by K Marie Alto October 28, 2021 9 min read
Pet parents encounter many strange things in their time with a fur baby, but few are as unexpected, perhaps, as the peculiar smells your dog may have. Some of them are perfectly common and can be resolved with a bath, and everyone expects things like flatulence and wet dog smells from time to time.
What about the strange smells emanating from their feet, though?
Dog paws can smell like a lot of different things. The most common is colloquially known as "Frito Feet." If you've ever been cuddling your fur baby and caught a whiff of something distinctly corn-like (a lot like corn chips like Fritos or Doritos or popcorn), this is what you're smelling.
A little bit of this scent isn't bad, and it doesn't hurt your fur baby, so it's not usually a cause for concern.
On the other hand, smells like feces, foul meat, or other rancid odors can be a sign of something worse going on, like a skin infection. Or, of course, it could simply be something your pup stepped in since the last time they groomed their paws.
Let's talk about Frito Foot for a moment first. It all comes down to bacteria.
Bacteria are natural, and they are everywhere. Some of them are bad, most of them are neutral, and some of them are good. You have a bunch of good bacteria living in your gut right now. Those bacteria help you digest food. In fact, that's what probiotics are all about; fostering those bacteria to keep you healthy.
Your fur baby also has beneficial bacteria in their gut, but that's not what causes foot odors. Foot odors, specifically Frito Foot, are a different set of bacteria that live on your fur baby's feet. Specifically, it's two different species: Pseudomonasand Proteus.
Normally, these bacteria don't do much of anything. They just kind of live there, on the ground, on your fur baby's paws, and all around you. You won't notice them, they don't cause any harm, and you certainly won't smell them. So, what's going on?
These bacteria thrive when they live in a certain kind of environment. Luckily for them, that environment involves everything your dog has going on in their paws. Dead and shed skin? Natural skin oils? Saliva and sweat? It's all there, making the perfect environment for the bacteria to thrive.
"Then, to add to the toe-funk, dogs will frequently lick their feet and add more bacteria to the mix! Suffice it to say, your pet's feet aren't the cleanest. The bigger issue lies in how healthy the balance is between good and bad bacteria, and whether or not there is a condition at work that can create smelly feet and other problems." – Androscoggin Animal Hospital.
As you may know, dogs don't sweat like people to keep themselves cool. The little sweat they do produce tends to appear in the paws, specifically around the toe beans. The deep crevasses in your dog's toes, the accumulation of sweat and saliva from grooming, the shed skin from natural skin growth; it all combines to allow those bacteria to thrive.
Even when thriving, those two types of bacteria aren't harmful. They don't infect or hurt your fur baby. All they do is live there.
Normally, if you're keeping your dog's paws clean, you'll never really notice Frito Foot. That's because the bacteria don't build up enough to be noticeable. Once they do, it might be a good indicator that it's time to give your fur baby a bath, but that's about it; no need to worry about an emergency vet trip.
While smelling like corn chips isn't harmful, it might be annoying or bothersome to you, and it might hide other issues you would want to know about. So, how can you minimize Frito Foot and help your fur baby smell like a dog again?
First up, you want to make sure you're bathing your fur baby regularly. Regular bathing helps wash away the bacteria, built-up saliva and sweat, dirt, and anything else your dog has stepped in or rolled in since the last time you washed them. You'll want to use lukewarm water (you don't want to overheat your fur baby with hot water or chill them with cold) and a dog-friendly shampoo to wash them thoroughly.
Next, take special care with grooming your fur baby's paws. Trim their nails carefully to avoid hurting them. At the same time, take a pair of grooming scissors and trim back the fur around their toes.
Toe fur can trap moisture, dirt, and bacteria in the deep folds between toes and around the toe beans. By trimming that fur back, you give the bacteria fewer places to hide and thus reduce potential odors (as well as infections or other problems). Make sure to pay special attention to the fur betweenyour fur baby's toes since that's where the most bacteria live.
Third, you'll want to make a habit of protecting your fur baby's feet from the environment as much as possible. Some of our tips for protecting their feet from hot pavement can apply to protecting them from dirt and bacteria as well. For example, if your canine companion is tolerant of booties, giving them their own shoes to wear can help keep their feet clean.
Most of the time, you won't be able to keep your fur baby completely protected from the environment. Maybe they shake off their shoes, maybe they just love running through deep mud, who knows. The best thing to do is get into the habit of cleaning their feet whenever you get back from a walk, hike, or adventure outdoors.
Another way to protect your fur baby's toe beans is to use something like our USDA certified organic Momma Knows Best Hydrate & Repel paw balm. This organic dog and cat balm has 100% natural, dog and cat lick-safe, antibacterial and antifungal ingredients to help cut back on those pesky microbes while also helping to heal dry skin, protect skin from cracking, and generally ensuring that your fur baby's paws are as healthy as they can be.
Start by wiping your dog’s paws with a damp cloth. Make sure to remove any dirt or debris. Let dry for a few minutes, then apply a small amount between your fur baby’s toe beans while also covering the paw pads.
Apply twice a day for five to seven days before bedtime or any time when your pup is not active. After the treatment is complete, apply regularly once or twice a week for maintenance. For a vegan lifestyle, check out our USDA certified organic and vegan paw balm Hydrate and Soothe.
While smelling like corn chips is common, it's not the only thing your fur baby's feet can smell like. There are a few other kinds of odors you might encounter.
It's an unfortunate fact of life that living things must excrete what passes through their systems. Dogs love this stuff and are more than happy to get up close and personal with it. It's gross though, and when they step in it and carry a bit with them, it can make their feet smell terrible!
Luckily, this isn't really a cause for concern, other than "where did you track this now?" All you need to do is give your canine companion a quick bath to get it out of their toes. Well, that, and make sure they didn't have an accident somewhere in the house that you need to clean up.
Another reasonably common odor is a fishy smell, which can emanate from your fur baby's toes, ears, or rear. This may or may not be concerning, and it depends entirely on one thing: their diet. If you're feeding them a diet made up primarily of fish or fish-based products, it's perfectly natural for some of that scent to make its way through your fur baby and out through glands in their feet and ears. The same goes if you're giving them a fish oil supplement.
On the other hand, if there's no fish in their diet, a fishy smell can be an indication of a deeper medical issue. Some dental problems, some gastrointestinal problems, and some glandular disorders, as well as some infections, can all produce a fishy smell. Usually, this is because of different bacteria thriving in an environment that is otherwise harmful to your fur baby. This is one case where you should bring your pup to the vet to get them checked out.
Across the board, most odors will go away with a simple bathing and grooming routine or will fade after a day or two. If any smell strong enough to notice lasts more than a few days, call your vet to see what they have to say.
It's one thing to say that Frito Foot isn't concerning, but it's only part of the story. If your dog has funky feet, when should you be concerned?
If the corn chip smell is too strong:
First, remember that while Frito Foot is normal, it's not usually very strong. If you notice it from some distance away, or if it's pervasive, or if it's just very strong, it can be a sign that your fur baby's foot bacteria are running wild. While this isn't usually harmful to your fur baby, it can be unpleasant, and it might be a sign of another issue relating to their sweat or their skin. Skin allergies and infections, or dermatitis, can cause extra shed skin, which continues to feed those bacteria.
So, if the smell of corn chips is stronger than you think is normal, you might want to take your fur baby to the vet. It's not an emergency, just schedule a consultation or talk to your vet over the phone and see what they have to say.If the corn chip smell is coming from somewhere else:
One indication of a problem is if you notice that same corn chip smell coming from a different part of your fur baby. Specifically, if you can smell corn chips coming from their ears, it might be a sign of an ear infection.
While the bacteria are fine on the feet, they shouldn't be living in the ears, so that can be cause for concern.
If the smell turns foul:
Corn chip smell isn't exactly a badsmell. So, if your fur baby's feet start to smell extra bad – especially after a bath and before they've had a chance to step in anything nasty – it might be a sign of something worse happening in between those toes.
Take a closer look to see if you spot:
Any of these can be a sign of something worse than a simple bacterial overgrowth. They can indicate an infection, some kind of injury, or another source of damage that is bothering your fur baby. These are more of a cause for concern, and you should consult with your vet as soon as possible.If your fur baby is biting or chewing at their feet:
Dogs don't have very many ways to interact with something that's bothering them. They're pretty much limited to biting, chewing, scratching, and licking. If you notice them doing any of these things, above and beyond what they normally do to groom, talk to your vet.
Excess licking and chewing can be a sign of anything from some object stuck between their toes to a more serious infection or damage. Either way, it's better to talk to a professional when you can.
Every canine pet parent grows familiar with the range of odors their fur baby produces. If you're a new pet parent, you might not be familiar with them and might worry about what a given odor means.
Most of the time, as long as it's not particularly foul, an odor isn't a cause for concern. It just means your fur baby needs a bath or got into something they shouldn't have. Just keep an eye out for other signs and symptoms, protect their paws from injury as best as you can, and keep an eye out for anything worse coming along.
Have you had any stinky feet issues with your pup? How did you resolve it? Did you find any of our tips helpful? Please share with us in the comments section below!
K. Marie is an animal lover, wife, kitty mom, dog auntie, writer and co-founder of Toe Beans, a proud American family-owned online boutique pet supplies store focused on the improvement of the life of furry family members via pet parent education, better products, and advocacy. She has over 20 years of experience as a pet momma. She loves sharing her personal journey and experience as a pet parent via her blog and Facebook page where she currently has more than 19K followers (@furrytoebeans) and counting :-).
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