You may already have herd the terms Frito feet or popcorn paws to describe the corn-oil-like smell that can affect your dog’s paws. While the terms are cute, the condition is less so, often resulting in an offensive odor emanating from the spaces between your dog’s paw pads.
Here’s a look at what causes Frito feet, as well as at some preventives and treatments you can use to keep those smelly paws under control.
What Causes Smelly Paws?
As living organisms, we all share the world will trillions of microbes, including bacteria and fungi. Some of these microbes, like those that help digest our food, are beneficial, while others are benign or potentially harmful.
At any moment, a dog’s skin may host an abundance of these microbes without causing any health problems. But sometimes, bacteria from the environment can gather in the spaces between a dog’s paw pads. Since dogs don’t perspire the way we do, part of their cooling system resides in their pads. (Yes, they have foot sweat.) In that sheltered, warm, moist environment between the pads, colonies of bacteria can thrive and can generate some rather unusual smells. And in the case of “Frito feet” or “popcorn paws,” that smell is similar to warm corn oil or snack food.
Is the Condition Dangerous?
Typically, a slight odor on a dog’s paws is normal. Dog feet are exposed to the environment 100% of the time, and they can encounter a wide range of substances during even a simple walk in the park. Generally, bacteria on the surface of the paws are not problematic. However, any open wound, cut, or hot spot on or around the pads can give bacteria an unwanted entry into the body, which may result in infection.
Prevention and Treatment
One way to decrease the severity of “Frito feet” is to trim the hairs around your pet’s paws, especially in longer-haired breeds. These longer hairs near the ground can shelter debris and bacteria that contribute to the odor.
Another way is to give your pet regular paw baths, particularly when just arriving home from a walk or hike. With some warm (not hot) soapy water, wash gently between your pet’s paw pads in areas where bacteria can hide, then towel-dry. As you bathe the pads, check for any debris, irritation, injured or broken toenails, or abscesses between the pads and toes, as these could contribute to the odor and cause discomfort for your pet. Done regularly, a paw bath should keep any foot odor to a minimum.
When to See the Vet
In some cases, smelly paws could be an indicator of a more severe, underlying problem.
Here are a few symptoms and signs to watch for:
Redness or signs of hair loss from over-grooming, which could indicate a “hot spot” or granuloma (a type of tumor) between the pads.
Lumps or swelling between the toes or pads.
Flaking or crusty skin on the pads.
Any wounds or skin damage.
Demonstrable limping or any change in gait (such as favoring a paw).
These could signal a problem more serious than foot odor and should be brought to the attention of your family vet.
Editor’s Note: Taking your dog pal with you on a trek across the country or a stay-cation at the local dog park? Be sure to take care of his sensitive paws with these travel paw care tips.
Cecily Kellogg is a pet lover who definitely has crazy cat lady leanings. Her pets are all shelter rescues, including the dog, who is scared of the cats. She spent eight years working as a Veterinary Technician before becoming a writer. Today she writes all over the web, including here at Figo.