Wonder why dogs lick their paws? Read on to understand when it’s common and when it’s not.
Dogs licking their own paws is a common natural behavior. However, excessive licking can be a symptom of an underlying issue. Find out below why dogs lick, chew, and bite their paws.
Why do dogs lick and chew their paws?
Your dog could be licking and chewing its paws simply to groom itself. This is completely normal as long as it does not turn into something excessive. However, if you think your dog is obsessively licking their paws, there could be an underlying issue at hand. Below are common reasons why dogs lick and chew their paws.
Self-grooming is the most common reason why dogs lick their paws. To maintain a healthy coat and skin, dogs like to groom themselves by licking their limbs, belly, and paws. Dog breeds with longer fur tend to groom themselves more to keep foreign debris and dirt out of their body.
Injury and Pain
Injury and pain is also common reason for paw licking. Your dog may be experiencing pain on one foot if they are constantly licking it for an extended period. They may have stepped on thorns, broken glass, or sharp rocks during your daily walk. If it appears that their paws are scratched or damaged, immediately flush the wound with water or antiseptic solution. It is important to check their feet for any stuck debris and carefully remove it as much as possible. Minor wounds can be treated at home using bandages and antibiotic ointment, but severe wounds demand veterinary care.
When dogs experience allergic reactions, this manifests as itching rather than swelling. Symptoms like rash, exaggerated paw licking, hot spots, and digestive irritation are some of the few indications that your dog is having an allergic reaction.
The most common allergens to consider are:
If you are unsure whether your dog is allergic to anything, consult your veterinarian for an allergy test.
Parasites can make your dog uncomfortable. Chewing paws is their way of attacking the parasite.
Fungus and bacteria
Fungal and bacterial infections are common in dogs and it usually resides on their paws. Chewing and licking of paws are common signs of bacterial infection. Check the skin between the toes for any redness and greasy discharge. A bacterial infection could be the root of the problem, but it can be a secondary problem to a much larger issue. Consult your veterinarian for a diagnosis.
Yeast infections are also a common culprit. Similar to having bacterial infections, redness, and brown greasy discharge is present in dogs with yeast infection in their paws. According to Pet MD, yeast infections occur when there is an excessive amount of yeast in a certain area. Infections like this are usually a secondary problem that causes the dog’s immune system to weaken.
It is good to note that certain dog breeds are more susceptible to contracting yeast infections.
Dog breeds that are susceptible to yeast infections (according to Small Door Veterinary):
- Shih Tzu
- Cocker Spaniel
- Golden Retrievers
- Labrador Retrievers
- Basset Hound
- West Highland White Terrier
- German Shepherds
The common treatments for dogs with yeast infections include: applying topical ointments, anti-fungal sprays, and shampoos, and administering oral medications. Cytology can be done to diagnose the infected skin. Veterinary care is necessary to further address the underlying issue at hand.
Ringworms are raised, red rings that live in the outermost layer of the skin and hair follicles. The infection occurs when the dog has direct contact with the fungus, either by touching an infected animal, person, or object. Ringworm infections are not considered fatal, but it is uncomfortable and contagious. If not treated right away, the fungus can live up to 18 months and can affect anyone—humans included. To us, ringworms are commonly called “athlete’s foot.”
Symptoms of Ringworms in dogs, according to American Kennel Club:
- Circular areas of hair loss
- Dry, brittle hair
- Scabby, inflamed skin
- Rough, brittle claws
Dogs infected with ringworms appear to have patchy skin and fur. The shedding and hair loss that occurs helps spread the fungus throughout your home, so it’s crucial to treat this right away with veterinary care. Even though ringworms are not considered fatal, senior dogs will most likely have a severe reaction to it.
Fleas and Ticks
Fleas and tick bites are itchy which can lead to paw-licking and chewing. Flea Allergy Dermatitis or FAD is an allergic reaction when a dog’s immune system reacts to flea saliva. Affected dogs will experience hair loss, thickened skin, redness, and hot spots.
Ticks are more common in woodland and grassy areas, that is why it’s important to check on your dog after a walk at the park.
To remove ticks on dogs, part your dog's hair with your fingers or with a hairdryer, then use a tweezer or a special tick removal tool and gently grab the tick as close as possible to the skin.
Do not pull out the head because it can break and cause more damage. Instead, go underneath the tick’s head and grab the body, then gently pull upwards until the head and mouth are completely out.
Immediately clean the area and your hands with soap and water and rubbing alcohol. Quickly dispose of the tick with alcohol, and flush it down the toilet. Alternatively, you can save the tick in alcohol for testing if there are any concerns about tick disease.
Dry, cracked, and flaky skin causes dogs to lick and chew at their paws to calm the irritation down. Dry skin is caused by over-bathing, cold weather, dry humidity, or a side-effect of a prescription drug.
Other than the aforementioned injuries caused by thorns getting stuck on paws, hot asphalt and rough surfaces can cause blisters to their paws. Although their paw pads are thick and tough, abrasive surfaces can still irritate and cause pain. Beware of these surfaces when walking your dog.
Toenail issues can come in the form of broken nails, deformed nails, or ingrown nails.
Nail traumas occur when active dogs break or fracture their nails while playing. It can also occur when nails are trimmed too close to the nail bed, this can cause sensitivity and problems in the future.
If the nails are not trimmed properly and regularly, ingrown nails can happen. The nail can grow long and irregular and will start to dig into their footpad, which can result in sensitivity and pain. It is also associated with aging since Ingrown nails are more common in older dogs. Consult a veterinarian or a professional groomer for advice.
Burns, snow, ice melts, cold weather
In the wintertime, de-icing salts used to melt ice on driveways and sidewalks cause chemical burns on dogs’ paws. Ice balls can form due to the moisture produced by the sweat glands under the toes. Moisture and cold temperatures equal icy puppy toes. This ice buildup can cause cracking and bleeding on the toes which are very uncomfortable and painful. Your dog may lick their paws excessively to soothe the burn. Putting on dog boots can prevent ice burns. This could be your chance to dress up your dog in winter-appropriate attire!
Anxiety and Boredom
Your dog may be licking and chewing his paws because he’s bored. While this doesn’t seem like a problem at first, this type of behavior can lead to a dog’s version of OCD. This can be prevented by conducting trick training.
Anxiety can also cause your dog to obsessively lick and chew its paws. Think of this as like their version of nail-biting when nervous. There are several causes for dog anxiety, the best way to combat it is through training, routines, and compression vests or blankets.
How to prevent paw licking and chewing
First, identify the main issue. Is your dog paw-licking because of an injury, allergy, or parasite? Perhaps they’re just bored? Preventing them from obsessive paw-licking relies on the problem on hand. Diagnose your dog’s issues at first, then solve the problem.
If your dog is doing this because of an allergic reaction, consult your veterinarian for an allergy test and change his diet. If it’s an injury, treat it right away. If it’s parasitic, then bring them to the vet right away for treatment. If it’s really just due to boredom, distract them by playing or letting them outside.
Is it dangerous for dogs to lick and chew their paws?
Other than the reasons stated above, paw-licking and chewing are not necessarily dangerous especially if it’s at a minimum. However, dogs can develop saliva staining. According to PDSA.org, saliva staining “develops when an area of fur is constantly licked, chewed, or nibbled,” causing the fur to get reddish, brown discoloration. This is not exactly dangerous, but it’s a good indication that your furry friend is licking frequently.
Tips to stop dogs from licking and chewing their paws:
Seek vet’s help if caused revealed
Whether it’s from allergies, parasites, ticks, or an ingrown nail, it’s important to consult a veterinarian for diagnosis and treatment.
Address environmental triggers
- Change your pet’s diet if they are allergic to certain food.
- Always check them for ticks and fleas when exposed to woodland and grassy areas
- Protect their feet from de-icing salts
Try to divert the dog’s attention with a toy
If bored, distract them by playing or by giving them a toy they enjoy.
Use physical deterrents
If it persists, or if your dog is recovering from an infection or injury, use collars or cones to stop them from licking the affected area.
E-collars are also a great training aid to stop them from exhibiting the habit.
Ultimately, only you know your dog well. If you think your dogs are excessively licking and chewing their paws, then you are probably right. It is up to your discretion to investigate and diagnose the problem.