Dogs licking their paws can be perfectly normal behavior. However, it could also point to a few issues, depending on the circumstances. Why do dogs lick their paws? Here are some reasons why dogs lick their paws to help you determine when it’s normal and when it might indicate a problem:
1. They Could Have Parasites
Your dog’s feet are the closest point to the ground, most of the time. Therefore, it’s a common access point for parasites. These parasites can include hookworm, fleas, mange, or a variety of other foreign invaders.
If you notice that your dog starts licking or chewing on their paws more than normal, it may be time to inspect them for inflammation, infection, or visible parasites.
A veterinarian can professionally diagnose the problem and recommend a treatment that fits the condition. This should relieve the itching and stop the habit.
2. Your Dog Might Be Injured
If you notice that your dog starts licking a specific paw suddenly, you should take a look at them and determine that there isn’t an injury.
A laceration, damaged nail, or lodged foreign object can be common injuries to paws and will often cause a dog to lick their paws. This is an instinct to clean their wound and is also a self-soothing behavior that may provide some relief.
Make sure to also check for growths, such as tumors or warts. Inspect the entire foot top to bottom and between every toe and paw pad. Sometimes, it could be something very small that is hiding in an innocuous place that’s causing the discomfort.
Note that many of these injuries can be fixed by common first aid with simple items from a dog first aid kit. However, some of them, like growths, serious tears, or tumors, may require veterinarian intervention.
It can be a good idea to visit the vet even for small lacerations to make sure nothing else is going on like an infection or tetanus, which is uncommon in dogs but can still occur.
3. They May Have Dry Skin
Dry skin is something we have all experienced. We know how annoying it can be; often scratching it to death before wising up and applying some lotion. Your dog can experience a similar problem. Their attempt to moisturize is to lick, which can often exacerbate the problem.
Dry skin or itchy paws could be a reaction to chemicals that are used in your yard, such as fertilizers, which are often dangerous for your dog to ingest. Another cause may be plants that are present in your yard or wherever your dog frequents outdoors, such as dog parks and trails.
A simple method to prevent itchiness from dry skin is to make sure you wipe off their paws with warm water whenever they come indoors. However, it’s wise to consult your veterinarian if this persists.
Dermatitis has many causes, such as bacteria, allergies, or diet. A professional should be able to identify whatever is causing it and suggest treatment options. Depending on the cause and your dog, that could mean medication.
4. Your Dog Could Have a Food Allergy
What they eat could have an effect on their paws as well, which may cause them to start licking the affected area. Just like in humans, food allergies or sensitivities are also common in dogs. A vet may recommend a certain diet or systematically eliminate foods so they can pinpoint what’s causing the allergic reaction.
5. They May Be In Pain
Sometimes, pain manifests as compulsive paw licking. Because licking their paws is a self-soothing behavior, it is one of the signs your dog is in pain. Many conditions can result in your dog licking their paws, even if it has nothing to do with the paws themselves.
Pain from conditions, such as arthritis or gum disease, may cause them to start licking their paws because they don’t know what else to do. Therefore, if you see your dog licking their paws excessively, it’s best to consult a vet to get a proper diagnosis and treatment plan.
6. Don’t Rule Out Mental Health
If you have determined that it’s not a physical reason, excessively licking their paws may indicate a behavioral issue. It could be something benign, like boredom, or something more serious, like anxiety. Excessive licking is one of the signs your dog is bored, but it can also be a self-soothing reaction to separation anxiety.
It’s relatively simple to alleviate boredom. All you have to do is more activities with your dog. This could include runs, walks, games, toys, and more. Puzzle toys and safe things to chew on are great options to redirect the focus from their paws to whatever you give them.
If they aren’t bored, the next culprit is anxiety. Are you gone for long stretches of time and have a breed that doesn’t do well alone? Do you have a habit of being aggressive or loud with them when they do something wrong? Perhaps, you live in a noisy area and you notice that the paw licking happens when sudden, loud noises occur? Maybe they start licking when there’s a thunderstorm?
If your pooch starts getting mouthy with their paws whenever one of these situations occurs, there is a good chance that they are nervous. An animal behaviorist will be able to professionally advise what to do to help your dog’s anxiety.
So, why do dogs lick their paws? As you can see, there are many reasons your dog could be licking their paws. Some are physical while others are mental. Some are quick fixes, like a thorn or a cut. Others are more serious, such as allergies, anxiety, or arthritis. If the problem persists, it’s best to see a professional to properly assess the situation.