Pododermatitis means inflammation of the skin on the feet. It can occur for a number of reasons including bacterial or fungal infection, inhalant allergies (atopy), immune-mediated disease such as pemphigus foliaceus, or environmental factors (wet or soiled quarters). It manifests as red, ulcerated, crusty lesions between swollen, edematous (accumulation of water in tissues) pads of the feet. The condition tends to be very itchy, and hair loss and licking is common. Any dog may be affected, but males of short-coated breeds are more commonly represented. Hormonal disorders like hypothyroidism and hyperadrenocorticism (Cushing’s Disease) can lead to secondary infections of the feet. Occasionally, refractory pododermatitis (doesn’t respond to treatment) may actually be a tumor on the foot causing chronic inflammation.
Pododermatitis is first classified by its underlying cause. Skin scrapings, impression smears, and skin biopsies can all help to discern the cause of the disorder. There is almost always secondary bacterial or fungal infection by the time the problem is discovered. Cultures are useful to determine what antifungal or antimicrobial agents will be most effective at reducing populations of fungus and bacteria. The patient’s history, and whether all of the feet are affected, can shed light on an allergic or hormonal disorder. Blood tests are performed to check thyroid and cortisol hormone levels. Demodectic mange is a common contributor which will require a specific course of treatment. Environmental factors such as wet and soiled boarding quarters must also be resolved.
If an underlying cause is discovered, the primary disease process must be treated in order to see improvement with the feet. Otherwise treatment may be symptomatic. Self-trauma plays a significant role in delaying healing and contributing to secondary bacterial infection. An Elizabethan collar may be required to prevent the dog from licking and chewing at the feet.
Specific treatments for infection may include systemic antibiotics and antifungal drugs. Topical antimicrobial agents may be applied, and corticosteroids may be prescribed to reduce an allergic or auto-immune reaction.
Overall, the prognosis for pododermatitis depends upon the origin of the inflammatory process. Underlying hormonal, immune-mediated, and tumor related causes carry more guarded prognoses. The goal of treatment is to provide relief from symptoms and improve the health of the affected tissue.