Does your dog lick their paws a lot? Maybe you’ve recently noticed that your dog has been licking one or more paws much more than they used to. While a little licking is normal in a dog’s self-grooming routine, excessive paw licking can be a sign of an underlying problem that should be addressed. If you’re wondering why do dogs lick their paws, here are some reasons.
Why is my dog licking their paws?
If your dog licks their paws a lot, it could be due to a number of reasons.
Dogs licking paws due to injury or infection
If your dog is excessively licking just one paw, it could be because it’s painful, and licking the area helps soothe the pain. Check your dog’s paw for cuts, abrasions, burns, torn nails, bites or stings, corns, splinters, or anything else that could be bothering them. Something as simple as a bug bite could lead do your dog licking so much that the paw gets infected, which makes them lick even more. Limping on that paw is another sign there’s been an injury that needs to be addressed.
Dogs licking paws due to dry skin
Dry skin from living in a dry climate or from too much bathing can lead to dry skin on the paws, which your dog may lick to feel better. Also, some breeds are more prone to dry skin, especially hairless breeds like the Chinese Crested and the American Hairless Terrier which have sensitive skin. If dry skin is the problem, avoid giving your dog too many baths and try using a gentler cleanser/shampoo. In dry climates, a humidifier can help, too.
Dogs licking paws due to fleas and ticks
Fleas and ticks can both make your dog very itchy, which can cause paw licking. Ticks are especially likely to find a home between the toes, so be sure to thoroughly inspect your dog’s paws after going for a walk anywhere there could be ticks.
Dogs licking paws due to food allergies
If you think it could be food-related but you’re not sure which food, talk to your vet about testing your dog for food allergies, or try an elimination diet to see if you can find the culprit.
Dogs licking paws due to other allergies
Allergies to food aren’t the only possible cause; plants and pollen, mold, dust mites, chemicals in your home or yard, medication, and more can all cause irritation that leads to paw licking. Try to pay attention to when the licking happens in order to identify the allergen. Does the paw licking mainly happen after coming inside from a walk? Then your dog may be allergic to something in the grass. If it’s after you clean the carpet, it could be a chemical in the carpet cleaner. And so on. Some paw licking from allergies you may be able to address yourself (e.g., clean your dog’s feet when coming in after a walk or after cleaning the carpet) while others might need medication to fully treat.
Dogs licking paws due to anxiety
Anxiety is a common psychological cause of paw licking in dogs. Especially if you notice your dog licking their paws before falling asleep, anxiety could be the cause. Try to figure out what’s causing your dog anxiety and work on addressing that in order to reduce the paw licking habit.
Dogs licking paws due to boredom
Another potential psychological cause of paw licking, boredom is the root of much misbehaving in dogs. If you think your dog is licking their paws because they’re bored, banish their boredom by going on more/longer walks, visit the dog park to socialize with other dogs, give your dog puzzle toys or create games to keep them mentally engaged, or work on training them to do some basic obedience, simple tricks, or simple obstacle course in your home or backyard.
Other reasons for dogs licking paws
Maybe you don’t think your dog’s paw licking is related to any of the reasons listed above. It could be due to other causes, including:
-Gastrointestinal (GI) issues, which need to be diagnosed by a veterinarian
-Hormone imbalances, such as too much cortisol or too little thyroid hormone
-Wintertime conditions, leading to balls of ice stuck in the fur, and/or the salts used to deice the roads (consider getting dog booties to wear when it snows)
Act quickly when your dog licks their paws
A little paw licking isn’t harmful and shouldn’t cause concern. But if your dog keeps licking their paws and you notice any of the following, take action to address it:
-Sudden increase in the amount of paw licking
-Obsessive licking, i.e., it’s hard to get your dog’s attention or get them to stop licking
-Bleeding or swelling of the paw(s)
-Paws constantly wet from licking
-Odor coming from the paw
Talk to your vet if you see any of these signs along with your dog’s paw licking. Excessive licking can not only be an indication of an underlying problem that needs to be addressed, it can also lead to inflammation, loss of fur on the paw, discolored fur, ulcers (lick granulomas), thickened skin, and hot spots. The moisture from the constant licking can get trapped in between the toes and cause yeast infections and bacterial infections that need to be treated with medication.
How can you stop your dog from licking their paws? A simple but effective way is to use an E-collar. Distracting your dog with toys and activities can also help. A few minutes of a foot soak with oatmeal can alleviate itching if that’s the cause.
Break the habit
A little paw licking is fine, but excessive, aggressive or compulsive paw licking is not. The sooner you can break your dog of this habit, the better! If you aren’t able to address your dog’s paw licking on your own, work with your vet to get your dog out of their paw-licking habit.