Paws that stink like corn chips are common enough in Boxers that some owners think it’s normal or even claim to like the smell.
It’s sometimes described as “cheesy” or reminiscent of popcorn.
This distinctive smell is caused by yeast, which is a type of single-celled fungus.
Though many dogs suffer from this problem, it is most definitely not normal in a healthy Boxer.
If your Boxer’s paws smell like Fritos — particularly if the odor is strong, and accompanied by signs of discomfort like licking or gnawing at the feet — don’t pass it off as just another “doggy” smell.
“Yeasty” paws are fixable, but it’s important to address the root cause.
I am not a vet. This post is for general informational and educational purposes only. I encourage readers to see my full disclaimer here.
What Causes A Boxer’s Feet To Smell Like Corn Chips?
All kinds of microscopic organisms live on your dog’s skin, just as they inhabit your own.
This is normal and healthy.
It’s what’s meant by the term “microbiome”.
What is not normal, though, is when these microbes proliferate to become a bacterial or fungal overgrowth.
(The same dynamics occur inside the body, too, in the gut. Often the problem is caused by antibiotics.)
To grow, yeast needs moisture, warmth …and a food source.
The spaces between the toes and paw pads provide the perfect environment.
Dogs regulate their body temperature primarily by panting but they also sweat through “merocrine” glands in their paws.
If a dog is often in the water, or if he’s constantly licking his feet, this can also keep the area damp.
Hot and humid weather also contributes.
But what about the food source for the yeast?
Normally, there are not enough nutrients to sustain any overpopulation of yeast on the paws.
But this changes when the dog’s body is out of whack.
The body is designed to excrete waste through the gut (in poop) and the kidneys (in urine) with the help of the liver’s detoxification processes.
However, when those primary organs of elimination are overburdened, the body can also enlist the help of its largest organ, the skin, to push out toxins.
It’s why the skin gets called “the third kidney”.
As well as the skin, toxic accumulation tends to show up in dogs as symptoms affecting the eyes, ears and paws, not to mention irritation in the gut and bladder as large amounts of toxins exit via those channels.
When excess waste is excreted through the paws (or ears, or anywhere in the body), this material feeds microbial overgrowth in that location.
And so, the yeast is not the problem itself.
Rather, it’s a symptom of the problem.
In the eyes, this can manifest as eye “infections” but also as unsightly and all-too-common tear staining, another problem many owners think is somehow “just part of being a Boxer”.
See also: How To Fix Tear Stains In White Boxers
What Causes Toxic Accumulation In A Boxer Dog?
So how do you work out what’s causing your Boxer to have more toxins than his body can handle?
You will find the culprit/s by considering everything that goes into your Boxer’s body, including:
- Kibble, canned or other highly processed dog foods
- Chemical dewormers
- Flea and tick preventatives (spot ons, flea collars or pills)
- Drugs including commonly prescribed antibiotics and steroids
- Lawn care chemicals
- Pesticides and herbicides like weed killers
- Household cleaners, fragranced products including candles and deodorizers
- Fat overconsumption (are you using lean meats in your Boxer’s raw food diet and incorporating fast days to offset this?)
- Pollution (atmospheric but also indoor sources like VOCs from paint and other off gasses)
- Supplements, other isolated chemistry and non-food items that a dog might be ingesting
- Contaminants in tap water
See also: Should Boxers Drink Tap Water?
Other Symptoms That Commonly Accompany Yeasty Paws
Toxicity, or an overburden of waste, can cause a range of symptoms in a dog.
If your Boxer has smelly paws, you might also notice:
- Skin irritation or “allergies”
- Scratching ears, shaking head or ear “infections”
- Red or gunky eyes
- Dry or cracked nose
- So called “Boxer acne”
- Diarrhea, vomiting and other digestive disorders including “Boxer colitis”, IBD or excessive, foul-smelling gas
- Irritation/inflammation of the urinary tract, producing symptoms often labelled as UTIs
- Rust-like discoloration or “yeastiness” and licking of belly, armpits, groin, anal area, jowls or skin folds on the face and chin
- Paw cysts (interdigital follicular cysts) — this is the body’s attempt to sequester wastes to protect the rest of the body
- Reddish brown staining of nails and nail beds
How To Treat Boxer Dog Paws That Smell Like Corn Chips
Given the cause of yeasty paws is systemic, the solution lies not in treating the paws in isolation.
Rather, the key is to optimize the inputs that go into your Boxer’s body, as a whole.
For most Boxers, this means the food.
Owners notice enormous improvement simply by switching from kibble to a fresh, natural diet based on raw meaty bones.
This effect is achieved because a homemade raw diet contains none of the preservatives, colorings, fillers and other extraneous ingredients typically found in commercially-manufactured, shelf-stable dog food.
See also: How To Raw Feed A Boxer
If your Boxer is already being fed a raw, species-appropriate diet and still has “Fritos feet”, there are a couple of possible explanations.
First, it could be a temporary exacerbation of symptoms as part of detox, particularly if the diet was recently improved or if the previous poor diet had been fed for a long time.
If this is the case, you have already removed the cause.
There is a lot to detox.
But, in time, your dog’s body will clear the backlog and symptoms will resolve.
Healing is not a straight line and the symptoms may return in waves, even appearing to get worse at times, before finally disappearing for good.
Another possibility is that your Boxer is ingesting toxins from sources other than his food.
As outlined above, this can be anything from deworming products to chemical residues in tap water.
Toxic accumulation is multifactorial and builds up over time.
The Natural Vets aptly describe toxins as having a “stacking” effect in the body whereby one or two may be tolerated but more than that and the body risks reaching a tipping point.
A Boxer eating a fresh food diet, drinking pure water and whose system is free of regular chemical influxes from wormers, flea and tick preventatives and vaccines is carrying a lower toxic load.
This dog’s body is more likely to be able to cope with, and clear, the unavoidable toxic exposures in any modern dog’s life, like pollution and roadside chemicals.
Control what you can control.
Remove and reduce your Boxer’s toxic exposures as much as possible so that your Boxer’s inbuilt detoxification processes can keep up.
Fasting promotes health in dogs (and people) because of the way it accelerates the liver’s detoxification pathways (among many other benefits).
Why Else Might Your Boxer Be Licking Or Biting His Feet?
If your Boxer is gnawing at his paws or licking them incessantly, he is likely trying to:
- Soothe an itch (e.g. from yeast)
- Remove irritants
- Relieve pain
There is a small chance it could also be a self-soothing, anxiety-induced behavior that’s become habit.
If there is no Fritos smell and it’s not yeast, what else might be wrong with your dog’s feet?
It could be as simple as a bit of pollen or dust.
Check for a stone or splinter lodged between the paw pads.
Consider whether your Boxer’s nails are too long or maybe torn and causing discomfort.
Or it could be something more sinister.
Your dog’s feet might be burning or stinging from walking on grass treated with lawn care chemicals or sprayed with weed killers.
Unfortunately this describes virtually every roadside verge, public park or sports field.
Those iridescent, perfectly manicured green spaces are particularly suspect.
They don’t get that way naturally.
These poisons can be absorbed through the skin of your dog’s feet.
It almost never results in your dog keeling over immediately.
Over time, repeated exposures create toxic accumulation which can sicken your dog in ways so diverse that you may never connect the illnesses back to the chemical exposures.
Instead, you may conclude your dog has “allergies” or a “sensitive tummy” or that he just randomly breaks out in unexplained hives.
Pain From Possible Neck Injury
Vet Dr Peter Dobias says it’s a “medical myth” that paw licking is due to “allergies”.
Dr Dobias says “It’s amazing how many dogs recover without any treatment for allergies, any medication, drugs, steroids, allergy testing, because this problem is generally misperceived.”
He wants owners to be aware that paw licking can indicate a dog is experiencing abnormal neurological sensations or numbness in the area, often due to referred pain from a neck injury.
He warns that dogs often suffer neck injuries as a result of pulling on the leash while wearing a collar.
Collars can cause strain to the neck muscles or damage to the vertebrae.
Always use a harness when walking your Boxer on leash.
Wash Your Boxer’s Feet If He Licks His Paws
Regardless of the cause, paw licking introduces another risk to your dog: that by licking to remove irritants or soothe the feet, he will likely ingest whatever chemicals are on his feet.
They may have already caused irritation externally and can now wreak havoc inside your dog’s body.
So, if you notice your dog licking his feet when you get back from a walk, wash them immediately with warm water and a mild castille soap like Dr Bronner’s unscented baby wash.
Dispelling The Myths About “Fritos Feet”
There is a lot of misguided information out there about how to deal with yeast overgrowth in dog paws.
Myth #1 Carbs Cause Yeast Overgrowth
One red herring is the notion that too many carbohydrates in the diet “feed” yeast in the body.
Yes, yeast feeds on sugars (which are what carbs are broken down into).
However, dogs in nature happily feed on berries as part of a natural canine diet.
The diet of wolves in north eastern Minnesota comprises as much as 80 per cent berries for a full month at the height of Summer, as documented by the Voyageurs Wolf Project.
Carbohydrates as part of your Boxer’s raw diet have their place.
The confusion might arise from the fact that kibble typically contains a heap of carbohydrate, because it’s cheaper than meat and makes a good filler.
The culprit here though is less the carbs and more the other junk that’s in kibble, including artificial colorings and preservatives, denatured proteins and synthetic additives to replace vitamins and nutrients destroyed by cooking.
Myth #2 Your Dog’s Paws Are “Infected”
You do not need to “disinfect” your dogs feet or try to kill the yeast by soaking them in any of the home remedies that are commonly bandied about, like:
- Hydrogen peroxide
- Epsom salt soaks
- Apple cider vinegar
- Baby wipes
- Colloidal silver (perhaps the least toxic of the options, but not necessary)
- Witch hazel
- Lots of baths (Overwashing your Boxer strips essential oils from the skin and can cause itchiness and other skin problems)
Some of these substances are safer than others, but killing the yeast is not the answer.
You must remember the central question: What has caused the yeast to overgrow?
While treatments might temporarily remove the smell and stop itching, all you’ve really done is suppress the symptoms, without addressing the actual cause.
Which means the problem will inevitably return.
Worse still, the toxic burden will continue to build up until it eventually erupts in other ways, including in the form of serious disease.
Any lasting fix is going to be system-wide, not topical.
Myth #3 Medication Will “Cure” It
Most home remedies like foot soaks fail to address the cause of the smelly feet, but at least do minimal damage to your dog’s body.
The same cannot be said of the veterinary interventions that some owners end up pursuing, including:
- Cytopoint injections
- Steroid shots or pills (overuse of steroids and antibiotics can actually predispose a dog’s body to yeast overgrowth, as well as an avalanche of even worse side effects. This is what prednisone did to my young Boxer.)
- Immunosuppressive drugs like Apoquel (these can cause a world of pain long term)
- “Allergy” meds
- Anti fungal medication
- Antibiotics (even the veterinary establishment now discourages the use of antibiotics because of the rise of drug-resistant strains of staphylococcus)
- Anti fungal shampoos — many contain Chlorhexidine, a synthetic ingredient that strips the skin of natural oils and disturbs the microbiome, creating more problems including itchiness
Here again the problem is you have suppressed the symptom without addressing the cause.
More catastrophically, you’ve added additional toxicity to your dog’s body from the drug, thereby necessitating even more detox and guaranteeing further symptoms down the line.
You want to avoid medicating for yeasty paws.
Get the diet right and minimize your Boxer’s toxic exposures.
Then, get out of the body’s way and wait.
Until the itching subsides, monitor your dog and do your best to stop him chewing his paws.
(A raw meaty bone always makes a great, absorbing distraction.)
If your Boxer’s feet are emitting a pungent odor that reminds you of corn chips, it’s probably a case of yeast overgrowth.
Despite what the internet might like to have you believe, there is no quick fix.
Because the cause is systemic, it’s important to address it at that level, rather than apply remedies to temporarily relieve the itch.
You absolutely do not want to have your pop a pill for yeasty paws.
Optimize your Boxer’s diet and minimize his exposures to toxic chemicals and the smell will disappear.
Keep in mind this may not happen overnight.
It took time for the problem to develop and it will take time for your dog’s body to normalize.
The other thing to be aware of is that, once you stop putting in more toxins, the body takes the chance to clear out long-stored wastes.
As a result, you might initially see an exacerbation of symptoms.
This doesn’t mean you’ve made things worse.
It’s not unlike the process of withdrawing from drug addiction.
Things get worse before better.
Resist the urge to give up at this point and revert to old ways.
Detox ain’t pretty.
It’s a necessary step along the road to healing.
Stick with it.
Better out than in.
Dobias, Peter, DVM, Do not believe this medical myth. Paw licking is not caused by allergies, Natural Healing for Dogs, June 18 2020 (Facebook post)