Dog lovers know there are so many reasons why being a pet parent absolutely rules. Research shows that having a dog benefits the entire family, and you simply can’t put a price on the snuggly, sweet unconditional love a canine companion can provide. And much like your human kiddos, you probably love things about your pooch you wouldn’t necessarily admit out loud. Like… Why do my dog’s paws smell like Fritos — and is it weird to like it?
Well, if you’ve ever caught yourself sniffing your pet’s paws and absolutely loving the scent (or caught your kid doing as much and wondered what sort of little weirdo you’re raising), you should take solace in the truth: You’re not alone. In fact, pet owners and veterinarians alike find that “Frito feet” scent to be downright irresistible.
For real, though, why do dogs smell like Fritos?
It might sound strange to compare your dog’s feet to a snack food, but there’s a very real reason why your pup’s paws remind you of your favorite game day goodies. “Just like humans, dogs have a normal flora of bacteria and fungi (yeast) living on their skin,” explains Dr. Jamie Whittenburg, DVM, veterinarian director at Senior Tail Waggers. “If you sniff between a dog’s toes, there may be a smell that some compare to the scent of corn chips. This scent, while loved by some and reviled by others, is typically normal. The smell is due to a combination of Proteus and Pseudomonas bacteria, which are both part of the skin’s natural flora.”
Adds Dr. Lindsay Butzer, DVM and PetMeds partner, “Dogs’ paw pads are made of a thick layer of keratin or skin to protect their feet, and as they age, this keratin forms thick hair-like projections that easily trap bacteria and yeast within the pads that can lead to a stronger corn chip or Frito smell. Dogs also don’t wear shoes like we do; therefore, their pads pick up bacteria and yeast on a daily basis.”
How can you tell when the Frito smell becomes a problem?
While the smell itself is generally normal and not indicative of any health concerns, both vets note that any changes in your dog’s paws — appearance, feel, or scent — should be taken seriously. “The smell should not be strong or overpowering, and the feet should not appear red, moist, or inflamed,” says Whittenburg. “Brown staining on the feet, exudate (leaky fluids), or moisture between the toes is likely indicative of a yeast infection and requires veterinary intervention.”
If you notice a sudden change in the scent of your pup’s paws, Butzer recommends you “assess the insides of their toes by spreading the webbing of their feet apart and examining the skin to see if it is infected. Infected paw pads will be wet, have inflamed raw skin showing, yellow or green discharge from the skin pores, and obvious lesions. If this is the case, you will need to bring your pet to the veterinarian to have antibiotics, antifungals, and possibly pain medications prescribed to clear the infection.”
But if you’re working with a classic corn chip smell (and secretly enjoying the scent), both vets insist it’s totally normal and not a cause for concern. If you don’t particularly like it, that’s fine, too, says Whittenburg. “The love of this smell is definitely subjective and varies between pet owners. In my practice, I have had pet parents that purposefully sniff their dog’s toes and gain comfort from the smell, while others bring their dog to me to try to get rid of the smell as they find it unpleasant. For those who love the smell, it is likely associated with comfort and the love they feel for their canine companion.”
Butzer notes that it could be as simple as loving the smell of Fritos, but more than likely, it’s that emotional connection you feel towards your beloved dog that makes it so hard to resist catching a whiff from time to time.
Is there a cat connection?
This phenomenon is pretty unique to pooches. As Butzer explains, “Cat paws naturally do not have the distinct smell of Frito feet like dogs’ do,” she says. “Cats’ paw pads are much softer, smoother, and skin-like than dogs’ hard keratinized paw pads, which may contribute to less bacteria and yeast being trapped in the skin. Cat owners mostly comment that their paws may smell like their brand of litter or dust.”
Whittenburg notes that the lack of a distinct scent might be one of the reasons why cat lovers prefer their feline friends, adding that it really is subjective to each individual’s scent tolerance and preferences.
How should you care for your pup’s paws?
Caring for your pet’s paws is important to keep them healthy and to keep an eye on any changes that might be otherwise hard to detect, but you don’t need to spend too much time giving your pooch a spa-like pedicure. A quick post-walk wipe with a natural baby wipe like WaterWipes should do the trick to avoid them tracking dirt and mud all over your house. Whittenburg notes that your dog’s breed will also determine the type of maintenance they require.
“Some breeds, such as poodles, Lhasa Apsos, and others, have hair as opposed to fur,” she says. “These dogs require frequent bathing and grooming, and the hair between their toes must be trimmed. For dogs with fur, the feet should be kept clean and simply washed during regular bath time.”
You might need to give a little more TLC for pups with sensitive skin issues, says Butzer. “If your pet is prone to paw skin infections, I highly recommend using pet wipes that are used for cleaning ears and skin that contain antifungal and antibacterial ingredients in them such as chlorhexidine or ketoconazole.” She suggests Mal-A-Ket Wipes, recommending a daily scrub of the bottom of the paw pads and between each webbed toe to clean the skin and prevent infections.
And if you just can’t resist the occasional sniff of your fur baby’s feet, there’s no shame in that. After all, it’s probably more pleasant than some of the scents you’ll catch on your human children.