Dog feet: they're the best. They're cute and soft, and many of us (though not all) think they smell good. In fact, most people agree that dog paws smell like a popular brand of corn chip. Why do dog paws have this oddly specific smell?
Sorry to be the one to break this to you, but the Frito paw smell is caused by bacteria. Though this may sound gross, it's not necessarily a bad thing.
A large portion of your dog's sweat glands are concentrated in their paw pads. Surrounded by your dog's fur, these paw pads create warm, damp crevices that are ideal for bacteria to breed in. The "Frito paw" smell is a byproduct of bacteria.
If you're curious about what kind of bacteria, specifically, cause this smell, one major player is yeast. Yeast, as you may know, thrives in wet, warm conditions.
Additionally, two other bacteria, Pseudomonas and Proteus, both play a part. Many people describe Pseudomonas as smelling like popcorn, and Proteus as smelling like corn tortillas. All these bacterial smells work together to make your dog's feet smell like a delicious snack.
Why do (some) humans think Frito paws smell good?
Frito paws are a polarizing topic. Some dog owners love the smell, while others find it gross. Anecdotally, though, you'll find a lot of evidence on the internet that most people enjoy the smell. So why is that?
It probably has to do with a couple of reasons:
We like food and Frito paws smell like food: This theory is fairly self-explanatory. Who doesn't like Fritos?
We have positive associations with our dog's smell: Our dogs could probably smell way worse and we'd still love it. When we interact with our dogs, our brains are flooded with dopamine (the "feel-good" hormone) and oxytocin (the "bonding" hormone). These hormones put us in a good mood, giving our brain a positive association with our dog. Since a dog's smell is an inextricable part of them, your brain might associate their smell with good feelings.
Should you try to get rid of Frito paws?
In most cases, you don't need to (and you probably can't anyway). Frito paws aren't a bad thing unless they start smelling a lot more extreme than usual, which could indicate that your dog has a yeast infection. If that's the case, definitely give your vet a call.
But if your dog just has a consistent level of corn chip scent to his paws, there's no need to worry. The bacteria creating the smell isn't harmful to dogs or to humans. In fact, being exposed to some bacteria on dogs might be a good thing. One study found that pregnant women with dogs in their home have babies with a more diverse microbiome (meaning the totality of microorganisms that exist in their bodies). A more diverse microbiome is desirable because it can mean better immunity, and possibly a lower chance of allergies.
You can minimize the smell by bathing your dog more often (although you should be careful not to over-bathe them). However, the smell will probably never completely go away. It's a byproduct of the bacteria that naturally exist on your dog's feet, and that bacteria will never really go away (nor should it).
If you really don't like the smell, take heart: the smell is usually more prominent in the morning, because the Proteus bacteria (the corn chip-smelling bacteria) appears to intensify after a dog has been sleeping. We're not sure why, but we think it's because the heat that a sleeping dog generates creates prime conditions for bacteria to flourish.