The paws of our four-legged pals are hardy, yet incredibly vulnerable. Whether your pets are indoor or outdoor rompers, they’re regularly exposed to all manner of threats, be it stepping into deadly toxins or humans stepping on their tootsies.
Oftentimes, behavior and symptoms based in the animal’s foot area, such as limping, licking, chewing, lesions, and bleeding, indicate relatively minor problems. It may simply be that your pet is bored and therefore licks and chews on his paws to pass the time. This usually can be remedied with more play and affection.
Or the paw may have been slightly injured in an accident. For these problems, a natural first-aid kit may do the trick, which should include tweezers to remove an embedded foreign object, hydrogen peroxide for cleaning (and as a blood-stopper), an antibacterial / antiviral remedy to help the healing, bandages, and Bach Flower Rescue remedy, among a few other items (see resources below for links to an article on this topic).
Sometimes, however, these same symptoms and behaviors – particularly if they are in tandem with others – can indicate a more serious underlying problem.
Here are a few known and lesser-known illnesses and their symptoms, which can be detected by observing your pet’s paws, among other signs. In some cases, references are provided for alternative approaches to treating the problem, if not preventing it from occurring in the first place.
1. PILLOW FOOT: This layman’s term makes the problem sound positively cozy. Otherwise known as Plasma Cell Podadermatitis, pillow foot has been linked to feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV). While standard vets are not certain of the root cause, a virus is believed to be the culprit.
Symptoms of pillow foot include licking both paws, swelling of pads, and bleeding; upon diagnosis, periodontal disease is frequently uncovered as well.
Alternative treatment: To avoid the side-effects of antibiotics and anti-inflammatory creams, include natural, antiviral, anti-inflammatory remedies; diet change; and supplements that strengthen the immune system to restore balance. To deal with the swelling, skin irritation, and wounds accompanying this condition, see the below treatment for lick granuloma.
Regarding the speculation that this illness is viral-based, it should be noted – holistic vets believe that, when an animal gets ill, something has affected its natural ability to heal. The key to righting that wrong, then, is to help the animal restore its defence system. Whether the problem is a bacterial or viral infection, cancer, or other illness, getting your pet’s immune system in shape is the place to start. However, each animal will be treated differently, even if they have the same “illness,” depending on the overall picture of their health.
2. LICK GRANULOMA: The symptoms of this illness mimic those of pillow foot, except that allergies to food and / or the environment are often the cause. Dogs are most susceptible to this illness, especially certain breeds like Irish Setters, German Shepherds, Great Danes, Boxers, Dobermans, Labs, and Golden Retrievers.
Symptoms: Unlike pillow foot, the animal favours one paw when licking. Hair loss is apparent, as well as lesions.
Treatment: The first step with allergy-based conditions is to remove the source of the allergy, if possible. So, change of diet is critical. Buy pet food free of allergens found in commercial products. Better yet, start your pet on an organic raw-food diet (this is a wise choice, regardless, for maintaining good health and avoiding future illness). Add a good-quality Omega supplement for the animal’s skin and fur, as it will help with joint problems, since allergies can affect an animal’s ability to move with ease. Examine your home for mold and dust, and consider getting an air purifier, as the air quality is usually worse indoors than outdoors.
Simultaneously, you’ll need to treat the lesions, redness, and swelling with a soothing, non-toxic remedy. Calendula tea as a rinse on the paw is one of numerous ways to help with the healing, as is Bragg Apple Cider Vinegar (a teaspoon or two in a big bowl of water; if your pet won’t drink it, you might try dipping its paw into the water so it will lick it off). Homeopathic Arnica (external) is good for healing wounds, as well. Consult a veterinarian near you for proper dosages and application procedures.
3. PEMPHIGUS FOLIACEUS: A skin disease often confused with feline lupus, this illness can be fatal if not treated. It is auto-immune based, hence the animal’s body is tricked into believing its skin is an enemy to be attacked, and develops antibodies to destroy it.
Symptoms: Pustules and blisters form on the animal’s feet, as well as on its face and ears. Eventually, the entire body will be affected if the illness is not halted. Other symptoms include fever and loss of appetite.
Treatment: Again, standard medical treatment includes antibiotics and corticosteroids, which can wreak further havoc on the animal’s system and send it into a vicious cycle of long-term dependency and horrendous side-effects that disrupt the animal’s ability to self-heal. Recognizing symptoms early is essential, as is getting a proper diagnosis. Your pet’s immune system can be restored to normal using holistic treatments before the illness spreads and causes more damage and pain.
4. DIABETES: A disease of the pancreas (see reference to article on diabetes in animals for alternative solutions).
Symptoms: Limping and sores on paws, both in cats and dogs, are among the symptoms of diabetes, along with the telltale signs of excess thirst, excess visits to the litter box, and weight gain.
5. CANCER: Helke Ferrie’s article, “The ABCs of Pet Wellness,” is a great read on caring for your pets in general, but it is also a real eye-opener when it comes to animal cancers.
Symptoms: Excess licking of body parts (some animals may focus on the feet) and / or limping that goes on for more than a few days, when not the result of an obvious superficial injury, needs to be checked out by a professional. Lumps, lethargy, and other symptoms may be present.
Treatment: As Ferrie notes in her article, whether treating humans or animals for cancer, the same principles apply. Toxins need to be expelled from the body first. Detoxifying the system is a delicate process that should be undertaken only with the guidance of an expert in holistic healing. Remember, alternative medicine focuses on treating the whole being, not the symptoms – it is, above all else, a preventive-based medicine.
It has been my experience with alternative medicine that the treatment for one problem will very often clear up other problems and prevent future ones. Organic food, exercise, superior supplements, and good relations with your animal friends are always going to be central to the solution, just as with humans. Determining what approach to take and which foods and supplements to use, as well as the precise amounts when treating a serious disease or myriad symptoms, requires the assistance of a holistic veterinarian.
Regular examination of your pet’s paws, along with massage (to check for lumps, as well as a treatment for stress and other conditions) is one of numerous excellent preventive tools. So make a weekly date to pause on those paws and look closely for anything that seems amiss. With this simple technique, you can save yourself and your little buddies a great deal of trouble in the long run.
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