Can Dogs Get Blisters?

Hands up if you've never had a blister on your heel? Thought so. Not many hands up.

Blisters are an all too common consequence of breaking in new shoes or putting fashion before function when it comes to footwear. A blister is often the price of wearing those staggeringly-high stilettos or squeezing into shoes that don't fit.

But what about dogs? Of course, our fur friends don't wear shoes, but can they still get blisters?

Can Dogs Get Blisters?

Doggy blisters are often the result of a health problem like bacterial over-colonization, an autoimmune condition, or a skin disease like bullous pemphigoid. As well, blistering of the feet can occur resulting from contact with an irritant or walking on hot pavement. Read on to learn about different types of doggy blisters and how they differ from people blisters. To become further informed, see Skin Blisters and Pustules in Dogs.

Does My Dog Have Blisters?

A blister is basically a fluid-filled bubble on the surface of your dog's skin. Traditionally we think of blisters as being filled with a clear fluid (serum). If a blister is filled with pus, it has a different name - a pustule. A blister is formed when the topmost layers of skin cells lift away from the deeper layers. Fluid (serum) seeps into the dead space, and a blister develops.

To determine if your dog has blisters, take a careful look at the affected area. You may see tiny blisters (vesicles). You are more likely to see small blisters than larger ones. This is because a dog will often rub and pop the mature blister and destroy the evidence, leaving behind an ulcer (a crater in the skin).

How Do I Treat My Dog's Blisters?

A word of caution is due right from the beginning. If the pavement is hot to the touch of your hands, it is too hot for your furry buddy's feet. On the opposite end of the spectrum, meaning in cold weather, chemicals used in salt products to de-ice the roads may cause a blistering of your pup's paw pads. 

In these scenarios, rest your dog so they take the weight off their paws. Apply a layer of moisturizing barrier cream, and lightly bandage the paws. Change the dressing twice a day, and be vigilant for odor or discharge. If this happens, go straight to the vet.

If you spot blisters elsewhere on the body, your dog must be seen by a vet. The blisters can be a sign of autoimmune disease or another illness and need to be looked at.

While waiting for the appointment, don't be tempted to interfere or pop the blister. Try and leave it intact because it can give the vet needed information. An intact blister is extremely valuable when it comes to running diagnostic tests such as cytology or histology.

The underlying cause of the blister needs to be diagnosed, so the bubbled skin can be treated and the soreness relieved. If the blisters are the result of an autoimmune disease, medication may be prescribed. Anti-inflammatories or antibiotics could be required and a topical ointment may be suggested.

How are Blisters in Dogs Similar to Blisters in People?

A blister is a blister - a bubble-like separation of the top sheets of epidermal cells. While the signs are the same, the reasons they form can be different in dogs and people.

Of course, blisters can form in dogs due to friction, repeated rubbing, or thermal burns. But this is the exception, rather than the rule, and an underlying health problem is the more likely explanation.

How are Blisters in Dogs Different than Blisters in People?

First things first. A dog's pads have their own 'shoe leather' - a tough outer layer of keratin. When a dog is over-exercised, this is more likely to wear away than form a blister. Thus, sore feet in dogs are more common than blisters. True blisters in dogs are usually the result of either a foreign body worming between the toes, or of autoimmune disease such as pemphigus

These blisters are a symptom of an underlying health condition which needs treatment. This usually means taking immunosuppressive drugs, such as steroids. In addition, a broken blister may become infected and a course of antibiotics is necessary to control this secondary infection.

Case Study

An American Cocker Spaniel develops a blister-like swelling in the webbing between two toes on a front paw. The vet suspects a foreign body beneath the skin. The vet lances the swelling and uses fine forceps to retrieve a grass awn. The blister is flushed, and the paw bandaged. Two days later the dressing is removed, the skin has healed, and the pup gets the go-ahead to resume walks in the park.

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Sketch of smiling australian shepherd