Dog Paw Licking: Why Does it Happen and How Do I Fix it?
Paw licking is a common behaviour in dogs, unless it’s in excess!
Dogs lick their paws as a self-cleaning technique, so don’t be alarmed if you catch them from doing it from time to time. But do start to look for other clues if you notice them do it more often than normal.
The most common reason for a dog to lick their paws is an allergic reaction in the skin. The causes may be related to food sensitivities, dry skin, boredom, environmental allergies, fleas, age or anxiety.
Let’s check out how these conditions affect your dog’s health.
An allergic reaction occurs when the immune system overreacts to ingested food that your dog may be allergic or sensitive to.
A common symptom of a food allergy or food sensitivity is paw licking. This is your dog’s way of relieving the itching that is occurring around this area. Generally, dogs lick paws just to feel better.
Look out for itching all over the body, hot spots or gastrointestinal symptoms such as diarrhoea, gas, indigestion, stomach pain or bacterial yeast infections alongside paw licking. Consider using a probiotic to rebalance the microflora in your dog’s that may have been disturbed by the food sensitivity or allergy. Search for probiotics that are specifically designed for dogs.
The thing about food allergies is that they can be really hard to detect. You might need to set up a special diet and start eliminating the ingredients to determine what is causing your pet's food allergies. Ask your vet for additional advice.
Environmental allergies include surroundings such as grass, pollen, mould and dust – this is much like the human hay fever. Dogs that experience environmental allergies often lick their paws as well as showing other symptoms such as ear scratching and hot spots.
You may notice that it is worse after a walk in a particular spot or location. If this is the case, your dog is more than likely experiencing an environmental allergy. Consider using a supplement high in omega 3 to help strengthen the allergen barrier in your dog’s skin, take care of itching and reduce inflammation associated with environmental allergies. Omega-3 supplements are great for various skin-related conditions and your vet may recommend it as a way to prevent allergies.
Some dogs are allergic to fleas and have different allergic reactions to them if so. Flea allergies cause dogs to become extremely itchy and irritated on the skin. This condition in dogs is also known as flea allergy dermatitis. They will lick the area that is causing discomfort in order to soothe and relieve it, which might lead to an injury. This is often accompanied by excessive scratching.
Other signs of fleas on your dog include hair loss, thickened or swollen itchy skin, redness and hot spots. Always treat the fleas if your dog has them before anything else. Consider soothing products or shampoos for immediate relief from fleas. For long-term help, products containing omega 3 and zinc help to strengthen the skin allergen barrier and immune system. This may help your dog’s reaction to be less severe.
Dry, itchy skin or dermatitis is caused by many things such as excessive bathing, humidity or any of the allergies listed above. Dogs relieve itching caused by dry skin by licking.
Be aware of any other health symptoms that your dog may be showing alongside their dry skin for a more accurate diagnosis. Only a veterinarian will be able to determine what’s wrong with your dog.
Anxiety and CCD, (dementia in dogs)
Paw licking in dogs is a common anxiety trait. This is a behavioural trait where dogs seek comfort when they are stressed. It can be helped by using redirection training to break the habit of licking paws. It is also common compulsive behaviour in Canine Cognitive Dysfunction, (CCD) which is more commonly known as dementia in dogs and requires additional care.
Signs and symptoms of anxiety in dogs can include other behavioural attributes and conditions such as crying or whimpering when left alone, destructiveness, digging or even urinating indoors. CCD in dogs occurs in mostly senior dogs. Other signs include wandering, confusion, memory loss and anxiety. These two health concerns can show similar symptoms. The easiest way to determine which it may be is to consider the age of your dog alongside their symptoms, so you can start with an appropriate treatment.
Calming supplements can help to keep your dog relax during times of stress and help you deal with this problem. You could also deter paw licking by using distractions. Playing games or keeping your dog mentally stimulated may help. Supplements to support the brain, (there is only one currently in Australia) are designed to help reduce the symptoms of canine cognitive dysfunction.
Your home should provide a nice and calming environment without too much stress and if your pets feel supported and loved, they will be less motivated to lick their paws.
Dogs need mental stimulation, especially when you have a puppy at your hand. Certain breeds such as working dog breeds, (Border Collies, Kelpies, Labradors, etc) can become bored easily when they don’t have a job to complete. You may notice them start to show some destructive behaviour or take up the habit of licking their paws as a result.
It is important to keep working dogs active and their mental capacity fulfilled to avoid these behaviours. Note which other signs they are showing alongside their paw licking and consider the breed of dog when contemplating this cause as an option.
Brain games or teaching new tricks is a great way to keep dogs mentally stimulated and stop paw licking behaviour.
There are many ways to help all of these common causes of paw licking. It is best to find out the underlying issue that is causing your dog to lick their paws before starting any treatments. This will ensure that it is safe and effective for your dog.
Many symptoms are similar to each other (especially allergies!) and so it can sometimes take a little trial and error to find a solution.
Paw licking is more than likely paired with another health symptom. It will help to diagnose your dog quicker if you look out for which other symptoms are present too. Search for anything that might look odd. If you suspect there is an emergency, always contact your vet as soon as possible.
How to stop your pet from excessive paw licking?
Before you even start addressing this problem, you should figure out what’s causing your pet to display such extreme behaviour. We already listed a couple of reasons, which could cause excessive paw licking but let’s search for a solution.
Cover your dog’s paws
One of the easiest ways to stop your pet from excessive licking is to cover their paws with little socks. Some dogs might be irritated by booties and might not willingly walk while wearing them, so it’s better to have them wearing baby socks.
Not only will this stop excessive licking but it will protect them while outside.
Take care of your dog’s paws
Another way to prevent your pet from licking paws is washing and drying their paws when they come in from a walk. If your dog is against boots, this could be a great way to protect their foot from environmental irritants and allergens.
While you can’t protect your pet from injuries like a bee sting or a thorn, this treatment could help with typical dermatitis, which is one of the most common skin problems.
Use a moisturiser
If your dog licks paws because they are dry, then a simple moisturiser will do the trick and we all have this at home. In fact, this is one of the best ways to take care of your dog’s paws. Ensure your dog’s paws are clean and dry before applying any product. You could use a foot ointment for this purpose.
Keep their nutrition balance
Nutrition plays a crucial role in this process because dog licking paw might be linked to allergies. Your pet’s diet needs to be carefully examined to figure out what might be causing an allergic reaction. You should consult your veterinarian to find the best dog food for allergies.
Coat their paws with something bitter or citrusy
Does your dog lick paws even after you tried everything to stop them? If nothing else gave you results, you should try coating your dog’s paws in something bitter or citrusy. Pets find citrus juices unappealing and their scent offensive. You could also use a bitter apple spray.
The risk of infection
If this behaviour continues, your dog might be at risk of developing bacterial yeast infection or bacterial fungal infection. A yeast infection will cause itchy, irritated and red paws in your pet. The more your dog licks paw, the itchier it will be. This is a vicious cycle that can seriously endanger your pet’s health.
How to groom your dog’s paw?
Regular grooming is necessary to keep your pet’s paws healthy and clean. You can do this at home and there is no need to visit a professional salon. The home setting will give your dog enough privacy and ensure they feel comfortable.
First of all, make sure there are no bits and pieces stuck between their pads that can cause irritation, pain, infection or something else that can affect the grooming process.
You need to make sure your dog’s nails are at the correct length. If they are too long, you can schedule an appointment with the veterinarian to trim them or do it at home. It all depends on your level of skills. If you aren’t confident enough, don’t do it; otherwise you will injure your dog.
Trimming hair might pose a challenge if your pet isn’t used to having their paws touched. Get your family members involved to make sure your pet is comfortable. Does your dog need additional grooming? Check with your veterinarian to make sure your pet is all set.
When should you worry about your pets?
While paw licking can be irritating, it isn’t a life-threatening condition. It’s definitely a health problem you need to deal with but with proper grooming, medical treatment and nutrition, you will be able to fix this.
But there are some signs of harmful paw licking you need to address immediately:
Hot spots: extreme licking leads to painful lesions, causing a secondary infection.
Limping: this indicates your puppy is in pain and that a foreign object has affected their paws.
Excessive paw chewing
Bleeding paws: your puppy will lick its paws until they bleed.
Any of these conditions require a veterinarian visit.