Identifying Shih Tzu Paw Problems
If a shih tzu is suffering from problems in the paw area the first indications for the owner are likely to be excessive licking of the paw which may be accompanied by chewing or biting in the same area. There may be a swelling and inflammation of the paw and the pads, otherwise known as pododermatitis, a condition for which there are several causes and in order to treat the ailment effectively it is vital to pinpoint the exact cause. Extreme cases of pododermatitis may show bleeding, peeling of the skin of the pads and difficulty walking or standing.
Shih tzu paw problems can initially be assessed by which paws are involved and how many. Please remember as you read on that I am only giving advice informing you of what could be causing paw problems so that you can decide what to do next. I am not intending to replace the professional and more accurate diagnosis offered by your vet. For anything other than the most minor complaint you can treat at home, please do consult your vet.
Paws For Thought
The most likely reason for a shih tzu licking his paws is an allergy and if only the front paws are affected, then it is almost certain to be an allergy. Allergies can be caused by the environment, often seasonally, by contact or by certain food items. They can cause a rash and itchy skin and it is usually the paws that are affected first.
If only one paw is affected the likely causes are an injury to the paw, a foreign body attached to or in the paw, an insect bite or sting, a broken nail or the appearance of tumors or abscesses.
When all four paws are affected the cause is likely to be burns from walking on a hot road surface or pavement or walking through a corrosive or caustic substance, friction burns from overindulging in exercise on hard surfaces, damage from snow melt or hyperkeratosis, a condition where hair grows on the actual pad, If swollen paws are accompanied with coughing, this may indicate a heart problem.
Bacterial infections and fungal infections such as yeast are other complaints that would affect all four paws. These infections can make the paws swollen, itchy and malodorous.
Crusty, swollen pads that do not appear to be causing any pain could indicate lupus, a disease where the autoimmune system becomes hyperactive and attacks otherwise healthy tissue. Or if there is pain it could be pemphigus foliaceus, another autoimmune deficiency which causes blisters and perhaps hyperkeratosis on otherwise healthy tissue.
What Your Vet Will Do
If it is unclear what is causing the discomfort and swelling of the paws then after giving your shih tzu a thorough physical examination which, of course, will focus on the paws, your vet may run some tests to determine what the problem is and how to treat it.
The vet may take a hair sample from the edge of the affected area and place it under a microscope to examine the structure and health of the hair. There will also be a check here for parasites, fungal infestations and dandruff as an indicator of dry skin. Next, the vet may take a scraping of skin cells from the paw area for microscopic examination to check for the presence of parasites, fungal and bacterial infections in a process known as cutaneous cytology. Other tests such as blood count, biochemical profile and urinalysis will further check for infections, autoimmune system deficiency and hormone deficiency.
Dealing With The Problems
Excessive Licking, Chewing And Biting Of Paws
If you notice that your shih tzu is often licking, chewing or biting his paw or paws you need to find out the root cause and take some remedial action. If not eventually sores may appear around the area of attention. With even more licking and chewing the sores may then crack and bleed, becoming open to bacterial infection. The area may then become red, swollen and very painful. This encourages more licking and chewing, creating a vicious cycle. Hair may then fall out in the affected area.
Allergies – The Most Common Reason For Excessive Licking
Allergies can be triggered by environmental elements such as pollens or dust, certain food items or insects such as dust mites or fleas when they bite. If you can discover what is triggering the allergy you may be able to deal with it at home just by removing or eradicating the trigger source. The paw licking should then stop as soon as any rash or inflammation has subsided.
If there are any complications, such as open sores or bleeding, or the symptoms will not go away, you should consult your vet. In the first instance to check for any infections that may have resulted from the wounds and to administer medicine accordingly. Secondly to assess what is causing the allergic reaction and how to end it. This may also require medication.
The licking and chewing of the paw and itchiness could be the only indications that your shih tzu may have an allergy, or it could be accompanied by any of a number of other symptoms. The licking and biting may spread to other parts of the body that have become itchy, have developed a rash or have sore spots. The back paws may be used to scratch the itchy areas of the body.
Ear infections are common with allergies, often a reddish brown wax will develop that the shih tzu will dig out with a paw and then lick off of the paw, staining the fur in the process. Watery eyes will leave the tell tale brown tear stains under the eyes. The eyes may also become bloodshot.
A runny nose, sneezing, coughing and wheezing may not be a cold or flu but may be further symptoms of an allergy, as could thinning hair, not wanting to exercise and rubbing the body against rough surfaces.
Upset stomach, diarrhea or vomiting could be symptoms of a food allergy. If you suspect your shih tzu has a food allergy, experiment by removing an item you suspect may be causing the allergy from his diet. It the allergy clears up after a few days, all well and good. If it doesn’t it must be something else, so replace the first item and try removing another until you find the culprit. Frequent food allergy triggers are dairy products, wheat, soya but also consider individual meats and poultry, fish, eggs and corn.
There are several steps you can take within your own household to minimize the risk of your shih tzu developing an allergic reaction. Firstly, frequently clean your floors and soft furnishings with a vacuum cleaner fitted with a HEPA filter, then dust the entire house with a damp cloth. Frequently launder all bedding, both human and dog, in hot water to 140ºF (60ºC). Before replacing the bedding, cover the mattresses and pillows with mite proof covers.
When feeding your shih tzu try for food that has all natural ingredients which do not include any know triggers. Go for food that has no grains, is free from wheat and soya, corn, by products, chemical preservatives and artificial flavoring. See my post “Best Dog Food For A Shih Tzu” for more information. Serve the food in a stainless steel bowl as a plastic one will leach chemicals into the food.
Don’t take out your shih tzu for walks during the middle of high pollen days, instead go out when pollen counts are lower, first thing in the morning and just before dusk. When you return home rub him down with hypoallergenic dog wipes and wash his paws in the bath or sink.
TIP: Instead of hypoallergenic dog wipes use good quality hypoallergenic baby wipes – they’re usually at a lower price point and good quality ones will be strong enough for a shih tzu.
Spray the paws with an itch relief spray for dogs to help remove the urge to lick.
If your shih tzu licks, chews and bites his paws a lot it could be due to a yeast infection, or it could be that a yeast infection has developed because of the licking and chewing. As the infection develops there will be a noticable, musty smell akin to that of stale, cheesy corn chips. Following this may be the occurrence of crusty sores on the skin which could spread to the ears, nose, anal area, neck and armpits (Should that be leg pits?)
Yeast is naturally present on dogs, it’s only when the balance is upset and the yeast starts to take control, called overgrowth, that there is a problem. If you suspect that your shih tzu has a yeast infection, first consult your vet to confirm the diagnosis. If your vet thinks the overgrowth is severe enough, oral tablets containing either ketoconazole or fluconazole may be prescribed.
TIP: If your shih tzu refuses to take any prescribed tablets, try wrapping them in a piece of his favorite food or favorite treat first. You may need to wrap it in food that has a stronger odor than the tablet for this to work.
You can supplement the oral treatment prescribed by your vet by bathing your shih tzu’s paws using a medicated shampoo and then applying a medicated spray to his paws after drying.
A good antifungal dog shampoo will contain 1% ketoconazole and 2% chlorhexidine gluconate. Bathe your shih tzu’s paws with the shampoo two or three times a week, soaking the paws for at least ten minutes each time until the symptoms subside, usually within a month. Then continue with the shampoo once a week to ensure the symptoms do not return.
It will also help to spray the paws three times a day with an antifungal dog spray containing around 0.25% ketoconazole and 1% chlorhexidine gluconate. This will also make your shih tzu more comfortable by providing relief from itching.
Dry skin on the paws can occur when out walking in cold temperatures or sometimes just from the accumulative effect of walking on hard surfaces. Chemicals used for de-icing roads and sidewalks that come into contact with the paws can further dry them out by dissipating the natural skin oils secreted by the sweat glands, or they may even cause chemical burns.
To decrease the probability of dry skin developing, make sure your shih tzu is well hydrated and drinks plenty of water. Take some water with you on walks. If you have a humidifier in your household this will help too.
Before you take your shih tzu out in cold weather apply a good quality paw wax to protect the paws from the elements and de-icing chemicals, or put your shih tzu in some good quality, all weather booties. When you return from any walk your shih tzu could become poisoned if any chemicals are ingested when he licks his paws, so clean the paws first with warm water and then apply some paw balm or paw spray to alleviate the discomfort of dry, cracked and chafed skin. Make sure the balm or spray gets in between the pads and the toes. Only use products specifically made for dogs as human products will be too strong.
Cuts, Abrasions And Blisters
Unfortunately, cuts and abrasions can happen from time to time. Deep cuts will need to be dealt with by your vet, just try your best to stop the bleeding until you get to the surgery. Apply pressure to the wound preferably with a sterile dressing.
Minor scrapes you can deal with yourself. Wash the wound with warm water and antibacterial soap, then pat dry with a clean towel or cloth. Apply some antiseptic cream to the wound, I find tea tree cream very good for this, then cover the wound with a sterile dressing.
Blistering can occur during the summer months when your shih tzu has been walking on a road, sidewalk or sandy beach that has been baked in the hot sun. In hot weather, always test the temperature of the surface you are going to walk your shih tzu on by touching it with your fingers first. If it’s too hot for your hand, it’s to hot for your shih tzu’s paws. If this is the case, pick him up and carry him to somewhere more shady. Bear in mind that some surfaces, such as tarmac, will be hotter than others, such as grass.
If you come back from a walk and find that your shih tzu’s paws are sore or burned from walking on hot surfaces, bathe the paws in cold water for at least ten minutes to halt the burning process, then clean the paws with antibacterial soap. Carefully pat the paws dry and wrap in gauze. If the blistering is severe or weeping, consult your vet as soon as possible.
Lack Of Attention
If there are no signs of any physical ailments, your shih tzu may be licking and biting his paws as a way of dealing with boredom or stress.
Boredom may set in if your shih tzu is at home alone for long periods of time or if he has human company but no attention.
Being home alone for long periods can also lead to stress through separation anxiety. Other circumstances that can trigger stress for your shih tzu are bereavement, a new household member, beit another human or another pet, or if your household is noisy and chaotic.
End your shih tzu’s boredom by interacting with him more. Take him for two walks of at least twenty minutes duration per day. Play at least one game with him, such as fetch the ball or tug the rope. If you have to go out somewhere take him with you if you can. Treat him to some interactive toys to play with, something with a puzzle to work out such as how to remove his treat from the toy. A flavored toy he can chew may take his mind off of his paw.
If your household is noisy and chaotic, find your shih tzu a quiet little corner out of the way that he can call his own little piece of territory. This corner needs to be somewhere where he is in frequent contact with you and other family members.
As for the stress caused by separation anxiety, I have a whole post just dedicated to dealing with this issue which you can find by clicking here.
Other Paw Problems That May Be Licked
It will happen from time to time that a foreign body such as a stone or a burr may become lodged between the paw pads. When this happens you will probably notice your shih tzu limping before you notice the licking. Gently remove the foreign body from the paw and bathe the paw with some antibacterial soap. If the skin is broken, treat as for cuts and abrasions.
Another problem, and a potentially more serious one, where you may notice limping as the first symptom is the presence of an abscess or a tumor on a paw. These must be treated by your vet as soon as possible. They may be treated by medication alone but more severe cases may need to be surgically removed, particularly in the case of a tumor.
Your shih tzu may be licking his paws simply because they have become swollen through overexertion. Plenty of rest and avoiding hard surfaces when walking is the remedy for this problem. Bathing the paws with some Epsom salts may also help.
Paw Maintenance Issues
Hair Between The Paw Pads
All long haired dogs have hair growing between their paw pads that needs to be trimmed back regularly from the age of six months onwards and the shih tzu is no exception. Your groomer can do this for you, as can your vet but in between visits to either, it’s quite an easy job to perform yourself as long as you have the right equipment. For more details about how to trim your shih tzu’s paws yourself, see my post “Trim Shih Tzu Paws Like A Professional”.
When walking outdoors the hair between the paw pads can be a magnet for gravel and small stones, mud, thorns, burrs, feces, gum, in fact almost anything on the ground small enough to wedge in the gap, making it a breeding ground for bacteria. Walking in winter can have the added problems not only of salt and corrosive chemicals but also of snow compacting into the crevices and expanding when it freezes to ice, causing pain for the unfortunate dog.
Excess hair between the pads can also become tangled and matted which will also be painful and cause the dog to lose traction on shiny floor surfaces. Keeping the hair trimmed back below the surface and washing the paws with antibacterial soap after walks will help prevent a lot of problems.
Hyperkeratosis – Hair On The Paw Pads
Hyperkeratosis is a condition that affects some dogs where their paw hair actually grows on the pads as well as between them. As you can imagine, a dog’s weight pressing down on the hairs can be very uncomfortable. The hairs compressing against the pads can cause dry and cracked skin, leaving the paws open to infection.
This condition cannot be cured but it can be managed. If your shih tzu is unfortunate enough to suffer from this you will need to consult your vet to discuss the best treatment. This treatment will probably involve the daily application of a medicated paw balm containing butters and oils. This combination of lubricants will give both instant and lasting relief.
Hyperkeratosis can also appear in the nose.
Of course, as well as the hair between the paw pads requiring regular trimming, the same is also true of the nails. When you can hear your shih tzu’s paws tapping as he walks on a hard surface, that’s when his nails will need trimming. Again, you groomer or vet can do this for you but I will be talking through how you can do this yourself in my next post.
The amount of time it will take a shih tzu to recover from any of the problems discussed in this post largely depends upon what the ailment is, how badly affected the shih tzu is and how healthy the dog is otherwise. Some conditions will clear up in days, others will take weeks or even months. All you can do is make your shih tzu as comfortable as possible while their condition improves by using any prescribed medicines in the correct doses and applying sprays, balms and protective dressings as necessary.
I hope that you have found this information useful. Please do leave a comment or use the contact us form if you have any questions or thoughts about this topic, shih tzu in general or this website.
Don’t forget to take a look at “Trim Shih Tzu Paws Like A Professional” where I run through how to trim back paw pad hair, how to trim the nails safely and describe the essential tools you will need.
Until then, bye for now.