it can be difficult to narrow down what the offending agent is. You can speak to your vet about potential treatment options, as well as use natural products in your home and on your lawn to help keep your dog’s paws clean and free of irritants.

How Parasites Cause Red Paws

Parasites like ticks, mites, and fleas can make their home in your dog’s feet and bite his paw pads, driving your poor mutt crazy. Since mites cannot be seen with the naked eye, they require magnification from your vet. Dogs will give you clues when something is bothering them though.

When a dog has parasites, even the microscopic kind, they will lick or bite at their feet in an attempt to get rid of them and relieve the itching and pain. Depending on the type of parasite, once you see your vet, your dog may be placed on a monthly preventative medication to help keep them parasite-free.

How Boredom and Anxiety Causes Red Paws

If your dog is often left home alone for a good portion of the day, they may decide to bite and chew at their feet and nails out of sheer boredom. It gives them something to do and something to focus their attention on. In other cases, a dog may be anxious or nervous at being left home alone.

It’s important that if your dog spends a lot of time on their own, you make sure they have a variety of puzzle toys and chews to play with and keep them distracted from gnawing things they shouldn’t. (Like your furniture and their paws.) You should also make sure you are allowing your dog to get plenty of exercise when you are home so that when you leave, they are all tuckered out and spend more time sleeping. This leaves them a lot less time to get into trouble.

How Bacterial and Fungal Infections Cause Red Paws

Bacterial and fungal infections are another problem for dogs. They will often develop secondary infections because of their compulsive chewing and licking behaviors. Bacterial infections in particular smell very foul, and you will most likely notice pus and oozing, along with inflammation and redness.

Both fungal and bacterial infections require a trip to the vet so that the proper antibiotics can be administered, and the infection can begin to heal. Keep in mind that you will have to be vigilant about keeping your dog from continuing to lick and chew at their paws, otherwise the infection won’t have the opportunity to heal properly. You may have to muzzle your dog for a time or make them wear a cone collar. They won’t be happy campers, but at least their poor feet will get some relief.

Diagnosing a Dog’s Red Paws

Because a dog’s paws can be irritated and inflamed for a variety of reasons, a trip to the vet may be your best recourse if you have any concerns or doubts about what you’re dealing with. Once you take your dog to the vet, they can utilize different tests and techniques to figure out why your dog’s paws look red.

Typically, your vet will start by doing a physical exam, focusing especially on the paws since that is the area of complaint. This way they can get a visual of what’s going on. If your dog has experienced any hair loss related to the irritation, your vet may use a microscope to examine the area and the hair follicle. Sometimes there may be structural weakness to the hair itself.

A vet may also take a skin sample from the paw that is affected, to help them get a visual beneath a microscope and determine whether your dog has any kind of parasitic, fungal, or bacterial infections on the skin’s surface. Of course, your vet will also do standard tests like a urinalysis, a complete blood workup, and a full chemical profile. These tests will help your vet to evaluate your dog’s balance of hormones, and check for any infections or indications that your dog’s immune system has been triggered in some way.

Treating Your Dog’s Red Paws

Treatment of your dog’s red paws obviously will depend on what is causing the redness in the first place. If it is related to contact with anything, you will need to wash your dog’s feet thoroughly to remove the contaminants. If there is a bacterial or fungal infection going on, you may need to use antibiotics or anti-fungal medications prescribed by your vet.

Sometimes if the inflammation and swelling is severe, or your dog is in a lot of pain, a vet may prescribe anti-inflammatories or corticosteroids either as oral meds or injected medications to help. A dog may also require medications that help adjust blood chemistry levels for any imbalances that are found there.

If your dog has a cut or laceration with a foreign body embedded deeply in the paw, surgery may be required in order to successfully remove it. Additionally, if a dog has any kind of pustules or torn tumors that are causing redness and irritation, surgery might be necessary to remove those too, before proper treatment for pain and inflammation can be administered.

Unfortunately, effective treatments can take anywhere from days to weeks. Paw pad injuries and infections are challenging to say the least, because your dog has to walk. But walking not only exposes your dog to dirt, germs, bacteria, it also makes them vulnerable to the potential for re-injury, depending on the original problem.

Preventing Your Dog’s Red Paws

There are some things that are impossible to prevent. Allergic reactions, for instance. There is no way to predict what a dog may or may not respond or have a reaction to. The only thing you can do in those cases is damage control and try to remove the offending agent once the allergy is made known.

But in the case of injuries, contact dermatitis, infections, and boredom, all are things that can easily be addressed and prevented.

You can do your part to prevent injuries by making sure your dog doesn’t walk on surfaces that are extreme in temperature, and if they do, that their paws have protection.

You can choose to only use natural products to clean in your home, especially products to clean your floors and carpet.

You can use only natural products on your lawn so that your dog doesn’t pick up any contaminants when they go outside to play.

You can do regular sweeps of the areas they frequent the most and make sure there are no potential hazards, like bits of metal, shards of glass, sharp sticks or rocks, and anything else that could pose a risk of injury to your dog’s foot.

You can also make sure your dog has plenty of toys and bones to chew on to keep him busy when you aren’t home, and that he gets plenty of exercise to make them tired.

Make checking and cleaning your dog’s paws a regular habit, especially when they come inside after being outdoors for a while. Wash them every time with warm water and a good antibacterial soap.

And, you can make regular grooming and dog nail trimming a habit (especially the hair between the toes) so that your dog doesn’t rip or tear a nail or get something sharp hidden in his fur.

As you can see, there are lots of things that are within your control that may help to prevent your dog from suffering red and inflamed paws.

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