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Why Do Dogs Lick Their Paws?

Why Do Dogs Lick Their Paws? 

Is your pup licking and chewing at their paws? Your dog could simply be performing normal grooming behavior, but if you notice your dog excessively licking their paws, it may indicate a health or behavioral issue. Paw licking can signal a number of different problems, including allergies, injury, skin conditions or even boredom. Learn about the most common reasons your dog is licking their paws and find out what you can do to help protect your pup’s feet.

Normal Grooming 

Even though your dog may love splashing through puddles or rolling in the mud, most canines prefer to be clean and will groom themselves. If you notice your dog occasionally licking and chewing on their paws, it is likely just normal grooming behavior. However, if you see your dog constantly licking their paws or licking until the paws are red and raw, then there is probably something more going on that requires a closer look.  

Injury and Pain

If your dog begins excessively licking their paws or licking a single paw right after a walk or after coming in from the yard, an injury could be the reason. Carefully review your dog’s paws, including the pad, nails and between the pads. Look for cuts, scrapes, blisters or bites.  

 Your dog may have sore paws from walking on salted roads during the winter, hot pavement during the summer, or rocky surfaces during trail walks. They may have stepped on a bee, have a thorn in their paw, or a woodchip stuck between their toes. 

 Remove any debris from your pet’s foot. If you notice scrapes or shallow cuts, clean the wounds and add antibacterial medication. You might also find Petco’s dog first aid & paw care products helpful. For more serious injuries, make an appointment with your vet or bring them to the nearest animal hospital.  

 Next time, avoid sore paws or injuries with dog paw protection accessories like dog boots, ice melters, paw cleaners and more.

Food Allergies

Many dogs have food allergies—which are different from food sensitivities—which may cause severe itching. Allergies occur when your dog’s immune system overreacts to something they ate. Some of the most common causes of food allergies are protein, like beef and chicken, dairy, eggs and wheat. Food allergies can be difficult to identify but, over time, they often cause a range of symptoms which may include paw licking along with vomiting, diarrhea and skin rashes. 

 If you notice these symptoms in your pup, schedule an appointment with your vet and request an allergy test. Your vet may prescribe a specialized diet for your pet or tell you to avoid pet foods with certain ingredients. Petco offers grain-free dog foods as well as limited ingredient diet dog food.

Environmental Allergies 

Dogs can also be allergic to substances in the environment, most commonly grass, mold spores, plant pollens, dust mites, lawn care and gardening products. If you notice that paw licking occurs most often right after your dog returns from a walk or a trip to the yard, environmental allergies are a prime suspect. You may be able to manage the symptoms of environmental allergies by washing your dog’s paws with water and a damp rag after returning from outdoor trips and from avoiding certain areas that coincide with paw linking. However, it’s still a good idea to schedule an appointment with your veterinarian to confirm allergies and eliminate other possible causes of your dog licking their paws. 

Parasites, Fungus and Bacteria

Many dogs love making new friends in the neighborhood or at the dog park, but some very unwelcome friends may find their way onto your dog’s body. Itchy paws and your dog chewing their paws could indicate the presence of parasites, like fleas or mange. Some dogs are susceptible to flea saliva, which can cause severe itching.  If you notice fur loss, red skin and/or hot spots on your dog’s body, it’s time to call the vet.   

 Your dog constantly licking their paws could also indicate a bacterial infection which may require antibiotics. Importantly, paws that are wet from constant paw licking could invite a yeast infection. Yeast infections can be knocked out with anti-fungal medication, but ensure your vet looks for other causes of itchy paws since a yeast infection may be a secondary infection. That means your dog could have acquired the yeast infection due to licking their paws for a different reason.  

 Petco offers a Pet Pharmacy with many of the same medications you can find at your vet’s office.

Dry Skin

Allergies, dry weather with low humidity and excessive bathing can all dry out your pet’s skin causing it to become irritated, flakey and itchy. Dandruff in your pet’s fur is a big sign that your dog’s skin is cracking and peeling. Be careful about bathing your dog too much, as frequent bathing can strip your dog’s coat of its natural oils.  

 Learn more about pet skin problems so you can help keep your dog’s skin and coat supple and shining. By healing your pet’s skin dry skin, you may be able to solve their paw licking.

Pain

When a dog is in pain, they may lick their paws as a coping mechanism even if the pain is coming from another part of their body. A vet can check your canine for common causes of pain, including arthritis or an acute injury. Even if your dog’s paws aren’t the specific problem, when your dog excessively licks their paws, they are trying to tell you something. Make sure you listen.

Behavioral Issues

If your veterinarian has eliminated all other possible causes of your dog licking their paws raw, then the reason could be a behavioral issue, such as boredom or anxiety.

Paw Licking and Boredom

Dogs of all ages and breeds need regular activity and stimulation to promote emotional health and well-being. Younger dogs and certain breeds may need more than others. Working breeds, like German shepherds, golden retrievers, Irish setters, pointers, labs and others require lots of activity throughout the day. If your dog is feeling bored, they may lick and chew their paws just to pass the time. 

 Fortunately, there are many ways to correct this behavior. Add more walks and longer walks to your dog’s schedule. Include more playtime. If you are struggling to find the time, recruit family members or a professional dog walker to help. You can also keep your dog entertained with new and exciting toys, like chew toys and puzzle toys. Encourage other members of your household to spend more time with your pup so your dog won’t even think of worrying about their paws.

Paw Licking and Anxiety

Your dog licking their paws red could also indicate a psychological issue. Paw licking might be your dog’s way of trying to soothe themselves or cope with a stressful situation. Have you recently moved to a new home? Has your dog’s routine been interrupted? Are there new noises, new animals or new people in the household? Any of these things can cause stress coping behaviors. 

 Your dog may also lick their paws due to separation anxiety. You can check for this by recording your dog when you and other family members leave the house. Does your dog pace at the door, bark or whine, become destructive, have accidents or try to escape? These are all signs of separation anxiety. 

 Finally, just like humans, dogs can fall into a pattern of obsessive-compulsive behavior, which may include excessive paw licking.  

 Pet parents can manage a dog’s anxiety in different ways, depending on the cause of the anxiety and your dog’s unique personality. It might help to eliminate loud noises and other stressors that might be negatively affecting your dog. In other cases, a dog may simply need time and extra affection to get used to new routines or family members before coping behaviors disappear. At Petco, we offer a variety of calming aids that can help ease stress and anxiety.  

 If the anxious behavior continues, you may want to speak with your vet or seek the advice and guidance of an animal behavioralist.

Don't Ignore Your Dog Licking Their Paws

If you notice your dog excessively licking their paws, don’t ignore the behavior. Your dog may be trying to tell you that something is wrong. If you can’t find and address the problem right away, schedule an appointment with your vet to search for other possibilities. The longer you wait, the worse the underlying issue may get and the longer your pet could be in discomfort. Your vet can prescribe anti-itch medication, steroids to reduce inflammation and any medicines needed to combat bacterial, fungal or parasitic issues.  

 Learn more about complete dog care from head to tail to help keep your best friend happy and comfortable.