Why Do Dogs Lick Their Paws?
Written by: Amber LaRock, Licensed Vet Tech with a degree in Veterinary Technology
Edited by: Tina Elghazi
Dogs rely on licking to solve many of their problems. Occasional paw licking is likely nothing to worry about: paw licking is a normal part of your dog’s self-grooming process. However, if you observe your dog obsessively or excessively licking his paws, it’s possible there’s a more serious problem that needs to be addressed.
Since our canine friends lack the dexterity that we have, they often resort to licking and biting to soothe any pain or discomfort they’re experiencing. Since licking is a form of self-soothing for our furry friends, the act of paw licking can point to some underlying issues that loving pet parents likely haven’t considered, like skin problems, allergies, boredom, or anxiety.
In this article, we’ll discuss the possible reasons why your dog is licking their paws and offer a few expert tips to help stop or curb the behavior.
Understanding Why Dogs Lick
Before we dive into the possible reasons why your dog is licking their paws, it’s important to understand the behavior of licking in general. Licking is not only a way to get a taste of what’s in front of them, but it’s also a dog’s main source of self-soothing. Licking is essentially a dog’s way of coping with an issue, whether it’s localized discomfort on their paws or a larger behavioral issue.
Now that you understand what drives this behavior, it’s time to dive into our main question: why do dogs lick their paws?
Why Do Dogs Lick Their Paws?
Whether it is effective or not, our dogs believe they are solving a problem by licking. Due to how calming the act of paw licking is for our furry friends, they often lick or chew their paws to relieve canine stress or pain from injuries.
Since licking is a comforting act in our canine friends, it’s safe to assume that your pup is experiencing discomfort when you observe your dog excessively licking his paws. To get to the bottom of the behavior, let’s discuss the most common reasons why dogs lick their paws.
Reason #1: Allergies
Allergies are known to make your pup’s paws itch. Allergies in dogs can be due to food, environmental causes, or even adverse reactions to the plants and foliage they encounter on your daily stroll around the block. Whether it’s food, environmental factors, or something else entirely, one fact remains clear: allergies can always result in itchy skin and itchy paws.
Since our dog’s paws come in direct contact with so many parts of the world, it makes sense why their paws are often the most affected. Their paws can experience irritation due to grass allergies, reactions to stepping on insects, allergies to cleaners we use in our home, and the list goes on. The most common culprit, however, is food allergies. Aside from the chronic discomfort that food allergies cause, they also come with a host of common symptoms including itchy paws, itchy skin, and chronic ear infections.
If you think allergies may be the source of the problem, check for the characteristic redness of the skin that often presents itself. If your dog is always licking their paws and is experiencing skin irritation and redness, allergies may be the factor behind the behavior.
If you’re not seeing any redness and paw pads feel normal, take the extra precaution and head to the vet. It’s crucial to consult your veterinarian to ensure your pup hasn’t developed dermatitis, a skin condition that can stem from bacterial problems, allergies, or sensitivities to certain foods.
Reason #2: Skin Infections
The area between a dog’s toes is a breeding ground for bacteria. Not only is the damp environment ideal for brewing bacteria, the moisture from licking only fuels the potential for infection. Any minor itch or pain can lead to the desire to lick, which can quickly result in a skin infection if the behavior isn’t detected and resolved early enough.
Though a skin infection is usually a secondary cause to paw licking, it certainly won’t make the situation any easier. If your dog is excessively licking their paws, has severe redness or irritation, or has an odor coming from the paw, it’s time to visit your veterinarian.
Reason #3: Parasites & Fleas
Since itchy paws are the main cause behind your pup’s excessive paw licking, it’s only logical that parasites like fleas or mange may be the culprit. Parasites are known to cause extreme discomfort for our canine companions, often causing them to seek relief from their constant itching in the form of paw licking. Fleas are not opposed to any part of our dog’s body, meaning they can seek shelter between the toes of our pups. Because of this, a dog with fleas will often lick and chew at their paws in search of relief.
Visit your veterinarian to help diagnose the source of your pup’s paw licking. If it is indeed due to parasites, your vet can recommend treatments to eliminate the parasites and relieve the itching.
Reason #4: Grooming
If your dog is licking their paws, it may be their way of telling you they are ready for a trip to the groomer. Our dog’s nails grow quickly, meaning any lag in nail trims can result in some discomfort. If your dog’s nails become too overgrown, they can even begin to dig into their paw pad and cause severe pain.
Another grooming concern that can cause dogs to lick their paws are fluffy dogs that have a lot of feathering around their legs and paws. Extra fur can be uncomfortable when it is overgrown around the paws, as it can begin to impact their comfort when walking. If your dog’s nails are too long or you think your dog’s paws are becoming too fluffy, this may be the reason behind their paw licking.
Check the length of their nails and look for overgrown hair between their toes – or, even better, head to the vet and get their expert opinion.
Reason #4: Boredom, Anxiety & Other Behavioral Issues
If none of the above options seem to fit your pup, your dog may be licking their paws due to boredom or behavioral issues, like anxiety. Whether your dog is simply bored or experiencing anxiety, licking their paws can be their way of seeking relief. Think of paw licking in dogs like nail biting in humans – it may just be your dog’s way of coping with the separation anxiety he feels when you leave the house.
Your dog may be licking their paws due to behavioral issues if they are licking their paws in times of stress, licking their paws when they are settled down and relaxing, licking their paws when they are left alone or unattended, or if the habit has slowly progressed over time.
Compulsive paw licking due to stress or boredom is still a concerning behavior that should be addressed. Try alleviating boredom with more walks, puzzle toys proven to stimulate, or a Kong filled with his favorite treats (peanut butter works wonders) – whatever it takes to distract him from his paws. If the behavior doesn’t subside, it’s time to consult a good animal behaviorist to help your furry family member.
How To Stop Excessive Paw Licking
Now that you know the possible causes behind your dog’s need to lick their paws, it’s time to discuss the ways to limit this behavior. Here are some of the best, vet-recommended methods to reduce or eliminate paw licking:
Address the root cause behind your dog’s paw licking. This means checking for fleas, skin irritation or infection, regularly observing the length of his nails, and searching for any other possible discomfort on their paws. Of course, a visit to the vet is crucial.
Try to deter your dog from the behavior when possible. This includes distracting them with their favorite toy, offering them a mentally stimulating puzzle, or engaging them in any other activity to distract from the harmful behavior.
Address any possible causes of stress in your home and try to limit any major changes or stressful situations when possible.
Always seek veterinary attention for your dog’s issues – particularly if the issue does not seem to resolve or gets worse, if you notice any possible medical causes behind the behavior, or if you observe any other concerning symptoms along with the excessive paw licking.
Though paw licking may seem like a minor issue, it may be your dog’s way of telling you that something is wrong. Be sure to review the tips we’ve mentioned above, book a visit with your trusted vet, and you can get to the source of your dog’s paw licking in no time!
The medical, nutritional, or behavioral advice we provide is intended for informational and educational purposes only. Our editorial content is not a substitute for formal or personalized medical advice from a veterinary professional. Only board-certified veterinary specialists who have examined your pet should diagnose medical conditions, provide personalized treatment, or prescribe appropriate medication. For questions regarding your pet’s health, or if your pet is exhibiting signs of illness, injury, or distress, contact your veterinarian immediately. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on our site.