Many people on Dogster have discussed a phenomenon
referred to as Frito feet. Many breeds of dogs get
a corn chip sort of smell to their feet. Some
people find the odor stronger after napping. We
asked our vet and no one in the office had heard
of it before. I was a biology major and was hoping
to understand something about how it relates to
canine physiology. Maybe you can solve the
Portland / Corvallis OR
I also have noticed that some dogs’ feet have a rather pungent odor. I’ve never heard of the term “Frito feet” before, but it is a sensible name for the syndrome if you ask me.
Bacteria and yeast naturally reside on the skin of all animals, including cats and dogs. The feet of both species contain many folds and pockets, such as the areas between toes and the spaces between the foot pads. These areas have increased levels of moisture and decreased air circulation at the level of the skin.
The increased moisture and decreased air circulation in these environments enables the resident bacteria and yeast to proliferate exuberantly. These micro-organisms give off odors, and I suspect that they are the cause of Frito feet. Because cats groom themselves more thoroughly than dogs, they are less likely to have foot odor.
In particular, I suspect that naturally occurring harmless yeast contribute to the slightly musty smell that tends to emanate from dogs’ feet. Frito feet smell a bit like leavening bread to me. (Note: when I originally wrote this post I mentioned a bacteria, Pseudomonas, that smells a bit like tortillas. I think yeast are a much more likely cause of the phenomenon.)
I should point out that most dogs with Frito feet don’t have infected feet. Rather, they have mildly increased numbers of micro-organisms on their feet. The best way to prevent the smell is to regularly clean and dry your dog’s feet.