What Does a Fur Discoloration of Paws Mean?

Feet get no respect. These vital appendages are taken for granted until there's a problem — then it becomes obvious how crucial they are. You may regularly clean your dog's dirty paws, but discoloration doesn't come off with a swipe of a towel. Fur discoloration on the feet is more than cosmetic, but figuring out the cause requires some detective — and veterinary — work.

dog paws
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Salivary staining

Rust-colored stains may develop from your dog constantly licking his paws. Pet Place explains this is known as salivary staining and results from a substance in the dog's saliva. Such staining is a symptom of some other disorder, so it's important to take your pet to the vet to receive a definite diagnosis and treatment. Pododermatitis is the catch-all term for canine foot inflammation.

Allergic reactions

If your dog suffers from allergies, she may exhibit incessant foot-licking. The most common culprits are food or environmental allergens. If the foot licking occurs seasonally, such as when certain molds or pollens are present, the allergen is more likely to prove environmental. Suspected food allergies require an elimination diet to determine whether your dog's food is indeed the cause of her misery.

An elimination diet, devised by your vet, may include a special prescription food or meals consisting of a single protein. The latter is generally a relatively uncommon protein that your dog has never been fed, such as venison or rabbit. If her allergies clear up after a few months on the diet, it's safe to assume a more common protein, such as chicken, triggered the reaction. You'll have to control her diet for the rest of her life, but it's worth the effort to have a happy, comfortable canine.

Parasite infections

Certain parasites, especially worms, may cause pododermatitis. Hookworms are one source as the larvae penetrate the skin, resulting in intense itching. Untreated, the footpads become soft, especially around the edges. Nematode larvae may similarly invade the skin of the foot.

Regular deworming should eliminate worm larvae and bring your dog relief. Your vet may recommend topical application of dewormers to kill the larvae. Because larvae may reside in bedding, it's best to either replace your dog's bed or wash and disinfect it thoroughly.

Another parasite causing itching and fur discoloration is the demodectic mange mite. Such mites are normally present on dogs in numbers that don't cause problems, but a compromised immune system may allow these mites to flourish. It can take a considerable amount of time to get demodicosis under control, but it should eventually clear up. Some dogs require lifelong therapy to keep demodicosis at bay.

Yeast infections

When a dog develops a yeast infection, symptoms often show up in the paws, according to Veterinary Expert. Besides discoloration caused by licking, symptoms include swelling, hair loss, and redness. The nails may turn brown, and a greasy discharge may appear. A severely affected dog may develop painful abscesses.

Your vet will culture a skin sample to confirm a yeast infection. Topical treatments, including medicated shampoos and wipes, may eradicate a mild yeast infection. Antibiotic therapy is necessary for more badly affected animals.

Autoimmune diseases

Foot licking and fur discoloration may mean your dog is suffering from a serious condition. However, such ailments are usually accompanied by other symptoms, and any lesions on the feet are worse. With pemphigus, for example, the footpad may overgrow and crack, according to PetMD. The lymph nodes might swell, and lesions may also appear on the head and ears.

Treatment for an autoimmune condition depends on the diagnosis. With pemphigus, which takes different forms in dogs, antibiotic and corticosteroid therapies are often used. Sun exposure may exacerbate the problem, so dogs should not go outside during the day when the sun's rays are strongest. Other drugs are prescribed depending on the form of pemphigus affecting the animal.