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by Dr. Susanne A. Hughes, DVM

Foot-licking is a common complaint among dog owners. Dogs who lick their feet may do so for several reasons. Inhalant, food, and contact allergies as well as obsessive-compulsive disorders have long been considered causes of intermittent or chronic foot-licking. More recently veterinary dermatologists have recognized the role of yeast in this problem. Malassezia pachydermatis, a yeast which is a component of the normal flora of canine skin, may overgrow under certain circumstances causing inflammation, intense itching, and subsequent chewing, licking, or scratching depending on the area affected. Malassezia pododermatitis typically causes redness, a semimoist accumulation of cellular debris at the nailbed and between the digits with intense itching. Diagnosis is made by scraping or swabbing the affected areas and evaluating the sample microscopically for presence of many yeast organisms. Depending on the severity of infection, treatment may entail systemic antifungal medication, topical therapy in the form of antifungal spray (athlete’s foot medication), shampoos, and/or soaks. Systemic therapy can be extremely rewarding, especially since many of these dogs have concurrent chronic yeast otitis externa (ear infections). Many dogs who require systemic medication to initially eradicate the yeast infection, may be subsequently controlled with simple topical therapy. As always, accurate diagnosis is critical to effecting a cure.