It is very frustrating when you watch your dog incessantly and obsessively licking his paws, especially when he loses interest in everything around him. There are specific reasons for this behavior, and it is up to you, as the owner, to try to figure out what the problem may be. If the behavior appears suddenly, continues for an extended period of time, or is accompanied by bleeding, swelling, limping, or odor, the best thing to do is to see a veterinarian and have him/her do the investigative work with the right diagnostic tools.
While it’s normal for dogs to groom their paws every now and then, too much licking is often indicative of an underlying problem. Don’t let your dog’s paw-licking get out of hand. Sometimes, it can become an addicting habit that is difficult to eradicate. Dogs who lick their paws excessively often develop stains on the fur of their feet (if they are light-colored), and sometimes they may even develop red, swollen, or inflamed wounds that can be difficult to treat.
What Does It Mean When a Dog Licks or Chews His Paws All the Time? It Could One Of The Following:
5. Hormonal imbalance
6. Dry skin
7. Fleas and ticks
8. Deicing salts and cold weather
Licking One Paw Only
If your dog suddenly starts licking his paws, then it is usually indicative of pain, especially if he is licking only one paw.
If the licking is limited to one paw, then this often suggests that the source of trouble is right there on the paw. The pain in that area can be caused by anything, such as wounds, insect bites, a thorn, a piece of embedded glass, a broken nail, etc.
Licking and Limping
If you do not see anything, don’t ignore it. Take your pet to the vet as soon as possible. Sometimes there may be something going on at a deeper level, such as a muscle sprain or some type of inflammation or fracture, especially if the licking is accompanied by limping.
2. Allergies or Yeast Infection
Chronic licking is usually attributed to allergies that can be traced to just about anything. It could be the food, the chemicals in your yard, your carpet cleaning products, weeds, and so much more.
For example, if your dog is licking his paws after walking, then the itching is likely caused by pesticides found in the grass or by the grass and weeds themselves. Clean your dog’s feet with a wet wipe after going for a walk to prevent further irritation.
Finding the real cause of the itchiness can be a very frustrating ordeal. It may take some enormous investigative work to figure what your dog is allergic to, and it is best to run a blood test with the vet so you can treat the root cause of the problem rather than just giving your dog anti-histamines to cover the problem.
If you suspect a yeast infection, then it is usually caused by a poor diet. Sometimes the simplest treatment for hair loss and itching is switching out your dog’s food. Make sure to provide quality foods full of specific nutrients and vitamins that are beneficial for the gut and the skin.
Modern times have created an environment of boredom for dogs. Once used to walking and hunting for up to 10 hours a day, dogs today are often left at home in a small yard, or in a crate for many hours a day. High-energy dogs may become frustrated, and often engage in destructive activities that may include excessive licking and chewing of the paws.
• Don’t leave your dog at home alone for long periods of time.
• If you must leave it alone, give it a Kong to keep it occupied.
• Give your dog frequent times to play and exercise. Take your dog for a walk or to play fetch at the park for at least 30 minutes each day.
• Allow your pup to socialize with other people and other dogs.
Anxious dogs often try to find relief by licking themselves excessively. The causes of such anxiety may vary and range from separation anxiety to obsessive-compulsive disorders. In this way, paw-licking or chewing is similar to human nail-biting.
Dogs may often lick their paws before bed or lick themselves to sleep. This is just their way of relaxing and soothing themselves. If there is no redness or swelling, this type of paw-licking should not be a concern.
Causes of Anxiety:
• Lack of proper exercise
• Separation from an owner for long periods of time
If the licking becomes compulsive and excessive, dogs may lick themselves raw and develop unsightly ulcers often referred to as ”lick granuloma.” It is still not completely understood whether lick granulomas are triggered by anxiety or if they are the cause of anxiety. It’s a “chicken or egg” scenario.
5. Hormonal Imbalance
When a dog has a hormonal imbalance, he/she either produces too much cortisol (otherwise known as Cushing’s disease) or doesn’t produce enough thyroid hormone (hypothyroidism), which causes red spots, balding, and brittle hair. Licking these irritated red spots or bald patches can lead to a secondary infection.
6. Dry Skin
Dry skin can be breed specific or caused by over-bathing or a dry environment.
Breed Specific Hairless breeds are often prone to a variety of skin conditions because they don’t have a natural protection that hair provides. Breeds in this category include the Chinese Crested, the Xoloitzcuintli, and the American Hairless Terrier.
Weather Dry skin is also common among dogs living in cold and dry climates. If this is the case, ask your veterinarian to recommend a natural dog lotion or oil to relieve the dryness. If you are worried that oils will leave a mess around the house, feeding them quality vitamins and oil supplements is one of the best remedies for dry skin.
Bathing Habits You should avoid excessive bathing and the use of harsh soaps.
7. Fleas or Ticks
Fleas and ticks cause severe itchiness that can lead to compulsive paw licking and chewing. The condition can get even worse if your dog is allergic to fleas. In addition to using insecticides and flea medication, make sure to rid your house of fleas. If your pet is allergic to cleaning products or over-the-counter medications, there are non-toxic ways to get rid of fleas and prevent them from coming back.
8. Deicing Salts and Cold Weather
If your dog only licks his paws during the winter, then the cause may be deicing salts or sore paws caused by ice balls.
Deicing Salts, the salts used to melt ice on driveways and roads can lead to chemical burns on your dog’s feet. Avoid areas that are sprayed with deicing products or give your pet boots to wear when going outside during the winter. You should also keep a bowl of warm water and a towel near the door, so you can wash off your pup’s feet and prevent him from ingesting the toxic salts.
9. Ice Balls
Ice balls form between hairy toes when the snow gets caught in the fur. It can lead to cracking, bleeding, and hair pulling, which is really painful. Keep hair between the pads and toes trimmed and short during the winter.
How to Solve the Problem for Good The cause of your dog’s irritation may have been something simple like a mosquito bite, but his chewing and licking may have worsened the problem and caused a secondary infection. You must simultaneously stop your dog from licking his paws AND find a cure to relieve the itchiness.
How to Stop Your Dog From Licking His Paws
• Use a bitter apple spray
• Have your pet wear an Elizabethan collar or cone
• Distract your dog with toys and lots of affection
Home Remedies for Itchy Paws
• If your dog has allergies or is suffering from dry skin, use a steam vaporizer or a humidifier in your home. The steam brings back moisture to the dry air and also prevents your dog’s nasal passages from clogging up with mucus. Make sure to clean the humidifier to prevent mold, otherwise, the irritation may get worse.
• Spray apple cider vinegar directly onto your dog’s paws. Do not do this if there are open wounds as it will sting. You can also add a tablespoon of the vinegar to your dog’s food and see if the irritation gets better after a week. If it does not, consult your vet.
• Let your dog soak in a bath of warm water and Epsom salt for 30 minutes. The Epsom salt restores the skin’s natural pH level, which helps kill off the bad bacteria that is causing inflammation.
• Give your dog a high-quality fish oil supplement rich with omega fatty acids. The fish oil strengthens your dog’s immune system and overall health.
Vet Treatment for Paw Licking in Dogs Treatment, of course, is based on the underlying causes.
If a dog is anxious, find out the cause of anxiety. Prevention is always better than medication. If you cannot remove your dog from the thing or situation that is causing anxiety, then sedatives may be prescribed. Pheromone plugins may be helpful and so are Bach Flowers.
Some allergies may require anti-histamines and, in severe cases only, steroid shots. Steroids have nasty side-effects, so use this as a last resort and do not use it on a long-term basis. Again, the best way to remedy allergies is to avoid the stimulant that is causing irritation.
The cause is often food and infrequent exercise, but if your dog is eating a natural diet and getting ample amounts of outdoor time, then the problem could be something more complicated. Has your pet been spayed or neutered? Often times, spaying and neutering alone will solve hormonal issues.
1. Peter Kintzer DVM, DACVIM, “Itchy, Itchy! Atopic Dermatitis in Dogs,” Pet Health Network. July 2, 2014. Accessed September 27, 2017.
2. “Allergies in Dogs,” PetMD. 2014. Accessed September 27, 2017.
3. Amy Flowers, DVM, “Dogs and Compulsive Scratching, Licking, and Chewing,” PetMD. May 20, 2016. Accessed October 3, 2017.
4. Anna Burke, “Dry Skin on Dogs: Causes, Symptoms & Treatment,” American Kennel Club. May 19, 2016. Accessed October 3, 2017.
5. “Baldness and Hormone-Related Skin Disorders in Dogs,” PetMD. 2017. Accessed October 4, 2017.
6. Dr. Karen Becker, “The Huge Benefits of Foot Soaks for Dogs,” Huffington Post. September 5, 2012. Accessed October 4, 2017.