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208 Breeds, 422 Health Conditions  |  Find a Vet

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Toe Cysts

First Aid Condition

First aid health condition




Condition Overview

Interdigital furuncles (toe cysts) develop on the webs of a dog's paws between his toes. The painful, knotty sores are inflamed tissue that is almost always caused by a deep bacterial infection.


Painful, knotty sores or inflamed tissue between the toes, not directly caused by excessive boredom paw licking.


Dogs have either webbed feet or very short, bristly fur on their feet that easily becomes ingrown and causes infection. Another cause is a foreign body like a foxtail seed that implants itself in the webbing. Occasionally, a microscopic skin mite that causes demodicosis (a type of mange) may prompt toe cysts.


Diagnosis can be made by veterinary examination.


Toe cysts almost always need treatment with oral antibiotics, and they sometimes require surgery to remove a foreign body. Demodectic mange requires specific medical diagnosis and treatment to cure. First aid can help relieve a dog's discomfort and help speed recovery.

  1. Remove any foreign object - Before doing anything else, examine your dog's paw for a foreign body like a grass awn or splinter. If you can see and reach the material, use blunt tipped tweezers to grasp and pull it out. This will be painful for your dog, so expect some flinching, jerking, or possibly a quick yelp. You may need a second person to steady and restrain the dog.
  2. Soak the paws - Soak your dog's feet in a solution made with 1 cup of Epsom salts dissolves in 2 gallons of warm water, or an antiseptic solution like Betadine Solution in an strength of 0.01 - 0.1%. If you purchase higher strength betadine, dilute it with distilled water until it is the color of weak tea. If you are unsure of the dilution, call a pharmacist or veterinarian. This not only washes off fungi and bacteria that could cause infection, it is also soothing to the sore, itchy feet and can help bring a foreign body or ingrown hair to the surface. You can fill the tub so that your dog can stand in the water and soak all 4 feet at once. Se sure to rinse and dry his feet after he soaks, because moisture makes the pads more attractive to infection. Also, Epsom salts are laxative if swallowed, so you don't want your dog to lick off too much or to lap up any of the water that he's standing in.
If the sores are infected - With infection, you will see a discharge of puss. It is best to clean and soak the paws in antiseptic solution as described above. When only one or two paws are affected, you can use a small pan and treat one paw at a time. Remember to rinse and dry your dog's feet afterward because antiseptic solutions shouldn't be swallowed.

If surgery is required - If the sores fail to heal despite your efforts, surgery may be necessary to try to clean out any ingrown hair, sharp seeds, or infection. Keep the incision site clean by wiping away any drainage from around the wound with a gauze pad dampened with sterile saline contact lens solution.

After surgery, the vet may tape a bandage to your dog's paw. Keep the bandage clean and dry by slipping a plastic bag over the foot whenever your dog goes outside.

You will need to change the bandage every 2 - 3 days. Watch for swelling above or below the bandage or a sudden interest in licking. This could mean trouble beneath the covering that may need medical attention.


Allergies - people with hay fever often sneeze a lot and develop itchy, red, watery eyes. Dogs with hay fever - more correctly called atopy - instead develop itchy skin, especially on their skin.

When toe cysts develop and won't heal, or they keep coming back, it's probably that your dog is allergic to something that he is breathing or eating. It could be pollen, dust, molds, or just about anything that also affects people.

If you can figure out what is triggering the reaction and get rid of it, your dog's itchiness will go away. Unfortunately, that is rarely easy to do. There are a number of skin tests that your veterinarian can perform to help identify the culprits.


Many dogs may start licking a paw from an itch, but the licking turns into a habit and eventually, sores develop. The more they lick, the more the sore itches, and they continue the cycle. The most important thing you can do at home is to stop this cycle by physically restraining your dog from licking and chewing his feet. A cone shaped Elizabethan collar will work wonders.

An antihistamine such as Benadryl can help relieve the itching while the sores heal. The liquid form of Benadryl usually comes in a dose of 12.5mg per teaspoon and pills are 25mg each. Pets will need 1mg per pound of body weight (up to your veterinarians approved maximum) every 6 - 8 hours.

Soak the paw 2 - 3 times every day in warm water with an antiseptic or antibacterial solution. Diluted Betadine Solution or a 5% benzoyl peroxide solution works well.

Toe cysts almost always require long-term prescription antibiotics like penicillin (Oxacillin) or cephalexin (keflex), which you can get from your veterinarian. Your dog may have to take the medicine for up to 8 weeks before the sores heal.

Show Sources & Contributors +


The First Aid Companion for Dogs And Cats

Publisher: Rodale Inc, 2001

Website: http://www.rodalebooks.com/

Authors: Amy D. Shojai, Shane Bateman DVM

2 Comments For "Toe Cysts"



My dogs cysts started on her front paws and a week later they are on her back paws so I took her to the vet. He put her on Cephalexin (antibiotic and said it might take a while) then we soak her feet twice a day in a solution. Second day after vet visit there was on her back paw between her toes a huge cyst or boil dark red boil. I had my husband hold her head and I lanced it and no puss came out just blood. Hope it gets better, will update.

July 13, 2013 at 4:29PM  Sign In or Join to Comment



We were in Victoria,BC CAN and learnt the hard way about spear grass in dry grassy fields. Within a week if daily walks, we found five different cysts on our dogs toes.We had no idea Spear grass existed and when the first cyst developed we thought maybe it was a bug bite reaction. But once a few more developed, we took him to the vet who told us about spear grass. It gets embedded completely in between the toes and you can no longer see it. One vet mentioned possible surgery to remove the barbs.Another suggested 2 tines daily 10-20 min paw soak in Epsom salt water mix. Slowly, one by one each cyst has opened up, and then healed itself. We're assuming it also got rid if the spear grass barn but never actually saw them. It has taken weeks of daily soaks and each one opened at a different time. But we were so happy to avoid surgery. The cysts/open wounds don't seem to bother him except tender to touch. One cyst was painful as it initially caused his foot to totally swell up, he wasn't weight bearing on that paw. Pain meds left over from a previous surgery he had, did not help, but Benadryl made a huge difference. Vets recommended 1mg/lb every 4-6 hours and within a day of benadryl he was running on that foot again. I had to continue giving benadryl fir a couple weeks for that paw.
Waiting and Epsom salt soak totally worked for us. Just sharing our story because we had no idea how to deal with this when it happened to us.

July 30, 2013 at 4:47PM  Sign In or Join to Comment