Do you have a dog who licks his paws excessively? Watching a pet in discomfort can be frustrating for a pet-parent to watch, particularly when you have no idea what to do to help your pooch.
Occasional paw-licking is a natural part of the dog’s self-grooming routine. If your pup licks sand or dirt off his paws when he returns indoors, it should not be cause for concern. However, constant licking or biting can be a sign of a more serious issue.
You know your pet best, so it is your responsibility to determine if his behavior is typical or if it needs further investigation.
- Did this behavior appear suddenly?
- How long does the behavior continue?
- Does your dog lick his paws in the spring, or has it continued for an extended period?
- Is there a rash or redness in the area?
- Do bleeding, swelling, or odor accompany the licking?
Dogs can lick or chew their paws for several reasons. However, frequent, intense, and sometimes painful paw-licking is usually a sign of an underlying condition. Below are some of the most common reasons your dog may be licking his paws.
If you notice your dog licking suddenly or focusing on one paw, examine the paws to determine if there is a cut, torn nail, or growth on the paw. You should also look between your dog’s paw pads where stones, thorns, splinters, and ice balls can become stuck.
Other possible causes for paw irritation include:
- Salted roads
- Hot pavement
- Bee stings
- Sharp objects
Your dog may be allergic to certain foods. Food allergies are known to cause itchy paws, ear infections, and skin irritations.
Because these allergies are difficult to diagnose, your vet may recommend a special diet or suggest you eliminate certain ingredients in your dog’s food.
Many dogs who are frequent paw lickers suffer from Canine Atopic Dermatitis, a common medical condition. Dogs with atopic Dermatitis inherit a predisposition to developing an allergic reaction after repeated exposure to [an otherwise harmless] substance.
The substance that causes the allergic reaction is known as the “allergen.” This is similar to a human allergic reaction to pet dander, pollen, shellfish, or gluten. The most common causes of canine allergic Dermatitis are flea allergy, food allergy, inhalant or contact allergy, and allergy to the skin’s normal bacterial flora and yeast organisms.
Animals who suffer from Dermatitis are likely to rub, lick, chew, bite, or scratch at their feet. They may also present with patchy or inconsistent hair loss, reddening, or thickening of the skin.
Dry skin is the most common dog skin condition. Like dry skin and dandruff in humans, this condition causes a dog’s skin to be irritated, cracked, and flaky.
Common causes of dry skin in dogs include:
- excessive bathing, which removes the skin’s natural oils
- dry air
Infections caused by parasites, such as fleas or mange, can make your pup’s paws extremely itchy. A dog might lick or chew at the skin incessantly to stop the itching. If you suspect this is the cause, see your veterinarian to discuss treatment for parasites.
Some dogs have canine compulsive disorder. This is the canine version of obsessive-compulsive disorder, an anxiety disorder in humans characterized by intrusive thoughts and repetitive behaviors.
Common compulsive behaviors for dogs with CCD include paw licking, tail chasing, and tail licking.
Keep in mind that it is normal for a dog to lick its paws periodically. However, if you notice your fur friend is licking excessively, it is time to enlist your veterinarian’s help. Paw licking can become an addictive behavior that is difficult to extinguish.
Constant licking can also cause a buildup of moisture between your dog’s toes, creating the perfect breeding ground for bacteria and subsequent infection. Put your mind (and your pup’s paws) at ease, and let the vet check it out before it becomes a more severe problem.