Although red paws are a common problem in dogs, they can be uncomfortable, itchy, and sometimes a symptom of a more serious health condition.
We spoke to Dr. Joanna Woodnutt MRCVS, a veterinarian with expertise in dermatology, animal behavior, and nutrition, to get her professional advice on what may cause your dog’s red paws, along with what treatments you can try at home to ease the irritation.
Joanna explains how allergies, anxieties, injuries, and other health conditions can cause red paws and offers expert advice on how to prevent it, as well as knowing when it’s time to visit a veterinarian.
According to a 2015 study published in the Canadian Veterinary Journal (opens in new tab), the front paws are more likely to be affected than the rear paws, while certain breeds of dogs, such as Pekingese, terriers, and labradors, are more susceptible to paw disease and dermatitis.
No matter what breed of dog you have, they will be susceptible to injury and irritation if they walk outside without protection, so it’s essential to know how to care for their paws properly. For more advice on looking after your pooch’s tootsies, discover how to clean dog paws after walks outside and tips on safely removing foxtails from your pet.
Dr. Joanna Woodnutt is a practicing veterinarian in the Channel Islands, where she lives with her family and pet terrier, Pixie. After graduating from the University of Nottingham, Jo left small animal practice to become a consultant and locum vet and set up her own business managing a team of vets who specialize in freelance writing.
Jo particularly enjoys helping animal lovers with queries about pet nutrition, behavior and dermatology - anything that helps us understand our furry companions better. She writes for a wide range of publications and regularly contributes to Edition Dog Magazine.
Signs of red paws on dogs
If you’re examining your dog’s paws and notice that they’re red, what else should you be on the look out for? Well, red paws on dogs are usually a sign that there’s more blood in the area than usual.
This can be due to inflammation or irritation, and sometimes a combination of both. Since dogs respond to irritation with licking, you’ll often find that irritated paws become inflamed.
Other signs you might see alongside red paws in your dog include:
- Repetitive licking, chewing, or gnawing
- ‘Flicking’ of feet (irritation)
- Unwillingness to walk
- Signs of irritation elsewhere – such as itchy ears
- Foul smell
- Saliva staining (pink fur where repeated licking is occurring, even if you don’t see the licking)
Don’t forget that many causes of red paws are painful, and your dog may not enjoy you taking a closer look. Take cues from your dog and don’t examine them if they aren’t happy about it, as even the nicest dog may bite if they’re painful.
Does my dog have pododermatitis?
Pododermatitis is the medical term for inflamed skin on the feet. Although it’s a diagnosis, it’s not a disease – it always has an underlying cause.
If your dog has red paws, it’s likely they have some pododermatitis, but your vet will still need to get to the bottom of why.
Causes of red paws on dogs
As discussed above, red paws can be a sign of a number of different problems.
Here’s a list of 12 different reasons dogs get red paws:
Possibly the most common cause of red paws on dogs, allergies can cause feet to look red and become itchy.
Your dog might be biting or licking his paws repetitively. He may also be itchy elsewhere, or have irritated or infected ears.
In the summertime, burns from hot pavements are certainly a possible cause of red paws. Dogs with burned paws are likely to be painful – they may resent examination, so be careful. You might also see the pads peeling away. This usually affects all four paws equally.
Foreign body in the paw
At certain times of the year, a red, inflamed paw is often caused by a grass seed working its way under the skin and causing an infection.
Your dog will be licking repeatedly at the single paw and may be limping. It’s often difficult to find the entry hole as the skin heals over quickly, so don’t waste time looking for one. It’s also very sore, so take care not to get bitten whilst looking at your dog’s paws.
Claw bed infections
Infections in the nail bed can be extremely itchy, uncomfortable, and even painful. This is more likely to affect a single paw rather than all of them, and your dog will be licking and limping.
Claw bed infections are hard to see, so you might not see the infection itself.
Symmetrical Lupoid Onchodystrophy (SLO)
This unusual disease of the claws can cause pain, limping, and gnawing at the feet, resulting in red paws.
SLO (opens in new tab) is a condition where the claws don’t grow properly, they’re brittle, and they break easily. It affects all feet, but one may be worse than the others, especially if your dog has broken a nail. This condition is a consideration in dogs that have repeatedly damaged their nails.
Some people like to relate it to biting their nails, but some dogs with anxiety will repeatedly lick their paws, causing them to become red and inflamed.
This usually affects the front paws, or a single paw, and you might notice your dog has other behavioral changes such as pacing, changes in appetite, or clinginess.
Canine Cognitive Dysfunction (CCD)
CCD (aka ‘doggy dementia’) can cause red paws due to dogs repeatedly licking. The paws aren’t irritated themselves, but this soothing behavior causes them to become red and sore. Your dog might also show signs of night waking, anxiety, or forgetfulness.
Strange scuffs and red marks on the paws are an early sign of the deadly disease Alabama rot, which often happens in the UK in autumn and winter, when it’s muddy.
Owners are advised to check their dog’s paws after walking and visit the vet if they see any red patches on the paws. It’s most likely to be a graze, but it’s worth checking!
Ticks like to embed themselves between toes, where they often cause redness, irritation, and a limp. It’s best to get your veterinarian to remove ticks, especially when they’re in awkward locations, or use a ‘tick fork’ to get them out safely.
Demodex mites live at the base of hair follicles. Small numbers are fine, but large numbers occur in dogs that are otherwise immunocompromised (including puppies) and can cause the feet to become extremely irritated, red, and sore.
This usually affects pairs or all four feet and is more common in short-haired breeds and those with allergies or other immunocompromise.
These tiny worms burrow through the skin on the feet, causing red, itchy feet, before making their way to the gut to live. Hookworm infection is more common in dogs kept on concrete and dogs kept in groups, but it’s still rare in most areas.
If your dog has walked on something that causes skin irritation, this can cause red paws. Road salt is irritating, and it can cause your dog’s paws to become red and itchy after a walk in winter.
It’s also toxic if ingested, so rinse it off quickly if your dog comes into contact with it. This cause of red paws is likely to affect all paws equally. Other potential irritants can include cleaning products and herbicides.
How to treat red dog paws at home
If your dog has red paws, you might be wondering how best to treat them at home. The first thing you should do if your dog has red paws is take a closer look. If you can see a wound or a damaged nail, it’s time for a vet visit.
If there’s no sign of a problem, you can try rinsing your dog's feet to remove any irritants or allergens. Then, watch your dog for some of the other symptoms discussed here.
If they seem to be continually licking or upset by their feet, you should visit a vet. It’s best not to apply anything to your dog’s feet until they’ve been seen by a vet, as it may make examination harder.
How to prevent red dog paws
Preventing red dog paws depends on the cause. If your dog has an underlying condition like allergies or SLO, keeping on top of their medication will help to prevent their paws from becoming irritated.
On the other hand, if your dog’s paws are red due to an injury or a foreign object, there’s not much you can do to stop them becoming red.
You can take care of your dog’s paws by choosing your walks carefully and avoiding hot pavements, road salt, and glass and other sharp objects. Dogs with feathered feet may need their fur trimming in summer to reduce the risk of them picking up grass awns or burrs.
Mud should also be avoided in some areas due to the risk of Alabama rot. When you get in from a walk, check your dog’s paws over carefully and remove any grass seeds, burrs, or other plant material.
Check between the toes for ticks. Give them a good rinse, then dry them thoroughly. Some dogs may also benefit from paw moisturizer.
When to visit your veterinarian
You should visit your veterinarian if your dog’s red paws persist for more than a couple of days or if they seem:
- Irritated by them
Your vet will take a look at your dog’s paws and determine whether any investigations are needed.
Often, treatment can be offered in the initial consultation, but in some cases your dog may require an anaesthetic for x-rays or surgery to remove a foreign object.
Your dog’s paws are important. The saying ‘no foot, no horse’ also applies to dogs – a sore paw can quickly become a big problem if it’s not treated properly, and your dog will be miserable as a result.
Red paws on dogs are a warning sign that something isn’t right, so don’t ignore your instincts and visit your vet if you spot a problem, especially if it doesn’t improve with some basic home care.
Get the best advice, tips and top tech for your beloved Pets