An abscess is an infection that affects a small area of the skin between the toes. It is also known as a furuncle, and is comparable to an infected pimple on the face. They often develop as pus-filled blisters in the webbing between the toes, and can be quite painful.
Furuncles between the toes usually result from a severe bacterial infection. There are certain dog breeds that are prone to the condition due to the presence of short, wiry hairs on the webbing between the toes. These include Labrador Retrievers, Chinese Shar-Peis, and English Bulldogs. As the dog walks around, the shafts of the short hairs are easily pushed backwards into the hair follicles. This results in bacterial infections that come about when the ingrown hairs inflame the skin. There are also cases where the hair shaft itself becomes infected due to presence of foreign particles embedding themselves in the skin, e.g. a splinter or burr.
The initial signs indicating infected hair follicles that might turn into furuncles are tiny swellings on the webbing between the toes and a reddish rash. Treatment should be prompt otherwise the swellings will quickly turn into shiny, reddish-purple boils 0.4 – 0.8 inches wide. The boils tend to discharge bloody fluid when broken, causing immense pain when the animal tries to walk on the affected foot (or feet). It can even result in lameness, with the dog biting and licking the furuncle. Most furuncles that result from foreign substances are solitary and show up on the front foot. It is quite rare for an animal to experience a recurring furuncle. In cases where a bacterial infection is responsible, new furuncles could form as old ones heal.
A diagnosis is usually dependent on signs available. The furuncles can be pierced in order to locate and eliminate foreign objects. A mixture of localised treatment and broad-spectrum drugs are usually the best options when dealing with furuncles. Use of antibiotics is also typical for the first course of around 4 to 6 weeks, though this can be extended to 8 weeks as it may be hard for antibiotics to pass through the furuncles. It may become necessary to get extra treatment for secondary fungal infections. Alternative treatments include applying antibiotic ointment, dipping the foot in warm water (with or without an antibiotic solution), bandaging and antibiotic wraps. If there is any itching present, then antihistamines can be prescribed for the initial weeks of treatment. Some dogs may also require medication to alleviate the pain.
Improper use of antibiotics, for example not completing the dose, may result in chronic furuncles between the toes. Such situations can also arise if the bacteria are resistant to the prescribed antibiotic. There could also be an underlying disease that is causing the furuncles to keep coming back in spite of medication. Atopy is usually the most common reason for chronic furuncles. Dogs that are locked up cannot suffer from chronic furuncles unless they are removed from wire or concrete surfaces. In case it develops into a long-term condition, surgery of the webbing may be necessary.