Most of us have seen it, the moment our dogs get in the house from an outdoor excursion, they lick their paws. It’s something they do often. Have you ever wondered why some dogs seem obsessed with this behavior? Is it something that you should be concerned about? The answer is yes and no, depending on the reason for the behavior. There are six common reasons for paw licking in dogs. Here is everything you need to know about it, and tips about when you should be concerned.
Is paw licking normal behavior for dogs?
According to The American Kennel Club, most dogs lick their paws. It’s normal when your pet does it occasionally. It’s the only way they can keep their paws clean, similar to humans washing their hands. Some dogs have a habit of licking their paws to remove grit from dirt and sand which can feel uncomfortable when they walk. This is normal behavior, but when a dog starts to obsessively or aggressively lick his paws, it could be a sign that something is wrong.
Licking an injury
When a dog frequently licks one paw or more, it could indicate that there is an injury present, and he’s doing what nature instructs him to do by cleansing the area with his tongue. It’s wise to check the paw or paws that the dog is paying the most attention to and inspect them for signs of injury or infection. Look at the pads of his paws, his dewclaws, in between his pads, toes, and at the toenails. We suggest that you take great care to avoid getting bitten by the dog. Even the friendliest and most even-tempered dogs can bite if you touch a sensitive area and cause pain. It’s an automatic response, so be prepared and take precautions. Handle his paw carefully and inspect it for signs of blood, pus, or an embedded object such as a thorn or a piece of glass. Other injuries may be from walking on sharp rocks, burns from hot sidewalks, or chemical burns from salt, bee stings, or blisters. Cheatgrass is notorious for going in between the toes and working its way out through the top of the feet. It’s sharp and travels upwards through the flesh for days. It’s painful and causes infection. If you see any signs of damage, including redness, bleeding, swelling, or infection, you can treat minor wounds at home, disinfect the area and keep an eye on it. Some embedded objects are easy to remove but others may require medical attention. If there is an extreme infection, it’s best to have your dog checked out by his animal healthcare provider. He may require antibiotics to speed the healing.
Fourpaws points out that dry and itchy skin is another reason a dog obsessively licks his paws. Your dog may be allergic to something in the environment including dust, weeds, grasses, and more. Food allergies are a common cause. You may need to change his diet. Dry and itchy paws are likely caused by allergic dermatitis. He may lick his paws to scratch the itch. If the licking happens at the same time he has a runny nose, sneezing, or swollen eyes it’s time to investigate possible allergens and remove him from the offending substances. If the symptoms persist, it’s time to consult with your veterinarian.
Anxiety or boredom
Insider explains that some dogs self-soothe by licking their paws. When dogs become bored or anxious, they turn to behaviors that make them feel better or more secure. Your dog may be suffering from separation anxiety if there have been changes in the home and someone is gone for long periods. Some dogs develop fears and phobias that lead to paw licking. Like people, some dogs develop compulsive disorders. If there have been any recent changes in your dog’s life, he may be acting out with obsessive paw licking. Try to comfort and reassure your pet. If you can’t figure out a reason for the increased paw licking behavior, it’s time to schedule an appointment with the vet to rule out any physical issues.
Dogs with flea or mite infestations may lick their paws to soothe the pain or itch of flea bites. Check your dog for signs of flea infestations. You can usually see them crawling on exposed skin on a dog. Check for a black powdery substance called flea dust. Your vet can recommend effective flea control treatments, and you can help prevent infestations by keeping your pet away from strays or other dogs not living in the home.
Obsessive paw licking can also be from pain in the foot. When a dog feels pain, the natural response is to lick the area. If there are no signs of injury, your pet may have a joint condition such as arthritis, cysts, or other types of growths on the paws. The pain doesn’t need to be central to his paws. Licking is a self-soothing behavior that may indicate the need to take your pet in for a thorough examination to rule out pain as a cause of the behavior.
Fungal or bacterial infections
Petco advises that a fungal or bacterial infection on the paws can cause a dog to lick obsessively. You may see evidence of these conditions on his paws. Sometimes, in the early stages of infection, there are sometimes few symptoms until it progresses into a full-blown nasty and painful problem. When in doubt, consult your pet’s healthcare provider.
There are many reasons a dog licks its paws. The most common is for hygienic purposes as a form of self-grooming. Occasional paw licking is normal behavior in dogs. When paw licking becomes intense or aggressive, it’s time to take a look and respond appropriately to help relieve your pet’s distress.