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Interdigital Cysts on Dogs

What Are Interdigital Cysts on Dogs?

Interdigital cysts in dogs are not genuine cysts but rather inflamed and infected tissue found in the webbing between the toes. Once inflamed, these areas are termed furuncles. Furuncles are commonly observed on the top of the front paws, although all four feet can be affected. Due to limited space between the toes, furuncles rupture through the skin, creating draining tracts.

Interdigital cysts or furuncles are painful and represent the most frequent cause of draining tracts between a dog’s toes. Other factors leading to draining tracts include reactions to foreign objects in the foot, hair follicle infections, or even cancer.

While interdigital cysts can develop in any dog, certain breeds are more predisposed, particularly those that are short-haired, allergy-prone, overweight, or obese. Breeds with short bristly hairs in the webbing and increased webbing between the toes, such as the Shar-Pei, Labrador Retriever, English Bulldog, Mastiff, Great Dane, Boxer, and Basset Hound, are more susceptible to interdigital cysts.

Symptoms

Signs of interdigital cysts in dogs encompass inflamed, reddened skin within the webbing between their toes, potentially extending from the bottom to the top of the paw. These swellings typically appear deep reddish-purple, shiny, and devoid of hair, with sizes ranging from 1 to 2 centimeters. Despite being termed cysts, they are movable. They can rupture through the skin, resulting in a bloody discharge.

Interdigital cysts inflict pain, leading to behaviors such as limping, licking, and biting of the affected paw. Multiple nodules may be present, with new lesions emerging as others resolve.

Causes

Interdigital cysts arise when hair follicles endure trauma, leading to the enlargement of their microscopic openings. Due to restricted space for expansion, these follicles rupture, releasing their contents. The body perceives this released material as foreign and triggers an inflammatory response, similar to its reaction to bacteria, fungi, or mites.

The initial trauma typically results from excessive weight on the feet, conformational changes (such as increased webbing or gait abnormalities), or the presence of foreign objects embedded in the skin. The presence of foreign material impedes the complete healing of the infection, resulting in recurrent cysts or furuncles until the material is removed.

Additionally, the Demodex mite, a skin parasite, can contribute to the development of interdigital cysts or furuncles, as well as canine atopic dermatitis, an underlying skin condition. Until the mites are eradicated and the allergy causing atopic dermatitis is managed, interdigital cysts may continue to recur.

Diagnosis

Veterinarians diagnose interdigital cysts or furuncles in dogs by assessing their medical history. They first examine the dog’s paws for any discharge. To determine the cause of the initial trauma, vets typically conduct a series of skin tests, which may include:

  • Skin scraping or examination of plucked hairs to rule out Demodex mite infection
  • Impression smears, cytology, or culture to identify other contaminants and select the most appropriate antibiotic treatment
  • Skin biopsy to confirm alterations to the hair follicle
  • Blood tests, including hormone level assessments, to exclude underlying diseases
  • Elimination diet trials to eliminate food allergies as a potential cause
  • Intradermal skin testing to rule out environmental allergens.

Treatment

The treatment options for interdigital cysts in dogs primarily include medical therapy, surgery, and CO2 laser treatment:

  • Medical therapy: This involves administering medications such as oral or topical anti-inflammatories (e.g., steroids) and antibiotics. In severe cases, treatment may continue for four weeks even after symptoms improve. While antibiotics alone may show improvement, addressing the underlying cause of trauma is essential to prevent recurrence. Dogs often require systemic antibiotics, either orally or through long-lasting injectable medications, for at least four weeks. Topical anti-inflammatories are effective for single lesions, while resistant cases or dogs with multiple lesions may need oral anti-inflammatories.
  • Surgery: Surgical intervention entails removing the affected webbing and suturing the neighboring toes together to prevent regrowth of the webbing. However, this procedure alters the paw’s shape and can lead to future orthopedic issues. Postoperative care is intensive, involving bandage changes 1-2 times daily. Despite surgery, foot licking and pain may persist, necessitating control of underlying conditions.
  • CO2 laser treatment: Carbon dioxide lasers remove unhealthy skin layers with minimal damage to the surrounding tissue. This method allows healthy skin to regenerate without altering the paw’s shape. Multiple laser procedures are typically required for optimal results.

Despite treatment and identification of underlying diseases, some dogs may experience chronic recurrent lesions. Long-term control is achieved through the use of topical medications like cyclosporine and regular medicated baths, typically on a weekly or biweekly basis.

Living and Management

Achieving successful recovery and management of interdigital cysts in dogs often requires several months of diligent effort. Key to this process is addressing the underlying cause of the trauma, minimizing further exposure to such traumas, and promoting the restoration of healthy skin. Environmental factors such as wet or uneven surfaces, unclean kennels, and unmanaged allergies can hinder complete resolution of interdigital cysts.

Long-term maintenance is essential to sustain remission, necessitating lifelong routine management. In many cases, medication to regulate the immune system’s response to environmental trauma is necessary for sustained control over the condition.

Interdigital Cysts on Dogs FAQs

If a dog develops interdigital cysts once, are they prone to future occurrences?

Yes. Recurring lesions despite treatment indicate an underlying disease, such as canine atopic dermatitis, hypothyroidism, or another concurrent infection. Repeated exposure to trauma can also trigger the reappearance of interdigital cysts.

Is there anything pet parents can do to prevent interdigital cysts in the first place?

Trauma and environmental factors contribute to interdigital cyst development in dogs. Maintaining a clean and dry environment for dogs to sleep and play in is crucial. Dirty kennels and walking on rough surfaces like gravel or glass increase the risk of trauma, infection, and interdigital cysts. Certain dog breeds are predisposed to interdigital cysts due to factors such as increased toe webbing, tendency for weight gain, and genetic conformation.

Are there natural products or techniques to treat interdigital cysts in dogs?

While many natural products and techniques claim to treat interdigital cysts, they are often more effective at preventing them. Since trauma is the underlying cause, prevention focuses on minimizing or eliminating trauma, reducing infection risk, and inflammation. Initial therapy includes topical treatments like bathing and maintaining good hygiene, along with medical care for active lesions and management of chronic, recurrent cases. Products containing chlorhexidine and miconazole are recommended, while paw butters can help keep paw pads supple after cysts have healed.

Are interdigital cysts painful for dogs?

Yes. Interdigital cysts cause pain for dogs as they continue to rupture within the skin, leading to the formation of additional cyst layers, increased inflammation, and pressure while walking.

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