Dogs aren't the careful self-groomers our feline friends are, but they do lick themselves occasionally. It's perfectly normal for your dog to lick his paws (or her paws) occasionally, especially if they've just been outside and got moisture or dirt on their paws.
However, excessive licking, nibbling, and chewing at their paws or paw pads isn't normal. If you've noticed your dog licking their paws frequently, or if you can't get them to stop, something is probably wrong.
Frequent licking and biting at an area can lead to one or more hot spots. These are red, wet areas of inflamed skin underneath the fur, and they can become infected if you don’t deal with them. Hot spots are just one of several complications that can come from repeated licking and chewing at the paws.
There are many reasons for excessive licking at the paws. If you've found yourself asking, "Why does my dog lick his paws?", one of the causes below may be to blame. Let's take a look at some common causes so that you can learn what to watch for and how to respond.
Common Causes of Paw Licking
Here are some of the most common causes of excessive paw-licking behavior in dogs:
An allergic reaction is one of the leading causes of itchy feet in dogs and associated licking. Food allergies in particular are known to cause itchy paws, although environmental allergies could also be to blame. Allergies often contribute to a condition known as atopic dermatitis, a chronic itchiness and inflammation of the skin that can include the paws.
Have you noticed your dog's constant licking mostly occurs after mealtimes? Food allergies could be the cause. It's possible your dog's immune system is reacting to ingredients like wheat, beef, chicken, dairy, or soy in his food.
Bacterial infections and fungal infections can affect your dog's feet and cause skin problems and irritation, driving Fido to lick. Your dog might come across fungal spores or bacteria in his environment and pick them up on the paws. Sometimes, however, these infections occur for unknown reasons.
Bacterial and fungal infections can occur because of allergies as well. This kind of secondary infection is one of the leading causes of problematic paw-licking behavior in dogs. Because your dog's paws stay damp when he's licking them constantly, it creates an ideal environment for bacteria and fungi to thrive. Yeast infections in the paws are particularly common for this reason.
Remember that your dog is essentially walking around barefoot at all times. That makes it easy for foreign objects to get stuck in the paw pads or between your dog's toes. Splinters, foxtails, bits of plastic or glass...there are plenty of possibilities. As you can imagine, these foreign objects can cause your dog discomfort and result in frequent licking.
Since your dog's paws come in direct contact with the ground as they explore the world, it's easy for parasites like fleas, ticks, lice, and mites to infest them. This can cause irritation that leads to paw licking. It's possible for parasites to be concentrated on the paws, but it's more likely that you'll notice your pet itching at other areas of the body, too, like the limbs, torso, and head and neck.
Pain or Discomfort
Many things could cause your dog pain or discomfort in the paw region. Your pooch could step on a bee or a shard of glass, or they may linger on a hot sidewalk in the summer and get a blister. A split nail is also a possibility. Arthritis pain is another common reason for paw licking; your dog licks at the affected area in an attempt to get relief from the joint inflammation and associated pain.
If your pet suffers from arthritis pain, Native Pet’s Relief Chews may be able to help them feel more comfortable. Our chews are formulated with green-lipped mussel and turmeric to regulate the inflammatory response around Fido’s body, which may help to lessen joint pain and increase mobility.
Did you know that your dog's licking could also be a behavioral issue? Many dogs with separation anxiety exhibit problematic self-grooming, including intense foot licking. Compulsive behavior or phobias, like a fear of loud noises, could also be the underlying cause.
To help deal with your dog’s anxiety issues at home, try Native Pet’s Calm chew. These chews can help your pooch feel less anxious and avoid stress.
What to Do About Your Dog's Paw Licking
You've noticed your dog licking at their paws excessively and you're asking yourself, "Why does my dog lick his paws so much?" What do you do next?
First, take some time to examine the paws yourself. Take note of any obvious problems, like blisters, foreign objects stuck between the toes or embedded in the paw pads, or a split nail. You should also pay attention to other physical or behavioral signs of discomfort, such as limping or whimpering in pain.
If you believe that something is wrong, call your vet. He or she can guide you through basic first aid steps if necessary. From there, you'll want to bring your dog into the office for treatment.
If there aren't obvious physical signs of an issue, something like allergies or a skin infection could be to blame. Underlying arthritis pain could also be causing the licking. It's best to give your vet a call to find out how to proceed.
Your vet may recommend a dietary supplement to help with your pup’s paw-licking issues. A product like Native Pet’s Omega Oil can help soothe irritated skin to prevent licking and biting, and its omega-3 fatty acids also help with joint pain.
Veterinary Treatment for Your Dog's Licking Behavior
Dealing with your dog's excessive licking behavior will depend on what kind of health problem is causing the issue in the first place.
If your vet finds that an injury or foreign object is causing your dog to lick at their paws constantly, steps will need to be taken to remove the object or repair the injury. The focus will be on stopping any bleeding and then keeping your dog comfortable as the wound heals. Your dog might need to wear an Elizabethan collar (also known as the "cone of shame") while they recover in order to prevent self-traumatization.
If a bacterial or fungal infection is affecting your dog's skin around the paws, antibiotics or antifungal medications will be prescribed to clear up the infection. If a parasitic infestation from fleas, ticks, mites, lice, or some other parasite is to blame, your vet will prescribe anti-parasitic medicine and possibly a medicated shampoo.
In the case of food allergies or environmental allergies, avoiding the allergen that causes the problem is the primary treatment. If food allergies are to blame, your vet will help you with a food trial, which involves feeding your dog different foods to find out what their immune system is reacting to and then avoiding that ingredient moving forward. You might also try an allergy supplement like Native Pet's allergy chicken chews, which are formulated to help build a defense against allergies and target itchy skin and hot spots.
If your dog keeps chewing and licking at their paws because of anxiety or compulsive behavior, your vet will guide you through training and behavior modification to resolve the problem. Anti-anxiety medications are also an option. Your vet might also put you in touch with a dog trainer or animal behaviorist.
Why Does My Dog Lick His Paws? What to Remember
Why does your dog lick his paws? There are several possibilities. Some of the most common are allergies; pain or discomfort from an injury, arthritis, or a foreign object; bacterial, fungal, and yeast infections; parasites; and anxiety.
The occasional lick at the paw area is perfectly normal dog behavior. But when licking is constant and you can't get your dog to stop, something is wrong. It's time to get your veterinarian's opinion and get your dog medical attention. From there, you can help your dog recover from whatever is causing them discomfort and get them back to their normal, happy self as quickly as possible.
Would you like to read more about your dog's health and wellness? Visit the Native Pet blog today.