Why do dogs lick their paws? It’s normal for dogs to spend a certain amount of time licking and chewing their paws. This self-grooming process is entirely natural and, in moderation, is just part of our dog’s daily cleaning ritual.
However, there are times when paw licking becomes excessive. It can be incredibly frustrating to hear your dog constantly licking his paws all night, especially when your dog is so engrossed in the activity that it won’t stop no matter what you do.
But a bad nights’ sleep isn’t the only consequence of obsessive paw licking. Constant chewing can cause skin damage, hair loss, hot spots, and bacterial skin infections. All of which can cause pain and irritation that your dog will try to soothe by licking his paws!
So why do dogs lick their paws to excess? Should you be worried, and what can you do to stop it and prevent it from happening in the future?
What causes excessive paw licking?
Although it’s not always easy to pinpoint the cause, some common triggers can prompt your dog to start licking his paws.
This is perhaps the easiest trigger to identify. Dogs can get various injuries to their paws, including cracked or split paw pads, broken nails, insect bites, foreign objects stuck in or between the paw pads, cuts, and scrapes between the dog’s toes, sprains, and even broken bones.
All or any of these things encourage your dog to lick the area to ease the discomfort. Typically if injury or pain is the cause, the increased licking will be concentrated on one paw.
If an allergy is causing your dog a problem, it can be difficult to pinpoint the cause. Just like us, our dogs can be allergic to just about anything.
From grass, fleas, food, household cleaning products, and everything in between, allergies can be tricky to identify. Food allergies are probably the most common and often only affect one paw. However, if your dog is allergic to something it has touched – a contact allergy, all four paws are likely affected.
Identifying changes in food, a different walking route, and using a new cleaning product can help uncover the cause, but sometimes it’s impossible to tell what triggered itchy paws.
Although it’s uncommon for a healthy dog to get bacterial or yeast infection if your dog’s paws are always wet or muddy, it is possible.
Flea bites, ticks, and warm moist paws can all lead to your dog paying more attention to their feet, resulting in an issue.
However, a bacterial infection is frequently caused by your dog’s excessive licking, creating a perfect environment for bacteria to multiply, and it becomes a vicious cycle.
Paw licking is often used as a self-soothing behavior by our dogs. When they are stressed, anxious, or just unsure of a new situation, they will turn to their paws as a way to make themselves feel better.
Common triggers for this type of foot chewing include separation anxiety, a new baby, a new dog, a house move, having people over, loud noises, and being told off.
Boredom and habit
How many of you chew your nails? How many of those of you that do are aware of when you start to do it?
Just like us, our dogs can get into bad habits, and paw licking is one of them. Not only that, but our dogs lick their paws when they are bored as it’s something to do.
How to tell which it is?
It can be difficult to determine what’s causing a dog to lick their paws. But there are some handy questions to ask yourself;
- When did it start?
- Have you changed your dog’s food?
- One paw or multiple paws being chewed?
- Have you switched household cleaning products?
- When does your dog lick the most?
- Have you walked anywhere new?
- Has your dog been unwell recently?
- Have you had a change of circumstance? New baby, dog, or house, for example?
Keeping a diary of when your dog’s licking his paws most frequently can provide useful clues about the likely cause.
Should I visit a vet?
If your dog’s paw licking has come on suddenly, is excessive, continues for extended periods of time, and causes redness, swelling, or obvious discomfort, then yes, you should visit your vet.
Your vet can diagnose the underlying problem and offer advice on how best to deal with the issue. This may involve taking skin samples (scrapings) from your dog to test for mites or infections.
Treatment will depend on the underlying cause but may include;
- Anti-fungal medication
- Medicated shampoo
- Topical sprays
- Lifestyle changes
If your dog is licking excessively, it’s not always easy getting them to stop. But it would be best if you prevented them from having access to the affected area as further chewing can lead to even more problems.
Can I stop my dog from licking his paws?
It really depends on the cause of the problem, but there are things that you can do to help prevent your dog licking.
If your dog is licking his paws through boredom, providing them with more mental or physical exercise is enough to encourage some dogs to stop.
Interactive feeders, food games, and training are all ways to tire your dog out mentally.
If you already walk your dog regularly, take them on a new route. And if you don’t walk your dog daily, take them outside for a wander as it’s a perfect boredom buster.
A safe place to relax
Anxious dogs lick their paws to soothe themselves, so they may need a different approach depending on the circumstances.
Providing a safe place for your dog to call its own is useful. If your dog is anxious, this should be a spot where your dog won’t be disturbed by anyone and can feel safe.
Not only is a safe place an excellent idea for your nervous dog, but you can also use a pheromone diffuser to help keep them calm.
Injuries and infections
Dogs with injuries to their paws need to have their feet covered to prevent them from licking their paws, infecting the wound.
Although e-collars work for some dogs, they are not always effective. So if your dog manages to navigate around the collar, then socks are also a good option if your dog doesn’t eat non-food items.
As long as you prevent your dog from having access to the injured paw, scrapes, small cuts, and broken nails clear up quickly while infections take a bit longer and often need veterinarian treatment.
Allergies are perhaps the most difficult cause of foot licking to manage. As it’s not always possible to keep your dog’s paws covered all the time, finding the cause of the allergy is essential.
Because so many things can trigger allergies, keeping a diary of when your dog is most irritated or itchy can help pinpoint the cause.
Unless you eliminate the trigger of your dog’s allergy, it’s almost impossible to keep your dog from being affected.
Although it can be a frustrating process, changing your dog’s food, walking routine, and household cleaning products can all help.
What’s more, your vet can offer medication to help relieve the itching and reduce your dog’s need to lick his paws.
Why do dogs lick their paws?
Dogs lick their paws as part of normal self-grooming behavior. But Excessive paw licking can indicate a problem that can lead to infections and discomfort.
Some of the common triggers are easier to detect than others. So it’s important to look out for any changes in your dog’s grooming habits, and regularly check their paws for problems. If your dog is licking his paws more than normal, and you can’t see an obvious reason, keep a diary of symptoms and possible triggers and seek veterinary advice.