Interdigital Cysts, Pyoderma, and Granuloma
Interdigital Cysts are thickenings between the toes of the paw. However, what appears to be a cyst rarely is a cyst. Real cysts are usually follicular cysts or suety gland cysts.
Pyoderma is a Bacterial Skin Infection (see 16). Allergies and immune mediated diseases can initiate Interdigital Pyoderma. Often when this is the case there will be other skin diseases (see 16 and 19) or chronic Ear Infections (see 9) in conjunction with the Paw Thickening. Pathogen Paw Thickenings can also be linked to Hypothyroidism (see 17). Recurrences are frequent, which means Paw Thickenings are often chronic.
Granuloma is a mass that is formed around an irritation as the dog's defense mechanism. It is the body's attempt to protect itself against an infection, foreign body or other irritation. If you are lucky enough to remove the offending irritant together with the Granuloma, then there usually won't be a recurrence.
Who Gets Paw Thickening
German Shepherds seem to be prone to thickenings between the toes. They can be quite sore and make your dog lame. Sometimes, if the thickenings appear on more than one paw, the cause may be a fungal infection. Paw Thickenings often go hand-in-hand with Allergies (see 19) and other Immune System Disorders (see 17). Thickenings found on one paw only can also be caused by a foreign object like a grass seed, or by in ingrown toenail.
Paw problems are very common with German Shepherds that are working or exercising a lot outside in rough terrain, and the reason is simple. You really need to think about it: Dogs go barefoot all the time. They have to run barefoot on burning-hot black asphalt in the summer, on pavements that have been de-iced with salts or chemicals in the winter, and over rough and thorny terrain all year long.
Hence, although German Shepherds generally have very hard soles, active GSDs can contract Paw Thickenings frequently. A cut, sting, ice, salt, etc between the toes or on the soles can be enough to cause an infection and to make your dog lame.
In addition consider this: When your dog feels pain or an irritation at a paw, it will lick the paw - unless you cover it with Pawz disposable and reusable dog boots (don't worry about the picture, the large size in purple color should fit your German Shepherd well) or with these High Performance Boots.
This means, whatever was on the paw (salt, dirt, bacteria, chemicals) will be ingested and can lead to additional ailments like Digestive Disorder (see 5), Dental Disease or Gum Inflammation (see 11), Diarrhea (see 22), or Vomiting (see 29), and to consequent ailments like Dehydration (see 1), Tumor (see 20), etc. That's why Paw Thickenings usually lead to seemingly unrelated further ailments too.
Make a quick daily check to see if the paws look different to usual, in particular between the toes and underneath on the pads.
There is often no redness, just a hard thickening of the skin somewhere on the paw, most likely between the toes. That's why this group of ailments is often called Paw Thickening. If you gently squeeze the thickening, your German Shepherd will still pull away, showing discomfort.
Avoiding and Treating Paw Thickening
The most basic avoidance measures are the following.
First, think before you take your German Shepherd outside: Where will your dog walk? What kind of terrain is it, and hence what potential environmental impacts do you need to consider (see above). Depending on what outdoor exercise you are expecting, you may then want to protect your dog's paws before anything can happen to them.
Frequently exercising your dog on hard surfaces such as concrete or just once on rugged, rough, icy, de-iced, hot, or chemical-affected surfaces can cause sore paws or cracked pads. To strengthen and protect your dog's paws and pads, Musher's Secret is great. However, firstly use it sparely before walks in hazardous terrain and after walks whenever the paws between the toes are sore or the pads are cracked. Sparely because too frequent use without corresponding outdoor exercise would actually soften the pads and make them prone to cuts, stings, and infections.
Secondly, whenever you've applied any ointment, make sure that your dog can't lick it off and ingest it. Hence, for example, when you've applied Musher's Secret on the paws, cover the paws with Pawz disposable and reusable dog boots.
If you take your German Shepherd on rugged or rocky terrain, on hot asphalt, on de-iced streets and pavements, or on gravel, it will be worth getting your dog a set of these High Performance Boots. They protect your dog's feet similar to how you would protect your own feet in such terrain - and you're probably not as agile as your German Shepherd is. Furthermore, they look cool on a German Shepherd too.
But note that if your GSD is dragging its feet over ground (particularly due to German Shepherd DM) then you will instead need these Protective Dog Boots from Handicapped Pets, which are specifically designed for dogs that drag their paws.
Also consider that harmful chemicals are in more places than we think: Carpet and floor cleaners, lawn and garden care, etc. In other words, with a German Shepherd in your household you need to think twice what substances you buy and use.
In addition, always keep your dog’s nails trimmed so that they do not catch on anything and tear. If you don’t know how to trim your dog’s nails safely, ask your vet to show you or take your dog to a professional dog groomer and watch closely.
Next, while you are outside with your German Shepherd, try not to walk on hot asphalt or blacktop, on gravel, rugged surfaces, or de-iced pavements - unless you've covered your dog's feet with these High Performance Boots. Instead, ideally walk in grassy areas where your dog's pads won't burn, get cut or torn, or salty.
On your own paths only use pet-safe ice melt, because chemicals eg in street salt and sand that prevents slipping can burn your dog's footpads, leading it to lick and ingest harmful chemicals and non-digestible substances.
Watch for hazards in the terrain where you walk or exercise your dog. If you walk in the city, watch for things like broken glass, nails, gravel, and sharp concrete. If you walk in the country, watch for sharp rocks, burrs, and thorns.
Finally, after you come back from outdoor exercise, think again: Where have you been? If your dog was subjected to terrain that may have had chemicals on them (eg detergents, dumps in the wild, etc) or salt (particularly in winter), or that may have been infested with parasites, or that had loose gravel or thorns of any kind, use an outdoor shower or whatever and rinse each paw under warm water to wash off any residue thoroughly. Afterwards inspect the paws, remove any foreign objects, and disinfect with an antiseptic wound spray.
Always briefly inspect the paws after each outdoor exercise. This takes only two seconds each, so in just eight seconds you're done, and this could easily save you a lot of trouble and your German Shepherd a lot of pain, Digestive Disorder (see 5), and further ailments.
If something is lodged in your dog’s paw, carefully remove it with tweezers, wash the paw well, and apply a strong antiseptic wound spray. If the paw pads are dry, chapped, or cracked, apply Musher's Secret again, and cover the paws with Pawz disposable and reusable dog boots or the Protective Dog Boots. You can try if your GSD is fine with only the one affected paw covered. If this makes your dog nervous, you may need to cover all four paws even if only one is affected.
Small wounds must be washed out under running water, always treated with antiseptic wound spray, and once this is dried up (within 20 seconds max) immediately hard-bandaged or soft-bandaged before you cover the paws with either of the dog boots.
Don't rely on the bitter taste of bandages, claiming it would help deter your dog from scratching or chewing the affected area - it won't. At the latest at night, when your dog is alone, it will start paying attention to the affected area. That's why it's often ideal to cover all four paws with either of the dog boots, not just the affected one.
If a wound is large or bleeds excessively, hard-bandage it and visit the vet immediately.
Treating Pathogen Paw Thickening
Dogs that are prone to cyst formation, especially epidermoid cysts, tend to get more than one of them. Complete removal by your vet should eliminate them for the moment. However, it is highly likely that a cyst will develop somewhere else if this was the type of cyst present. It is not always necessary to remove epidermoid cysts but they are prone to rupturing or becoming inflamed and painful.
To treat Interdigital Pyoderma and similar foot conditions, various cortisone-based and antibiotic powders and ointments have been trialled. Nothing seems to work on every dog, it generally ends up in trial-and-error treatments. We strongly advise against supplying your German Shepherd as guinea pig for such medicament experiments. The earlier you notice Interdigital Pyoderma, the easier it is to eliminate it with just a strong antiseptic spray that you apply on the paw multiple times per day.
This cheap remedy not only saves you money. The problem with all antibiotic and cortisone-based remedies is the long-term side effects - which are jumpstarted even if the medicament doesn't work anyway. This is very frustrating. Hence, better try to avoid Paw Thickenings, other Skin Infections (see 16) and Allergies (see 19) altogether, using the detailed avoidance measures laid out above.
Since antibiotic ointments often don't work at all, in severe cases some sort of systemic medication (oral or injectable) may be necessary, and this affects the whole body. They destroy the good bacteria in the stomach and the gut flora, and subsequent medical replacements are rarely sufficient. The consequence is almost always Bloat (see 4), Digestive Disorder (see 5), and Diarrhea (see 22) or constipation. Even a preceding bacterial culture and antibiotic sensitivity testing rarely help in choosing a suitable antibiotic treatment.
Therefore, better stick with the effective and appropriate antiseptic treatment. Another advantage of a strong antiseptic spray is that it is effective against virtually all forms of the three major types of germs: bacterial, viral, and fungal infections.
Compare this with eg Tinactin, which is only effective against fungal infections of a certain form, and you understand the enormous benefits of using the right remedy - and without any side effects whatsoever. In addition, you would first need (and pay) a vet to determine if it's a fungal infection - and once there, the average vet will then try to sell you the antibiotic and cortisone-based remedies mentioned above - and use your German Shepherd as guinea pig.
Nonetheless, if your German Shepherd is already limping badly or appears to be in pain, visit the vet in any case in order to get the right diagnosis and to consider the suggested treatment.