Often dogs lick their feet out of boredom but excessive paw licking is a sign something’s not right. And when you see redness and rawness between the toes it can be a sign of an interdigital cyst. Here’s what to look for and home treatments for interdigital cysts in dogs.
What Are Interdigital Cysts?
This is a fleshy irritation within the webbing of your dog’s toes that often involves a bacterial infection. Any abscess between toes is an interdigital cyst, also known as interdigital furunculosis or follicular pododermatitis. A dog can have one or more cysts present on any paw.
Signs Of Interdigital Cysts In Dogs
The first sign that there’s a problem will be that your dog is licking or chewing one or more paws. Here are other signs:
- Bumpy, red welts in the webbing between your dog’s toes (interdigital)
- Fleshy or ulcerated sore or wound
- Hairless bumps between the toes
- Redness, inflammation
- Bleeding and itching
- Fluids, blood or pus
- Limping or not walking normally
You’ll need to address this promptly as it can lead to a secondary infection.
Breeds Prone to Interdigital Cysts
The breeds most affected include Chinese Shar-Pei, Boxer, Bull Terrier, German Shepherd, Dobermann Pinscher, and Pit Bull breeds, especially those who are overweight or have allergy or thyroid problems. It’s also common among dogs with broad paws like Great Danes, Basset Hounds, Mastiffs, Labrador Retrievers and English Bulldogs.
The common factor is that these dogs have short fur with bristly hair on their feet and excessive webbing that leads to ingrown hairs. But any dog is susceptible to interdigital cysts or furuncles.
What Causes Interdigital Cysts in Dogs?
When your dog has an irritation between his toes, he obsessively licks, which pushes the hairs into the skin and other layers. Licking breaks down the outer layer of skin and causes ruptured hair follicles. The result is inflammation and the formation of a cyst or cysts.
Ingrown hairs or foreign bodies that get trapped in the webbing between the toes are common causes of interdigital cysts in dogs.
This irritation is also common in dogs with atopic dermatitis. This is also known as eczema and can be caused by allergens like pollen, as well as stress, dry skin, and infection. Even household soaps and cleaners can trigger this type of flare-up and cause persistent licking.
Another theory is that hair between the toes splits from walking on hard surfaces. Then these split hairs create inflammation that causes irritation and cysts.
Other causes of interdigital cysts in dogs:
- Food allergy
- Environmental allergies
- Yeast infection
- Excess weight that puts pressure on the feet and between the toes
- Poor foot conformation
You don’t need a vet to diagnose this but you can visit if you’re really not sure or if you want further diagnostic tests. She’ll use the symptoms and a clinical examination to confirm that it’s an interdigital cyst, clinically called an interdigital furuncle. Chronic cases may result from other skin conditions and even hypothyroid issues.
Your vet can do a skin biopsy and send it to the lab to ensure it’s not cancerous. She may do a bacterial culture to identify the bacteria or do skin scrapings to check for demodex mites or allergies.
Veterinary Treatment Options For Interdigital Cysts
Your veterinarian will often offer three options for treating interdigital cysts: surgery, CO2 laser, and/or medication.
Prescribing antibiotic therapy, a steroid or a mite killer is usually the first line of defense. Steroids or antibiotics are often given together. They can be given orally or topically. Topical treatment is the choice for minor issues. For more serious cases of deep infection or fungal infections, they’ll recommend giving it orally to address the infection systemically. You’ll probably be asked to wipe the paw often with medicated cloths.
Why Medications Aren’t The Best Choice For Interdigital Cysts
These measures aren’t good for several reasons. Your dog has a microbiome on his skin as well as in his gut, where 90% of his immune system is found. Applying antibacterial products and taking antibiotics will destroy the good bacteria your dog needs to balance and fight the pathogenic bacteria causing the infection. And if your dog keeps licking, you don’t want him licking these meds!
A major reason for the recurrence of interdigital cysts is incorrect antibiotic treatment from using the wrong type of antibiotics … or antibiotic resistance. This is especially problematic when several courses of antibiotics are recommended. Instead, there are natural antibiotics that can fight infection as well as supporting your dog’s entire system.
Surgery removes the cyst. But it can cause orthopedic issues in the future. Don’t attempt to pop an interdigital cyst or remove it on your own as it can be quite painful for your dog. And it can lead to further infection.
3. Laser Therapy
A CO2 laser will vaporize the affected tissue and allow healing which won’t alter your dog’s normal paw structure. But it can take multiple treatments.
If your dog gets repeated occurrences of these cysts, it could be a deeper issue or an allergic reaction or sensitivity. Especially if the cysts appear along with other symptoms like weepy eyes and rashes or gastrointestinal issues. Then you need to look deeper into the diet or environmental influences.
3 Ways To Heal Interdigital Cysts At Home
You don’t need toxic meds to heal interdigital cysts. Like most injuries your dog suffers, you just need to remove the infection and heal the wound. Here are some safe home remedies for interdigital cysts in dogs:
1. Cleanse and Detox
Step 1 – Use an Epsom salt soak to open the skin and draw out the infection and foreign material embedded in the skin. Epsom salts are made up of magnesium, sulfur and oxygen. These low levels of magnesium can ease pain and help rid the body of toxins that cause inflammation. It also reduces swelling and stiffness.
Step 2 – Next, cleanse with an organic shampoo. Mix up an ounce of natural shampoo (like Castile soap) with 1-2 drops of essential oil that is antibacterial and antimicrobial. Garlic, oregano, clove, cinnamon or myrrh are good choices. Note that these are “hot” oils and should be used with extreme care. Remember … just 1-2 drops is plenty! This will help fight infection in the interdigital cyst while cleansing the area. Let your dog have a sniff of the closed essential oil bottle first to make sure it isn’t too much for him. If he turns away or seems uncomfortable, use a different oil.
Step 3 – Use a conditioner made of 1 ounce of almond or coconut oil, 1/2 tsp of vitamin E, and 2 drops of myrrh essential oil. You can also mix in some ground organic oats to make it a bit creamy. Then rinse and prepare for the final step. The natural oils in oatmeal will moisturize dry, cracked paws and reduce inflammation that leads to the constant itching.
Step 4 – You want to dry out the affected area. But don’t use medicated powders for humans. Instead, make your own foot powder. You can use ground organic oats or Bentonite clay or a combination of both in equal amounts. Redmond clay is another option. It has a high sodium and calcium content so when used topically in a foot powder, it can draw out infections and bacteria.
Mix in one of the antibacterial essential oils of choice … just a drop or 2 but no more. You can also add in some vitamin E oil. Keep it powdery. Then dust between the affected toes. The clay will pull out the toxins. Plus it will help dry out the wound.
2. Paw Balms and Butters
Paw balms offer protection plus antibacterial and healing properties for interdigital cysts. They’ll also heal your dog’s dry, cracked paws. Look for those made with natural ingredients that are dog-friendly, safe and edible. These are ingredients you’ll want to see:
- Beeswax, shea butter, cocoa butter, coconut oil, candelilla wax,
- Sweet almond oil, safflower oil
- Aloe vera – anti-inflammatory, heals dry skin and wounds, reduces pain and swelling
- Niaouli – protects, restores skin and heals wounds
- Benzoin – used for ulcers on the skin, cracked skin
- Vitamin E – an antioxidant needed for blood, brain and skin health
- Oregano, garlic, clove and cinnamon – antibacterial and antimicrobial for fighting bacteria and infection
- Lavender, Chamomile, Helichrysum, Frankincense, Sea Buckthorn Oil, Myrrh
- Lavender – anti-inflammatory, reduce itching and swelling
- Chamomile – an antioxidant and antimicrobial, also anti-inflammatory, speeds up healing
- Frankincense – nature’s antiseptic, also a disinfectant and astringent to heal boils, infected wounds and inflammation
- Sea Buckthorn Oil – high in antioxidants, plus vitamins C and E to treat burns & wounds
- Myrrh – antifungal, antimicrobial, astringent used to fight viral and fungal infections
Or you can make your own. Try this combination:
- 8 tsp beeswax (natural)
- 4 tbsp coconut oil
- 4 tbsp olive oil
- 2 tsp vitamin E oil
- 4 tbsp shea butter
- 4 tsp sweet almond oil
- 2-4 drops of essential oil
Melt oils and wax slowly on the stove. Then gently stir in the essential oils. Pour into 4 x 4-ounce jars. Cool and store in a cool location. For paws, just rub in as needed. To apply to toes, use a tiny jar and melt it a bit at a time in hot water. Then you can drip it between your dog’s toes and massage it into the cyst. Try to keep him from licking it for 15 minutes or more to give it time to absorb.
And here are some foot baths you can use to relieve your dog’s discomfort and help the healing process.
Some of these are short soaks and others are longer. Aim for a soak every few days to promote healing. You can continue to use these soaks even when the cysts have healed. Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV) Soak
ACV is a potent antimicrobial with antibacterial, antifungal and antiviral properties. It restricts the growth of toxic bacteria like E. coli, S. aureus (staph infection) and yeast like C. albicans (candida). This means you can use it to help manage infections in your dog. And it’s been shown not to alter the skin’s microbiome as medicated topicals do.
Do a weekly 30-second rinse in warm water with 1 cup or organice ACV. Dry the paws thoroughly and apply the foot powder, described above, between the toes.
A warm iodine foot soak will eliminate allergens or toxins on your dog’s feet and between his paw pads. It will disinfect wounds, and treat ongoing yeast infections caused by constant licking or chewing. Add just enough iodine to turn it the color of tea. Stand your dog in the solution for 30 seconds. Dry the paws and apply the foot powder later on. Don’t worry if he licks his feet, iodine is non-toxic for dogs.
After Outing Baking Soda Rinse
Baking soda in a bucket of warm water removes allergens, and soothes inflamed and irritated skin. Dip your dog’s feet in the bucket when you come in from outside. Have him stand with his paws in the bucket for a few minutes so it can do its work. Use 1-2 tbsp of baking soda per gallon of water.
Herbal Tea Rinse
All-natural herbal teas are healing when added to your dog’s foot bath. Use separately or combine chamomile, sage, echinacea, goldenseal or decaffeinated green tea. These teas have mild astringents that heal sores or wounds. Their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties help stop itching. Add a few tea bags to a gallon of your warm water, or to your ACV soak, and allow the teas to steep. Have your dog stand in the remedy for 30 seconds, then air-dry.
Epsom Salts Foot Bath
Dissolve a cup of Epsom salts in a gallon of warm water. The combination of minerals will raise your dog’s natural pH level and restore your dog’s healthy bacterial balance, reducing inflammation and itching. Have some treats and cuddles ready as he’ll need to soak for 10 minutes to get the full effect.
Foot pain stops your dog from enjoying the things he loves … walks, hikes and the outdoors. Follow these suggestions to keep his feet healthy and happy.
Yagnik, Darshna, et al. Antimicrobial activity of apple cider vinegar against Escherichia coli, Staphylococcus aureus and Candida albicans; downregulating cytokine and microbial protein expression. Scientific Reports. Volume 8, Article number: 1732 (2018).
Hwang SJ, Kim YW, Park Y, Lee HJ, Kim KW. Anti-inflammatory effects of chlorogenic acid in lipopolysaccharide-stimulated RAW 264.7 cells. PubMed.gov. Jan 2014. 63(1):81-90. doi: 10.1007/s00011-013-0674-4. Epub 15, Oct 2013.
Duclos DD, Hargis AM, Hanley PW. Pathogenesis of canine interdigital palmar and plantar comedones and follicular cysts, and their response to laser surgery. Vet Dermatol. 2008 Jun;19(3):134-41.