Why Do Dogs Lick Their Paws?

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Vets are presented with this question very often by pet-owners who are concerned about their dog licking its paws. This behavior is normal amongst pets, just like tapping your foot or playing with your hair. This is a part of their routine life and only becomes a problem if your pet starts doing it in excess or more frequently than normal.

Your dog can be licking its paws out of boredom and stress or this could be the result of paw irritation. If you find your pet licking and nibbling its front paws and forearms excessively, you should be concerned because most of these cases (no matter which one of the above stated causes it is) are complicated and have excruciatingly difficult solutions.

Why Do Dogs Lick Their Paws Or Feet?

Why Do Dogs Lick Their Paws

The most common reasons of your dog licking paws can be:

  1. Skin Allergies: Reaction from food or change in environment can cause allergies to your dog. Environmental triggers may include mold and pollen which may result in skin irritation allergies. Some dogs may get allergic to substances like pesticides and soap that result in skin irritation disease called “contact dermatitis”.
  2. Stress or boredom: Remember how people who have anxiety/stress issues bite their nails or play with their hair, dogs react similarly to psychological issues too. Their physical response of licking or biting their paws can be a physical response to the psychological issues of boredom or stress. These issues can be closely related to OCDs (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) in humans which may result from anti-social environment/circumstances. When a dog is involved in such OCD-like behavior, the excessive scratching, chewing or licking can harm its skin and damage body parts if not controlled at early stage.
  3. Dry skin: The cause of your dogs paw licking can also be dry skin. Dry skin can be caused by many factors including but not limited to fatty acid deficiencies or dry winter weather. When such dryness is experienced by the dog, it can react by licking or biting the affected area.
  4. Irregularity in Hormones: Just like any other animal, dogs have hormones in their body as well. These hormones control the integrity of the dog’s health and maintain consistency in skin. If the dog’s body isn’t producing the required quantity of thyroid hormone or producing more than required amount of Cortisol, you may notice skin infections on the surface of your dog’s skin. These can be identified by small red dots and due to the botheration, your dog may lick and bite the area(s) depicting these symptoms.
  5. External/Internal Causes of Pain: The problem might be a simple wound that is not noticeable at a glance and might be mistaken for any other cause of licking the paws/other body part. Do consider the possibility of a thorn or stone which might be making the dog physically uncomfortable. The cause can often be internal as well, including arthritis and hip dysplasia which may result in pain and the physical discomfort that causes your dog to lick/bite the areas affected.
  6. Parasites: Just because you can’t see any mites / fleas on your dog doesn’t mean it is free from infestation. This is one of the most common causes of compulsive dog licking and until it is a large infestation, the fleas and ticks often go unnoticed. Mites are the trickiest of all to identify because of their microscopic existence.

Remedies For Your Dog Licking Paws

Considering the fact that there are so many reasons for dog licking and biting its paws, you should take your dog to the veterinarian once you’ve realized that the issue is present. With help of the vet, you can figure out the cause and determine the best treatment plan. The treatment may include:

  1. Remedy for Infestation: On recommendation of the vet, you can use flea and tick products that will prevent the irritation and infestation. If the cause of your dog licking paws is identified as flea/tick infestation, make sure to wash your dog’s bed and vacuum your carpeting and upholstered furniture. This will help prevent re-infestation and you’ll notice that the licking and chewing has stopped. If you have any other animals in the household, make sure to treat them against infestation too.
  2. Alternate Dog Food: Once identified that food triggers are causing your dog’s itch, you can eliminate such foods that trigger the issue. Beef and wheat might be the cause of your dog’s itch so if the licking and biting issue is because of food allergies, you should replace these first. Fatty acids help in keeping your dog’s coat healthy and you can facilitate the healing process from dry skin by adding diets rich in fatty acids.
  3. Using medication: This one is purely in the hands of the veterinarian. He may prescribe medications to cure the itch that is making your dog lick and bite its paws. Topical or Systemic Antibiotics might also be prescribed by the vet to cure existing hot spots and skin infections.
  4. Preventing the behavior: Keeping your dog close to you and preventing compulsive behavior is the best way to cure its behavioral disorder of licking and biting. Whenever you notice that your dog is licking its paws out of boredom or stress, you just have to distract it by toys or playing with it. You can make use of bitter sprays to discourage its licking habit by applying it on the areas your dog most likes to lick and bite. Some special collars are also available to prevent your dog from reaching to the hot spots which will in response get rid of the habitual licking and chewing.
  5. Solution for boredom and anxiety: Inadequate stimulation, fear or anxiety can sometimes cause compulsive chewing or licking. You have to give enough attention and love to your dog to prevent this from becoming the cause of your issues. Your dog should get regular exercise and time to play with you to rid it of boredom and stress. There are special toys and chew-bones to train your dog in case it needs something to chew on to relieve from stress.

How To Prevent Dogs From Licking Their Paws?

As the famous saying goes: Prevention is better than cure. Wouldn’t it be great not to go through the fatigue of identifying and treating your dog’s issues and prevent them from happening in the first place? Well, follow these steps and you surely can reduce the chances of your dog licking its paws:

Examine your pet for injury every now and then and at the first sign of any irregularity, contact your vet to get it treated. When an injury is escalated to a point that it starts causing severe discomfort to the dog, it reacts by licking and biting the affected area(s).

Make sure that your dog doesn’t encounter any chemicals where it has access to. Make the garden a no-go-area for your dog if you are using chemicals there. Use quality shampoos that are made for dogs and find one that has moisturizing ingredients to hydrate the skin.

Be picky when choosing food for your dog. A well-balance diet is necessary for your dog and you can find that in pet foods that have a good formula for vitamins and minerals including fatty acids. Prevent its indulgence in greasy table scraps and left over food that may harm the integrity of its healthy body.

Provide substantial amount of attention to your pet and spend quality time with it so that his stress and anxiety levels stay normal. If you see any behavioral disorders, redirect his attention by starting to play with it or creating its interest in the toys it loves.

Clues To Follow To Identify The Cause Of Your Dog Licking Paws

If you go all “Sherlock Holmes” on the issue, you may be able to deduce with remarkable accuracy what the cause is. Let’s have a look at how this can be done:

Breed and Temperament: It may seem far-fetched but breed has to do a lot when it comes to dogs licking paws. The prevalence of this issue differs from breed to breed. Some dog breeds suffer from compulsive licking and chewing more than the others. The issue of compulsive licking and chewing is most commonly found in:

  • Labrador retrievers
  • Terriers of all kinds
  • Poodles
  • Chihuahuas
  • Maltese

The problem is more apparent in white and blond-haired breeds as their saliva discolors their paw fur when they compulsively lick and chew them. Greyhounds, Dalmatians and cattle dogs are more likely to relieve stress through over grooming and paw licking as they are highly alert working breeds. This issue can be seen in any breed but statistically this is observed more in purebred or two-way crosses than in the general mutt population.

Start of the Issue: Sometimes the issue of compulsive licking runs in the family. The dog is more likely to follow the trails of its siblings or parents in licking its paws than a dog with a non-licking family background. In the second year of dogs in the group, this habit is usually developed. These kinds of prevalent issues can’t be entirely cured but you can do many things to reduce the frequency and intensity of it. If the issue isn’t inherent (i.e. it was developed later in life), remedies pertaining to improved environment, life style and diet may prove to be entirely successful in resolving the issue.

“When” matters: Dogs who only lick their paws in a specific situation or set of situations are quite likely to respond to treatment involving behavior modification. This can be identified by observing “when” your dog is licking its paws and figuring out a pattern to it. The dog might only be licking its paws when left alone and feeling deprived of attention or after a bath. This can help you identify the trigger and solve the issue accordingly.

“Number of paws” matter too: If your dog is paying too much attention in licking a single paw, examine the paw and you’re most likely to find the problem there. It could be a small issue with the toenail that irritates your dog and causing it to lick or bite the paw. The issue can also be a wound cause by a thorn or some sharp edge that cut the lower pad of the paw. The cause of irritation in older dogs is also found to be skin tumor. It can also be a swollen area within the toes, containing an accumulation of pus (abscess). Examine carefully so that you may find if there is a wound or the thorn is still in their waiting for you to be picked. The cause can also be internal resulting from a broken/fractured bone or arthritis affecting a single joint.

Is it just the paws? The compulsive paw licking can also be part of a bigger set of symptoms identifying a bigger health issue. Look for other anomalies along with paw licking such as discharge from its eyes, loss of hair, infection in ears, musty odor (seborrheic dermatitis), sneezing, rashes etc. These can help you identify presence of fleas and ticks, allergies or contact sensitivities. It is better in this scenario to go for a general health screen that includes blood tests and microscopic skin scraping (to find those nasty microscopic infestations) and rule out a larger issue. Go for this is the simple methods of control are unable to benefit the condition and problem is recurring.

Look closely, you may see the Triggers: Start keeping record of the things that appear to make this problem worse. Note if seasons or specific months increase or decrease the intensity of your dogs compulsive licking habit. Also notice that is the issue reduced in your presence and when you’re not around your dog bites and licks its paws more. You might also observe that the dog gets irritated and starts worrying its paws after grooming sessions or baths. Also keep record of the events that precede a sudden initiation of the problem such as your pet returns from the yard and the problem is heightened. Changing the location directly affecting your pet’s condition is also a clue for you to note down. Abnormal change in the weight and change in activity level are notable identifiers and should be observed. Limping or staying stiff and showing bizarre behavior in your absence point you in the direction of possible causes as well.

So, when you say that the dog is man’s best friend, it means that the man (owner) has to put in energy and love as well for keeping the relationship and dog healthy. Your dog licking paws might seem like a small issue, but ignore it and it just might become a problem you didn’t imagine it would become.

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