Grooming is a natural part of a dog’s daily routine, from licking himself clean to shaking off the blades of grass after a good roll on the lawn. But it’s no longer grooming when the behavior becomes incessant. If you notice your dog constantly licking his paws, then there’s definitely a bigger problem that needs to be diagnosed. It could be caused by a variety of problems, but it’s important that you take your dog to the vet as soon as you notice the problem behavior in order to avoid complications in the future.
Discovering why dogs do lick their paws can help you to cull this destructive behavior and ensure the overall health of your pet. Keep a diary of when you notice your dog licking his paw or paws and if they occur during certain events of the day (after a walk in the grass, during a thunderstorm, etc).
Are some dogs more prone than others?
Different dog breeds have been known to be more susceptible to conditions more than other dogs, and the same can be said for conditions of the paws. Dog breeds such as Labrador retriever, poodles, terriers, Maltese and Chihuahuas seem to suffer paw problems more than other breeds. Working dog breeds that are usually on high alert are also prone to paw problems, as they use licking and chewing as a means of relieving stress.
Dogs with light hair that tend to over lick can cause staining in their fur from their saliva, and can be difficult to get clean again.
Typically, if your dog is only licking one paw, then it is an isolated problem in that paw alone. There could be a broken claw, a splinter between your dog’s toes, or the pads of his feet have gotten slightly burned from hot pavement from a trip down the street. Skin tumors and abscesses that have started growing between the toes can also be a source of frustration, and your dog is trying to get rid of them. Another source could be arthritis in the paw, and your dog is trying to soothe the pain the only way he knows how.
The licking of several paws, however, indicates a bigger problem, such as an allergic reaction or a disorder that your dog is unable to take care of on his own. In either cases, your dog may develop lick granulomas, which are sore areas on his skin that don’t heal. Taking care of the problem before it becomes too serious can eliminate the chances of these unsightly sores from occurring.
Causes of licking problems
Eventually, you’re going to get tired of the constant sound of your dog’s tongue lapping against his skin, and the sight of his paws may start to get unpleasant. Finding the right cause can be like the clouds parting, because you know how to treat the problem. However, it may take some time to discover the real source of your dog’s licking, and that can be a period of frustration for both you and your dog.
Exercising patience and providing comfort for your dog can help to ease the anxiety and help you deal with the situation more calmly. Here are a few causes that may be the source of your pooch’s incessant licking.
- Hot spots: hot spots are a source of contention for your dog, as the more they scratch and lick at it, the worse it becomes, which makes your dog more frustrated and forces the behaviour to continue. Hot spots, which are also known as acute moist dermatitis, are red irritated areas of the skin that are caused by persistent licking, chewing or scratching of the skin. They can typically occur anywhere on a dog’s body, but the chest, hips and legs are common places for this condition to occur.
Over time without any treatment, these hot spots can start to get larger and very sore, making them more difficult to treat.
- Allergies: just like humans, dogs can have allergies of their own as well, and these mostly manifest on their skin. Dogs chewing their paws could be a result of two kinds of allergies: a food allergy or an allergic reaction to something that they’ve come into contact with.
An allergic food reaction is very difficult to figure out on your own, as it would require you to single out the ingredient in your pet’s food in order to discover which one is the culprit. In this case, it’s best to seek the advice of your pet in order to develop a plan to help combat the situation.
For a reaction due to the environment, it can be easier to figure out the source of your pet’s problem, as the irritation is likely to occur very soon after coming into contact with it. It could be anything from pollen to grass to mold, or even certain pesticides you use in your garden or a certain brand of soap.
- Anxiety or boredom: we all have our nervous tics or some horrible habit that we do when we’re bored. Maybe it involves snapping gum, biting fingernails, or twirling our hair.
You’d be fascinated to discover that dogs are capable of being bored as well, and find something to do in order to compensate for this lack of anything to do. This can be manifested in the form of licking and scratching, especially at their extremities such as their paws. This can result in severe damage to your dog, so it’s important that he be given the attention he deserves and is provided with a lot of exercise and toys to keep his mind busy.
- Dry skin: when the weather becomes dry, we’re prone to itchy skin. That’s because the air around us can absorb the moisture from our skin, and cause it to crack and itch. Dogs’ skin is much the same way, and will dry out from winter weather. The lack of fatty acids in their diet can also lead to dry skin, so it’s important that you ensure that he is getting a well-balanced diet. If you notice that your dog’s skin is flaking off more than usual, then it’s likely that dry skin is the culprit for his destructive licking and chewing.
- Pain: dogs are incapable of using words to tell us what is wrong with them, and because of this language barrier, they have to resort to other means to tell us that something is wrong. Dogs tend to lick at their wounds or other sources of pain, so there may very well be a thorn or stone stuck in his paw, or the pain may be the result of arthritis within the joint.
In the worst case scenario, your dog may have a broken bone that you’re unaware of. No matter the cause, check your dog’s paws for any foreign objects lodged between his toes and test his joints to see if they feel inflamed or if he has difficulty moving them. Eliminating the source of pain is the first step in culling this problem for good.
- Fleas and/or ticks: one of the most common sources of itching is fleas and ticks. Having an infestation of parasites on your dog can make them scratch more than usual. Fleas and ticks bite and latch onto your dog to feed on their blood, which can result in itching. Until the parasites are removed, the condition will continue, which can jeopardize your dog’s health.
Fleas and ticks are actually quite small and very difficult to find, so it’s best that you use a preventative in order to avoid them feasting on your dog beforehand. Flea shampoos, topical treatments and flea collars can create and effective barrier against these annoying parasites, so that they turn your home into tomorrow’s buffet.
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder: dogs can be born with quirks and idiosyncrasies that humans may never understand. One of those quirks can involve compulsive paw licking. This behaviour can be the result of stress, new guests visiting, new sounds going on outside, or the simple stress of a scary thunderstorm. To cull this behaviour, the anxiety associated with it can be minimized by providing distractions for your dog and a calmer environment to bring him down to a more neutral state.
Keep in mind that a compulsive disorder is usually linked to something else, so it doesn’t eliminate the fact that your dog may still be experiencing the symptoms of allergies or boredom.
- Bacterial or fungal infections: when your dog spends time outside, it’s a given that he’s going to pick up something from outside that isn’t exactly clean. Because between his toes is warm, any moisture getting trapped between them can result in the growth of a horrible infection.
Look for signs of abnormal odour, redness of the skin, swelling and limping so that you can take immediate action to rectify the situation. Left alone untreated, it can quickly spread across the rest of your dog’s skin and make the condition a lot more difficult to treat.
Tests your vet can conduct
Instead of leaving it up to guesswork, there are a battery of tests that your veterinarian can conduct in order to determine the real source of your dog’s licking. A physical examination of your dog’s paws is required, and he may recommend taking some blood samples, some skin scrapings, and X-rays to figure out the problem.
However, keep in mind that all of these tests may turn out normal, which means that the source of the problem is something else, like allergies, boredom, compulsive licking, or fleas. Exploring all options that are open to you makes it much easier to find the relief that your pet is looking for.
Depending on the source of the problem, there are a variety of solutions that can be used to prevent the constant licking of your dog’s paws. Speaking to your vet can help you to figure out the cause and start treatments from there. Be aware that you may have to go through several treatment options before you find the one that works right for your pet, as these problems can often be more complicated than you originally bargained for.
Here are some easy remedies that may help to curtail the problem quickly.
- Changing foods: if the source of the problem is allergies, then it’s time to look for a more wholesome food with more natural ingredients. The most common triggers of allergies in dogs are beef and wheat products. Carefully examine the ingredients in your dog’s food to ensure that these ingredients are not present. Your vet may also recommend a a diet different from dried food that you may have to prepare from scratch.
- Dry skin: whether it’s due to the dry air or a lack of fatty acids in your dog’s diet, dry skin can be annoying. During the winter, ensure that your dog is adequately hydrated in order to prevent skin dryness. If you want to take more proactive measures, dog booties can keep their feet warm and prevent their skin from drying out. The inclusion of fatty acids into their food can also help with the situation, as well as keep their fur coat looking shiny and healthy.
Simply stir a few tablespoons of sunflower oil or fish oil into your dog’s food every day, and the condition should start to clear up soon. It can be done as often as you need, as the oil won’t harm their health in any way.
- Medication: there are several topical and systemic products that your vet can provide in order to help with the underlying condition that is causing your dog’s itching. Dogs licking their paws can be the result of a mental condition that can’t be treated very easily. Antibiotics and steroids may be included in the recommended medications in order to prevent skin infections from occurring and to reduce any swelling or pain that may result from the incessant licking.
- Preventing the licking: for compulsive disorders, they can be difficult to address. Medications alone may not solve the problem, and you may have to take measures to stop the licking altogether. The use of bitter sprays, an e-collar, or maintaining a watchful eye on your dog at all times can help to wean him from his licking habits.
Dog booties can also be used to prevent access to his paws so that he can’t lick them at all. Try a variety of options to see what works best for your pet and results in minimum distress from occurring. Remember, a compulsive disorder forces a dog to find some means of satisfying his urges, so he may take on other behaviour problems in order to help cope with his compulsion.
- Anxiety or boredom: the licking may be the result of not enough stimulation, and the only blame for such a condition is you. Spending time with your dog is essential for his mental health, so get him outside, play a good game of fetch or take him for a twenty-minute walk down the street.
Even something as simple as being exposed to new smells will get his brain activity up, and he’ll get to engage on trying to figure out what they are. During the colder months when outdoor activity is reduced, provide rugged chewing toys that your dog can use to stay busy.
What doesn’t work
It can be stressful for both you and your dog when you can’t find a solution that works. However, there are some measures that should never be taken into your own hands in order to try and improve the situation. These “remedies” are more likely to make your dog even more stressed and even become fearful as a result.
- remedies sold on the Internet without a prescription
- products containing alcohol
- hot sauce
- shock collars
- punishing or scolding your dog for their licking behavior
Creating a negative environment for your dog will only exacerbate the situation and make it more difficult for you to help him cope with his behavior. Exercising patience will not only make it easier for you develop a better solution to the problem, but your dog won’t feed off your stress and become anxious as well. Your dog can’t vocalize what the problem is, so it’s up to you to ensure that you deal with the situation as calmly and rationally as possible.
Paw licking may seem quite harmless at first, as it’s a natural part of a dog’s grooming regimen. But if you do notice that your dog is engaging in such activities more than usual, then it’s time to do something about it. Don’t leave your pet to suffer alone, believing the condition will go away on its own. Take the best steps to increasing your dog’s comfort by discovering the source of his licking and providing the proper remedy for the situation.