Thoughts On Corns: An Analysis

by Brittaney Spruill
VP, It’s a Grey Area

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Rita’s corn after two weeks of the Murray Corn Creme Treatment. Marcia Herman


Brittaney’s preface: Working on the premise that corns in greyhounds are the same thing as corns in people, I would like to offer the following analysis.

First, what is a corn in people?

Excerpts from WebMD:
Calluses and corns are areas of thick, hardened, dead skin. They form to protect the skin and structures under the skin from pressure, friction, and injury. They may appear grayish or yellowish, be less sensitive to the touch than surrounding skin, and feel bumpy. Calluses on the hands and feet of an active person are normal.

Calluses and corns are caused over a period of time by repeated pressure or friction on an area of skin. The pressure causes the skin to die and form a hard, protective surface. A soft corn is formed in the same way, except that when perspiration is trapped where the corn develops, the hard core softens. This generally occurs between toes. Calluses and corns are not caused by a virus and are not contagious.

Calluses and corns often are not painful, but they can cause pain when you are walking or wearing shoes. And they may make it hard for your feet to fit in your shoes. Any type of pressure applied to the callus or corn, such as squeezing it, can also cause pain.

Calluses and corns do not need treatment unless they cause pain. If they do cause pain, the treatment goal is to remove the pressure or friction that is causing the callus or corn, to give it time to heal. ….the callus or corn can be softened and the dead skin can be removed by using products such as salicylic acid.

Your doctor may use a small knife to pare (trim) the callus or corn. You may reduce the size of the callus or corn yourself by soaking your foot in warm water and then using a pumice stone to rub the dead skin away.

Now that we have a better understanding of what a corn is in people, I propose that they are the same in greyhounds. This would mean that a corn is not a bacterial infection, virus, disease or disorder, but a “mechanical” issue.

I have yet to encounter anyone who has had a greyhound have a corn prior to or while racing. All incidences of corns seem to occur only after placement in an adoptive home and corns appear to be nearly exclusive to greyhounds. I will pose several arguments as to why this is the case.

While greyhounds are growing up, they are raised almost exclusively in grass, sand, hay or other “soft” surfaces. They very rarely will encounter concrete, tile, wood floors, etc. in their life growing up on a farm. This life on “soft” surfaces generally continues when they move on to the track. Yes, they will have a hard floor in their kennel, in the kennel building and may walk on a driveway or sidewalk while going to race, but they will spend most of the time on their feet in the sand of their turnout pen or on the dirt on the track. Hard surface time will continue to be limited.

When a dog is adopted, they move to a world full of concrete sidewalks, hardwood floors, tile, etc. That being said, if the cushioning between a dog’s bones in their toes and the pad is inadequate, based on a corn being caused by improper cushioning as in people, then a corn would only develop when a dog’s foot was subjected to a life walking mostly on hard surfaces. Most greyhounds I have encountered tend to predominantly have corns on their two inside or weight bearing toes.

It has also been noted in people that having something off in one’s gait can causes pressure points and lead to corns. A dog that has had an injury that might affect their gait might be more susceptible to developing corns.

One comment on this suggestion of a mechanical issue was then why don’t all greyhounds have corns. Well, it’s pretty simple; some just have more padding between the bones of their feet and their pads than others. These dogs are all built differently, just as we are all different. The same goes for not all greyhounds with injuries develop corns. It would like be a combination of what the injury did to their gait along with this natural construction of their feet.

So, how does this tie in to treatment? If you read above about treating corns in people, it’s all about softening or removing the corn. That’s basically what all the methods I have seen for eliminating corns in greyhounds do. They are either aimed at softening the corn, removing the corn or both. Whether you hull it, put some oil or other concoction on it, duct tape it, or whatever, the final result or what result you seek, is the same.

So, why do corns come back? Well, unlike where a person can change shoes, we cannot change their feet. We can’t change the way our dogs walk or what they walk on for the most part, so the corns keep coming back. You haven’t changed the mechanics or the construction of the foot, so the corns will likely recur. We can do things to help keep the pads soft, whether it is something topical or a homeopathic brew. I think this is the best possible way to keep them from returning in the long run. One thing to note as well is dogs often end up with more than one corn. I would argue the initial corn likely has a beginning mechanical cause and the others are caused by a further change in gait. It’s a sort of cascading effect on their mechanics of walking. So, you begin to eliminate the corns one by one, and the gait will go back to normal. If you are able to prevent that first corn that occurred due to some issue the dog, you may be able to prevent the others from recurring as well.

Why just greyhounds? Well, I think this goes back to the earlier point about how they are raised. Most dogs live their entire lives on a variety of surfaces, hard and soft. So, their feet adapt from a young age to handle this. Greyhound feet are “babied” you could say, but have limited contact with hard surfaces. An increase in contact with hard surfaces at a young age, could have an impact on what dogs are more susceptible to corns once in a home environment.

So what does all this mean for our dogs? I think it may change how we think about treatment. Focus on softening pads, removing the corns (by hulling or salicylic acid), and keeping the pads soft. Look at what could be causing corns in the first place. Did your dog have an injury that has affected the way they walk or if not, it’s more likely their feet are just made in such a way that they are more prone. Either way, I think the answer seems to be to find what works for softening and allowing removal of the corns of each individual. I think some methods work on some and not others due to severity of corns and slight variation on what people are doing by combining or not combining methods. It seems that the first thing anyone has tried off the bat hasn’t worked. Usually, you go two or three down the line before you find something. This would lead me to suggest that it really just takes a while to get more corns to a point of softening for removal and that all methods head in that direction. Some just take longer than others.

I have a big blue boy named Dax. Dax came off the track at 2 years old due to a broken hock. Needless to say, not a normal gait. He also broke a small bone in one of his front feet at our home when he was 4-5 years old. The corns came not too long after that. By the time we noticed what was going on, he had 3. One was bad, 2 were not so bad. We first tried the salicylic acid alone. Before we knew it, he had 7. The acid seemed to have some affect, but not enough. We moved on to wound oil, which is a concoction that’s most significant ingredient is tea tree oil. This allowed us to soften a few to the point of hulling some. Most came back. We then moved on to the duct tape. I think that successfully removed 1 that did not return. We then moved on to castor oil and filing the corns down. This was moderately effective. We then tried udder cream, filing, and the salicylic acid again. This led us to getting him down to 4 corns. We are currently dremeling the corns, working with the salicylic acid and a paw rub. The dremeling is keeping Dax limp free for now. We are hoping to get to a point on 3 of them to be able to come out. The other one is quite small and seems to be responding to the acid. He has not had any come back in quite some time. All of his corns have only been in his inside or weight bearing toes. We just take it one day at a time. Sometimes I slack off, and he backslides a bit, but we seem to be able to keep him comfortable at this stage. He runs and plays in the yard just fine. He actually walks pretty normal on the grass, but cannot handle walks on pavement. I’ll also note that we have nothing but tile and stained concrete in our house with some area rugs, so he is on hard surfaces all the time and has been that way since we got him.

In the end, I would argue there is going to be no smoking gun for a cure. I think every dog is different, both genetically and mechanically, so no two dogs will have the same methods work. I think softening then removing the corns should be everyone’s end goal combined with keeping pads soft once they are gone. Get there in whatever way works for your dog and protect their feet once you get rid of them.

I am not a vet. All of this is based on my experiences with Dax, other dogs that have come through out program and have developed corns, my research on corns and what I have gathered from the posts here. Take it or it or leave it.

Brittaney Spruill
VP, It’s a Grey Area

Brittaney’s post is reprinted with permission on 12/13/12 from the Greyhounds With Corns Facebook page.

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