Why Won’t My Dog Stop Licking Its Paws?
Veterinarian Reviewed by Dr. Janice Huntingford, DVM on January 10, 2019
Posted in Behavior Management
Dogs lick just about anything—furniture, humans, toys and even their own bodies. It’s not uncommon to see your dog licking its paws, whether for cleaning, self-soothing or to scratch an itch. But if your dog suddenly starts obsessively licking its paws to the point of causing hair loss or skin problems, you’ll want to take action immediately.
If you notice your dog licking or biting at its paws over and over, here are some ways to identify and mitigate the problem.
Reasons your dog might be licking
There are a number of reasons your dog might not be able to leave its paws alone. Most of these problems are rooted in a health or skin issue, but some might stem from a psychological problem, too.
- Injury: If your dog’s obsessive licking is focused on one paw, in particular, it might be in pain from an injury. Puncture wounds, burns, scrapes or underlying injuries near the paw area can cause pain your dog may try to soothe by licking. Watch to see if your dog is also limping or walking strangely, as these are more clues of a paw injury.
- Dry skin: Dry skin is a frequent cause of obsessive licking in dogs and is quite common in the winter months when the air gets very dry. Dry skin can also occur because of too-frequent bathing. When paws get dry, they can feel very itchy and may even crack or bleed. It’s important to stop your dog from licking dry paws to prevent additional problems.
- Infection: Bacterial, yeast or fungal infections can sometimes occur between the toes of your dog’s paws. Infections may cause redness, inflammation and a strong odor on the paws. They can also affect just one or multiple feet at a time.
- Allergies: Allergic reactions to food or substances can cause itchiness, inflammation and bumps on the feet, leading your dog to obsessively lick to soothe the itch. If you notice that your dog usually starts licking a lot after taking a walk, the grass, pollen or other allergens might be causing atopic dermatitis. A vet will be able to diagnose allergies in your pet and find solutions to prevent itchiness and reactions.
- Irritants: Other environmental irritants, like de-icers or pesticides, can cause chemical burns or inflammation on the paw pads. Pay attention to your surroundings while on walks to try and identify what substances your dog may have had contact with in order to identify the problem.
- Behavioral problem: Stress and boredom can also be triggers for obsessive licking in dogs without any physical ailment present. If your dog is cooped up in the house without any exercise, or is put in a stressful situation, it may lick to self-soothe or groom and get stuck in a cycle of licking or chewing.
- Tumor or cyst: Sometimes, abscesses or small tumors can grow in between the toes or on the feet, making your dog go nuts and lick constantly. Examine the feet for bumps or growths and see a vet as soon as possible if you find one, as these will need to be surgically removed.
- Foreign objects: In some cases, dogs can get objects lodged between their toes that cause irritation and itching. Thus, your dog may lick constantly to try to get the object out. The problem may be grass, a stone, bark or other small environmental objects. Examine between the toes and wipe the object away if possible.
Tips for treating paw licking
When you notice your dog licking its paws incessantly, the first thing you should do is carefully examine them. Note any symptoms present, such as inflammation, redness, odor, hair loss and hot spots. If you can’t determine what is causing the licking, you should visit a vet and have tests run. Some problems will be invisible without thorough testing.
Treatments for paw licking will largely be determined on what the root of the licking is. If the problem is merely dry skin, a topical ointment may be enough to soothe the itchiness. If the problem is a fungal infection or injury, your vet may prescribe a medication to heal the paw.
If you discover that the licking starts after taking a walk, your dog has probably come in contact with an irritant or allergen. Try having your dog wear booties while on walks to protect its paws or wipe your dog’s paws off immediately after completing the walk to minimize the time the irritant sits on the skin.
Behavioral problems will need to be addressed in a different manner. Usually, boredom can be rectified through additional exercise and mental stimulation from the owners, while stress and anxiety may require calming supplements or medication.
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Janice Huntingford, DVM, has been in veterinary practice for over 30 years and has founded two veterinary clinics since receiving her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine at the Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph. She has studied extensively in both conventional and holistic modalities. Ask Dr. Jan