What are corns and where do they come from?
Corns are hard protuberances that appear on the pads of greyhound feet. They may initially present as a tiny dot that eventually gets bigger until the corn breaks through the pad. They can grow quite large if left unchecked and are extremely painful for greyhounds. Imagine walking around with a pebble in your shoe that you cannot get rid of. Add that to the multitude of nerve endings in dog feet and you will get some idea of why they are so painful. No other breed of dog is known to get them, except for lurchers, which are greyhound crosses.
It is not clear why corns form. There are various theories, but none has been proven. One thought is that a corn is caused by a foreign object imbedding in the pad, and the pad forming a hard callus around the object. Another theory is that greyhounds do not have enough fat cushion in their toe pads, and the corn is caused by pressure between the toe bone and pad. Finally, there is the belief that they are caused by some sort of virus. Given the response to antiviral medications post-removal, there seems to be a good deal of credence to this theory and it is widely accepted. According to Care of the Racing and Retired Greyhound :
The term “corns” covers two different abnormalities with common clinical signs. On the bottom of the toe pads, they are either fibrous scar tissue following traumas such as cuts, punctures or lacerations…or they are papillomas (warts)…The latter is the most common reason for “corns” and is caused by a virus…The pressure and abrasion of walking prevents the papilloma from growing normally on the surface of the body. As a result, a corn develops and is pressed in the deeper layers of the pad forming a white, flat, circular painful area…(246)
Corns are not unknown among actively racing greyhounds. In fact, toes are sometimes amputated because of stubborn corns. Thus, corns are not a malady of an aging greyhound, but of any greyhound, young or old, male or female.
How do I know if my dog has a corn?
If you find your dog has come up lame, it is always wise to check the feet first and foremost. Corns are generally round in appearance and may have raised edges or a pale ring around them. They are particularly characterized by the dog’s seeming soundness on softer surfaces, including grass and carpet, but lameness on harder surfaces such as concrete, asphalt and gravel. You may notice that your dog is choosing to walk on grass as opposed to pavement on walks.
Upon inspection of the dog’s feet, you may notice a lesion. To see if it is an actual corn and not a “corn-like lesion,” have the dog stand up and pick up the foot. Grasping the toe from each side, give it a firm but gentle squeeze. If it’s a corn, the dog will likely pull back his foot. Additionally, when you release the paw, he will likely be reluctant to put weight on the foot. Again, corns may be very small to very large, so do a careful inspection of each toe. Even the tiniest corn can cause a great deal of discomfort.
Note: Unless you have a vet who is very greyhound savvy, he or she may have never seen a corn before and will very likely miss the diagnoses. Insist on the feet being checked very carefully and go armed to your vet with material on corns and their treatment.
So my dog has a corn, now what?
Keep in mind that corns are painful and treatment is a must. There are various methods of treatment, but what you decide to do depends on you, your dog and your vet.
The first, and most preferred, method is to have the corn “hulled” by a vet using a dental root elevator. This instrument is like a cross between an ice-pick and a spatula. The vet will use it to gently elevate the corn out of its bed, eventually freeing it from the pad. Although there will be a hole left in the pad, this method is not painful, does not require sedation or anesthesia and provides almost instant relief. Follow-up treatment using Abreva™ or Aldara™ is recommended. Anecdotal reports regarding the application of these anti-viral medications to the corn bed indicate that the corns return either smaller or not at all, so this is a positive step. For more information on the hulling technique, see http://www.grassmere-animal-hospital.com/corn_hulling.htm.
Filing or Dremeling
Some people have been successful in using a Dremel or file to grind the corn flush with the pad. While this may provide some relief, the corn will reform so the owner must be very diligent.
Applying KeraSolve™ or other human corn medicine may result in some improvement. Likewise, soaking the foot in Epsom salts may serve to draw the corn out so that it can be more easily removed using tweezers or even with just a good squeeze. Others have found success using Bag Balm™ and applying tea tree oil to the site of the corn itself. This treatment serves to keep the pad and corn as soft as possible, thereby alleviating pain.
Note: Tea tree oil is poisonous to dogs so it should only be used on dogs who can be prevented from licking their paw pads.
Repeated application of duct tape to the corn will essentially hull it, but it can take a long time (weeks) and hulling is probably a better option for more immediate pain relief.
Use of Therapaw™ boots may greatly relieve your dog’s pain between hullings or if the corn is not yet ready to be removed. These boots are specially designed with a cushioned sole and high shanks to fit skinny greyhound legs without falling off.
Generally, corn surgery is not recommended. For surgery, the dog would have to be placed under anesthesia and the pad cut open. The incision may be very deep and healing may be difficult. You also open up the possibility of infection. Moreover, there is no guarantee that the corn won’t simply come back. If you must have surgery performed, laser surgery is likely the best way to go.
Amputation should be used as a last resort. As with surgery, however, there is no guarantee that the corn won’t return on another toe.
Is there a cure?
Unfortunately, there is not currently a cure for corns. Occasionally when corns are removed, they will not return, however, they very often do, no matter what method is used, including surgery and amputation. Management is the key. Corns are very common among greyhounds and while there is no definitive cure, there are a variety of treatment options, some more successful than others. While troublesome to both dog and owner, a greyhound can live a long and happy life with corns, but it’s up to you to make sure he’s as pain-free as possible.