I used to think one of my childhood friends was a little odd because she had a peculiar habit. She would sniff her dog's paws. Not just in passing if one foot happened to be near her face. She'd actually lower her head, gently hold a paw in one hand, take a nice generous whiff, and then declare, "Her feet smell so good. Just like popcorn."
I declined to take a sniff myself. However, as the years went on, I heard more and more people talking about "Frito feet," or a general reference to corn chips.
My friend wasn't alone in her obsession or confusion at the smell of her dog's adorable paws. Apparently, many people who share their homes with canines report the same movie theater concession stand scent wafting from their pup's feet.
Not to worry. It's perfectly normal, but what you're actually smelling is bacteria. Many people think bacteria is gross or bad for us, but the truth is, we're all covered in it. It's on our skin, in our mouths, in our guts, and even between our toes. And while there is such a thing as bad bacteria, most of what lives in and on our bodies is fine, beneficial in fact.
Due to the shape of a dog's paws, there are many dark moist crevices in which bacteria can nest. Just like a human's navel — another great place for bacteria to hide — microbes set up shop and reproduce. Two bacteria in particular cause the Frito chip smell that so many have observed.
Proteus, a bacterium known for its corn scent, and pseudomonas, which is thought to smell similarly to popcorn, according to Mental Floss, are the responsible parties.
Neither will hurt the dog. They will just give off a gentle scent. Some pet sites note that if your dog has super furry feet, you can always carefully give the hair a light trim to reduce the amount of space bacteria has to grow and give the area room to breathe. I personally trim one of my cats' paw fur so she doesn't go sliding all over the apartment during playtime.
If that corn chip scent is more pungent, or even bad smelling, and especially if it's paired with redness, swelling or chronic licking, you should probably take your pooch to the vet to get it checked out.
One thing is clear: That corn chip smell has provided dog guardians with olfactory entertainment for quite some time. One veterinarian wrote about the phenomenon and received loads of comments from dog guardians who thought their dog was the only one.
On reader wrote, "Yes, they DO smell like Fritos! Perhaps we can turn it into a diet thing. When you get hungry and want to snack, just smell your dog's feet! You get some of the enjoyment of the Fritos without those nasty calories!"
Another got especially nostalgic when she smelled Fritos. "I had a dachshund mix that lived to be 16, and a Doxie purebred that lived to be over 18, and both of the dogs definitely had Frito paws. My last one passed away a little over two years ago and because of circumstances in my life I haven't been able to replace him yet. To this day the smell of Fritos still almost makes me cry!"
So, if you're a foot sniffer, you’re not the only one. Enjoy the aroma.
Related on MNN:
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- 8 foods that make you smell funky
- 18 things you didn't know about dog paws