Why Does My Dog Lick His Paws?

Dogs lick their paws to clean them and for general self-grooming reasons. This is absolutely normal. Dogs find licking soothing. It releases endorphins and dopamine, which are feel-good chemicals. This is not a problem in itself, but you do need to consider why your dog needs to self-soothe. According to the Kennel Club, dogs use licking as a way to communicate and to express emotions. This is why you should take note of unusual licking behavior; your dog is communicating something about his or her emotions.  

If your dog is licking his or her paws continually or aggressively this may not be a good sign. Your dog is communicating distress.

Why Does My Dog Lick His Paws?

Physical Reasons For Licking Paws

Skin Problems

A skin problem could be developing beneath the fur. Notice your dog’s paws turning pink? If the skin is itchy that’s going to aggravate the dog and he or she will try to do something about it by licking the affected area. Your dog’s skin may be dry.

If all looks fine when you inspect your dog’s paws, but your dog keeps on licking or chewing then your dog may have dermatitis, which causes skin inflammation. Dermatitis is often due to bacteria, food sensitivities or  allergies

Parasites

If your dog is dealing with parasites, they may be affecting a single paw or, more likely, all the paws. Check for fleas. It could also be mange. Your vet will be able to prescribe medicine to eliminate the parasites.

Allergies

Allergies would generally cause your dog to lick all his or her paws, rather than a particular paw; unless only one of the paws made contact with a substance to which your dog is allergic.

Itchy paws can often be a sign of a food allergy. The vet may be able to suggest a special diet. If it’s possible to find the ingredients causing the reaction then you can ensure you avoid those in your dog’s food.

If you recently changed your dog’s food then maybe it’s something in the new brand of food that your dog isn’t reacting well to.

Injury

If the paw licking begins suddenly, and especially if it’s focused on one paw, then check for injury.

The pads of the paw may have been cut by something or have rubbed up against something. A claw may be broken.

A Growth

If there’s a growth then get your dog to the vet immediately. Any swelling or redness is not to be ignored. There could be a cyst or tumor.

Environmental Reasons for Licking Paws

Environmental Reasons For Licking Paws

Chemical Irritation

If your dog suddenly begins aggressively licking after a walk, perhaps he or she stepped on something that is causing them pain or making the skin itch.

Grit, when the roads have been gritted in icy weather, may sometimes contain chemicals that aren’t good for your pet.

Check for chemicals in your yard or on your regular walking route. Look at the grasses or weeds that your dog walked through; they may have been treated with pesticides.

Physical Objects

Check for thorns or any other object that has got caught in the fur and is rubbing against the skin. 

Look between the pads for thorns or other obstacles that may have got caught in there. Also look at the top of the foot.

Heat

On a hot day, the pavement may have become sufficiently hot to burn your dog’s paws. Unlike you, your dog doesn’t have shoes to protect his or her paws from extreme walking conditions.

Walking On An Uneven Surface For A Prolonged Time

Blisters can affect dogs just as they can affect us.  If your dog has been running around in harsh terrain, he or she may have developed blisters or rubbed the paws raw.

Likewise, if you and your dog have been on a particularly long walk.

Pain

Pain from arthritis or other such conditions may be the cause of the licking. It’s not unusual for a dog to lick the paws even if the pain is actually emanating from somewhere else on the body.

It’s often a front paw that becomes the focus. A vet will need to check your dog over and diagnose the issue, with appropriate treatment.

Stings

Your dog may have stepped on a bee or some other animal or insect that has stung the pads of the paw.

Why Does My Dog Lick His Paws?

Psychological Reasons For Licking Paws

Boredom

If your dog is feeling bored then he or she may show this by displacement activities, such as licking. It might not even be just their paws they lick. They may lick your cat. They may lick everything. It’s time you gave your dog some attention.

Take your dog for a walk or play with your dog. If your dog has some canine friends, take your dog to visit his or her friends.

Dogs are sentient beings. They get bored just like we do. You know how soul-destroying boredom can be. Doing something new, exciting or strenuous can take away that boredom.

Anxiety

If it’s anxiety that’s behind the licking of the paws, then try to ascertain what is causing that anxiety for your dog.

It could be that your dog is developing compulsive behaviors and the licking could become obsessive. 

Contact with other dogs and new activities can alleviate a lot of behavioral issues stemming from psychological sources like anxiety.

Ensure your dog is getting enough to do to use up physical and mental energy. If your dog responds well to toys, such as safe chew toys or puzzle toys, then it’s time to get those toys out.

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Separation anxiety or phobias, like a fear of noises, may require calming treats or a visit to an animal behaviorist .

To modify your dog’s behavior and wean him or her off incessant licking due to behavioral compulsions or obsessions, you need to exercise patience and be consistent.

You could put a bitter-tasting, safe and vet-prescribed, substance on the paws to put your dog off licking.

However, you need to deal with underlying concerns, or your dog will just resort to some other negative behavior.

Likewise with physical restraints, such as e-collars; they may stop the licking but aren’t addressing the cause.  

Why Does My Dog Lick His Paws – Conclusion

So, why does my dog lick his paws, actually? There are many reasons, some less serious than others.

It’s a good idea to clean off the paws when you come back from walks.

If you can source the reason for abnormal paw licking, and it’s one you can safely remedy with first aid treatment, then do so.

If you can’t find the source, or you find something worrying, such as a growth, then immediately take your dog to the vet.

The thing to remember is that licking behavior can be a sign of a health problem, so it’s best to get your dog seen before it escalates.

Too much licking will cause a build-up of moisture which can then lead to a yeast or bacterial infection and further licking.  

Things like topical anti-itch sprays for inflammation, antibiotics for the treatment of bacterial infection, antifungals for yeast infections are all possible remedies if there is a physical cause for the licking.

An animal behaviorist may be the answer if the cause for the licking is psychological.

However, try making your dog’s life happier and more interesting. That works for them to alleviate boredom and anxiety just as it does for us.

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