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Introduction to What Should I Do If My Dog Keeps Licking His Paws?
It’s a little frustrating when you watch your dog incessantly and obsessively licking their paws, especially when they lose interest in everything around them.
So what does it mean when a dog licks or chews its paws all the time?
While it’s normal for dogs to groom their paws every now and then, too much licking is often indicative of an underlying problem.
There are specific reasons for this behavior, and it is up to you as the owner to try to figure out what the problem may be.
If the behavior appears suddenly, continues for an extended period of time, or is accompanied by bleeding, swelling, limping, or odor.
The best thing to do is to see a veterinarian immediately and have them do the investigative work with the right diagnostic tools.
You don’t want to let your dog’s paw-licking get out of hand.
Sometimes, it can become an addictive habit that is difficult to eradicate.
Dogs who lick their paws excessively often develop swelling and stains on the fur of their feet.
Sometimes, excessive licking may cause moisture to become trapped between the dog’s toes, creating an ideal setting for an opportunistic infection.
It’s normal for dogs to lick their paws occasionally, but excessive paw-licking may be a sign of a problem.
If you see your dog frequently licking his paws, it’s time to take some action.
Once inflammation or an infection sets in, a vicious cycle can form.
Inflammation and infection can cause discomfort and itching, and this can cause your dog to lick their paws even more.
Continued licking can further contaminate the area with bacteria and impair the healing process indefinitely.
Why Do Dogs Lick Their Paws?
Dogs typically lick their paws as a part of self-grooming.
If your dog is a fastidious groomer, you may notice him licking his paws after meals, while settling down for a nap, or after coming in from outdoors, after meals.
Even dogs that don’t do a lot of self-grooming will occasionally clean their paws.
If you notice your dog licking his paws every once in a while, then there’s probably nothing to worry about.
It is not normal if your dog seems to be licking his paws frequently or aggressively.
This is usually a sign of a health problem or a behavior issue.
Reasons Why Dog Keeps Licking Their Paws
If your dog starts licking their paws suddenly, it may be indicative of pain or irritation, especially if they are licking only one paw.
If the licking is limited to one paw, the source of the trouble is likely right there on the paw.
The pain in that area can be caused by almost anything, but common culprits include insect bites, thorns, small wounds, small pieces of embedded glass, broken nails, etc.
If you do not see anything, don’t ignore it.
Take your pet to the vet as soon as possible.
Sometimes, there may be something going on at a deeper level, such as a muscle sprain or some type of inflammation or fracture, especially if the licking is accompanied by limping.
Allergy or Yeast Infection
Chronic licking is usually attributed to allergies, and these can come from just about anything.
It could be their food, the chemicals in your yard, your carpet-cleaning products, weeds, grass, medicine, or something else.
Finding the real cause of the itchiness can be a very frustrating ordeal.
It may take some enormous investigative work to figure what your dog is allergic to, and it is best to have your vet run a blood test so you can address the root cause of the problem rather than just giving your dog antihistamines.
If you suspect a yeast infection, a poor diet may be to blame.
Sometimes, the simplest treatment for hair loss and itching caused by a yeast infection is to switch out your dog’s food based on your vet’s advice.
Make sure to provide quality foods full of specific nutrients and vitamins that are beneficial for the gut and the skin.
Dogs who lick their paws excessively may be suffering from GI issues.
According to a clinical study published by the Journal of Veterinary Behavior, gastrointestinal issues were present in a significant number of dogs who displayed abnormal licking.
19 dogs that were showing signs of excessive licking were compared with 10 healthy dogs.
On top of taking medical and behavioral histories and conducting a thorough physical and neurological examination, the dogs underwent abdominal ultrasounds, endoscopic examinations, and biopsies of the stomach and duodenum.
Modern times have created an environment of boredom for dogs.
Once used to walking, hunting, and scavenging, dogs today are often left at home in a small yard or worse, a crate for many hours a day.
High-energy dogs may become frustrated and engage in destructive activities that may include excessive licking and chewing of their paws.
How to Prevent Boredom in Dogs
- Don’t leave your dog at home alone for long periods of time.
- If you must leave your dog alone, give them a treat-filled Kong to keep them occupied.
- Give your dog frequent opportunities to play and exercise.
- Take your dog for a walk or play fetch at the park for at least 30 minutes each day.
- Allow your pup to socialize with other people and other dogs (if well-socialized).
- Don’t keep your dog confined to a crate or tied up in the backyard.
Anxious dogs often seek relief by licking themselves excessively.
Possible causes of anxiety vary and range from separation issues to obsessive-compulsive disorders.
In this sense, paw-licking or chewing in dogs may be similar to human nail-biting.
Some dogs lick their paws before bed or lick themselves to sleep.
This is just their way of relaxing and soothing themselves.
If there is no redness or swelling, this type of paw-licking should not be a concern.
Possible Causes of Anxiety in Dogs
- Lack of proper exercise
- Separation from the owner for long periods of time
If licking becomes compulsive and excessive, dogs may lick themselves raw and develop unsightly ulcers often referred to as ”lick granuloma.”
It is still not completely understood whether lick granulomas are triggered by anxiety or if they are the cause of anxiety.
Sometimes, paw-licking in dogs may be a displacement behavior.
Displacement behaviors occur when dogs face conflicts and display out-of-context behaviors that seem rather unrelated to the present situation.
A human might chew on a pen or twist a ring on their finger when they feel mildly stressed and are not sure how to proceed in a situation, and dogs may lick for similar reasons.
Recently, a dog I had over for boarding and training kept chewing on her right paw.
Interestingly, the paw-chewing occurred most often when she was frustrated about something.
When a dog has a hormonal imbalance, they either produce too much cortisol (which can cause Cushing’s disease) or don’t produce enough thyroid hormone (which can cause hypothyroidism).
This can increase a dog’s susceptibility to developing skin issues such as red spots, balding, and brittle hair.
Licking these irritated red spots or bald patches can lead to a secondary infection.
Dry skin is often a breed-specific issue, but it can also be caused by over-bathing or a cold, dry environment.
- Breed Specific: Hairless breeds are often prone to a variety of skin conditions because they don’t have a natural protection that hair provides. Breeds in this category include the Chinese Crested, the Xoloitzcuintli, and the American Hairless Terrier.
- Dry Weather: Dry skin is also common among dogs living in cold and dry climates. If this is the case, ask your veterinarian to recommend a natural dog lotion or oil to relieve the dryness. If you are worried that oils will leave a mess around the house, you can try feeding your dog quality vitamins and oil supplements as a remedy for their dry skin.
- Bathing Habits: If your dog is experiencing dry skin unrelated to the climate or their breed, you should avoid excessive bathing and the use of harsh soaps.
Fleas or Ticks
Fleas and ticks cause severe itchiness that can lead to compulsive paw-licking and chewing.
The condition can get even worse if your dog is allergic to fleas.
In addition to using insecticides and flea medication, make sure to rid your house of fleas.
If your pet is allergic to cleaning products or over-the-counter medications, there are non-toxic ways to get rid of fleas and prevent them from coming back.
Common Causes And Remedies for Dog Allergies
|Food||Common ingredients that cause allergic reactions include beef, chicken, pork, corn, wheat, and soy. They may also be allergic to artificial additives. Have your vet run a food allergy test, avoid cheap commercial foods, and try to feed them an all-natural diet.|
|Mold, Grass, Weeds, and Pollen||Wash food and water bowls frequently. Don’t let your dog out into the yard during high-pollen season or right after you cut the lawn. Clean your dog’s feet with a wet wipe after going for walks to prevent further irritation.|
|Dust Mites||Vacuum often or limit your dog to non-carpeted areas. Wash your dog’s bedding weekly. Change furnace and air-conditioning filters.|
|Prescription Drugs||Speak to your vet. They might be able to prescribe another brand.|
|Flea-Control Products, Cleaning Products, and Perfumes||Avoid using these.|
|Insecticidal Shampoo||Avoid using these if you suspect this is the cause.|
|Rubber or plastic material||Use glass or stainless steel food and water bowls.|
It’s important to recognize that licking behavior can be indicative of a health problem or may become harmful to the dog.
You should work with your veterinarian to determine the cause and find an appropriate solution.
Don’t wait too long to do this, because the moisture of constant foot licking can cause a secondary bacterial or yeast infection causing even more itching, redness, swelling, and licking.
Meanwhile, depending on the underlying cause of the problem, the veterinarian may relieve your dog’s itching by prescribing topical anti-itch sprays, steroids to reduce inflammation, antibiotics for a bacterial infection, or antifungals for yeast infections.
The sooner you can address the problem and illuminate the cause, the better.
What to Do If Your Dog Is Licking
Their Paws Too Much
If it feels like your dog is constantly licking their paws, begin by taking a close look at the paws.
Inspect the tops and bottoms of the feet, the toenails and nail beds, and the spaces in between the digits.
Look for foreign objects, cuts, bruises, bleeding, swelling, redness, crusting, scabs, discharge, broken nails, and anything else that looks abnormal.
Administer first aid if necessary.
Note that excessive licking often causes saliva stains on the hair around the paws.
This rust-colored staining is easiest to see where the hair is a light color.
It’s important to contact your veterinarian whether or not the paws look abnormal to you.
Your vet needs to rule out health problems before you start trying to address a behavior issue.
If your dog has a problem that may need advanced testing or treatment, your vet may refer you to a specialist, like a veterinary dermatologist or a veterinary surgeon.
If there is no physical reason for your dog to lick their paws excessively, then there’s a chance your dog has developed a behavior issue.
Home Remedies for Itchy Paws
If your dog has allergies or is suffering from dry skin, use a steam vaporizer or a humidifier in your home.
The steam helps bring moisture back into the dry air and can also reduce the chances of your dog’s nasal passages clogging up with mucus.
Make sure to clean the humidifier to prevent mold; otherwise, the irritation may get worse.
Wipe your dog’s paws any time you come in from outside in case the allergy is due to something your dog walks on. Use a damp washcloth.
Give your dog a 10-minute foot soak made with cool water and oatmeal shampoo.
The water helps rinse off any allergens, and the cool temperature helps soothe itchy skin.
Give your dog a high-quality fish oil supplement rich in omega fatty acids.
Fish oil helps strengthen dogs’ immune systems and acts as an anti-inflammatory, but it may take 8 to 12 weeks to kick in.
Veterinary Treatments for Paw-Licking in Dogs
If a dog is anxious, determine the cause of anxiety.
Prevention is always better than medication.
If you cannot remove the thing or situation that is causing anxiety, sedatives may be prescribed.
Pheromone plugins or Bach flowers may be helpful.
If your dog is allergic to their food, your vet will likely prescribe a special diet containing one novel animal protein or a diet in which the proteins have been chemically altered (hydrolyzed).
Some allergies may require antihistamines, or in very severe cases, steroid shots.
Steroids can have nasty side effects, so use this as a last resort and not on a long-term basis.
Again, the best way to remedy allergies is to avoid the stimulant that is causing irritation.