Susie, a six year old Bichon Frise who had a sore paw.

One weekend, Polly and Susie were watching television together in the living room. When Polly looked over at Susie, she noticed at once that there was something odd about her; she was lying on the couch in a different position to normal.  She responded normally when Polly petted her and talked to her, so she didn’t think much more about it.

Later on that evening, Susie refused to go for her normal walk before bedtime. Polly carried her outside, and when she put her on the ground, she just stood there, looking at Polly, instead of running around as she normally liked to do. It was only when she began to walk that the problem became clear: she was limping on her left front leg. After a couple of steps she stopped, sat down, and began to lick her foot.  Polly now realised what was going on; Susie had a sore foot.

Polly tried simple first aid, putting a light bandage on the lower leg to stop Susie from licking it.  This seemed to help a bit, but the following day, Susie was still not herself, and she began to hold her left leg in the air, hobbling around on three legs. It was time to go to the vet.

There are many causes of lameness, from sprained joints to arthritis, but the cause of Susie’s problem was obvious as soon as I examined her. She had a red, swollen area between the second and third toes of her left front foot. It was so sore that she refused to let me look at it properly, pulling away in pain when I tried to see what was happening.

I gave her an injection with a combination of sedation and pain relief, and ten minutes later she was sleeping deeply. I was then able to have a detailed look at what was going on. I clipped the dense fur away from the area so that I could see the problem clearly. It was an abscess, like a small balloon filled with pus, bulging out from between her toes. I used a scalpel blade to lance it, and a teaspoonful of dirty brown liquid gushed out. The pressure had now been relieved, and I knew that Susie would feel much better when she woke up.

Small abscesses between the toes are common in dogs. Sometimes they’re caused by “foreign bodies”, like splinters or grass seeds, but in Susie’s case, I couldn’t find anything like that. In other cases, they seem to develop on their own, for reasons that are hard to work out. Sometimes they’re associated with underlying allergic skin disease, and this seemed to fit with Susie. She’d had occasional episodes of itchy ears, and I suspected that the foot abscess (or cyst, as it’s sometimes known), was connected to this sensitivity. It’s similar to the way that some humans have skin that’s prone to reacting strongly to different fabrics or detergents. It’s likely that Susie had stood on something that had made her skin react, and the abscess was the result.

Susie’s foot needed regular bathing in mildly salty water, and I gave her a short course of antibiotics and pain relief. She made a rapid recovery, walking normally again within a couple of days. We’re hoping that this was a one-off incident, but the problem does recur in some dogs. Rarely, anti-allergic therapy (such as daily tablets) is needed to stop repeated incidents, but that’s unlikely to be the case with Susie.

Susie’s already forgotten about the episode. She’s back to lying comfortably on the couch again, and she’s loving her evening strolls. Life has returned to normal.

Tips

  • Interdigital abscesses (or cysts) are a common cause of lameness
  • A visit to the vet is always needed
  • Most dogs respond rapidly to treatment

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