Dogs sometimes exhibit unusual, albeit adorable, behaviors that might actually raise some important questions about your dog’s overall health and demeanor. Something as innocuous as licking their own paws might be indicative of a worrisome skin complaint or a strange psychological tick. As a result, even the simple question of “why does my dog lick his paws?” might prompt you to make some changes in terms of your pet’s daily life.
Why does my dog lick his paws?
There can be several reasons why your dog is licking their paws. The simplest of these is that they are dirty and licking them clean is just part of their personal grooming habits. They might have walked through a patch of dirt or, if they are like my dog, they have a particular aversion to dirty paws.
If they are licking excessively or chewing their paws in a way that seems harmful or painful, then the reasons for this behavior might be more than just skin deep. Anxiety, boredom, injuries, skin complaints, parasites, or allergies, are all possibilities. In those cases, definitely take your dog to see a vet.
Is my dog injured?
If your dog starts to focus on one paw, in particular, the licking could be a sign of an injury. Take a moment to examine the paws from top to bottom. Examine the nails, the toe pads, and between the toes for any signs of injury. Observe if they are walking irregularly or if they are favoring one of their paws. It could be something as tiny as a cut or a pebble, but it might just be a thorn, a torn nail, or a physical growth or blister.
Your dog might have stepped on something sharp when you took them for a walk. They might have burnt it on hot cement or salted sidewalks. If it is an injury, many of the problems can be solved by simple first aid at home. If it’s more serious, say if touching it causes your dog pain or if it is beyond your skill to heal, please call the veterinarian.
Could excessive paw licking be due to a parasite?
Parasitic infections can also be a common reason for excessive licking. Fleas and mange are common pup complaints and can cause paws to become very itchy. If a tiny flea hops during your examination, or you find eggs or a rash between their toes, you may have your culprit. Fear not though, there are a number of over-the-counter and prescription treatments designed to combat and eliminate these parasites. With them gone, the itch should be gone too.
Is it a skin complaint?
If your examination of the paw pads and feet don’t indicate an injury, the issue might be with the skin itself. Dogs can get dermatitis, just like humans, and these skin complaints can be the result of bacterial problems, allergies, or even food sensitivities. Dog skin allergies can be caused by chemicals used in your yard or certain types of plants. Your vet may have to run some tests to determine what is causing the rash.
Is it a food allergy?
Food allergies among dogs are almost as common as they are in human beings these days. Unfortunately, when it comes to dogs, the causes of these allergies are a bit harder to pinpoint. Elimination or specialized diets are usually suggested to find out if some type or brand of dog food might be triggering your pup’s autoimmune response. It shouldn’t take too long to figure out what’s causing the issue and once you find the cause, eliminating it entirely should alleviate the itch.
Is it something behavioral or psychological?
If every other biological complaint has been eliminated as a possibility, your vet might suggest that your dog is suffering from some sort of behavioral issue. Boredom and anxiety are common reasons for excessive paw licking and other compulsive behaviors, but diagnosing either is difficult, to say the least. After all, it’s not as if your dog can speak to their therapist about what’s bothering them.
Boredom can be easily alleviated by taking the dog for more walks, runs, or engaging in more play behavior. These activities will help the dog to use up more mental and physical energy. Even something as simple as a puzzle toy might help take the attention off your dog’s paws and keep them focused on another task.
Anxiety is a little more difficult, especially if your dog has separation anxiety. If you work out of the home and have no one around for your dog to interact with, separation anxiety could be the issue. Animal behavioral experts could help you find solutions to this, however, so don’t despair.
Is it an underlying health problem?
Underlying conditions and deep, secondary infections should not be eliminated as possibilities in all this either. You may need to rely on your veterinarian's expertise in these serious cases. It’s important that these problems be dealt with as quickly as possible to prevent more harm to your dog. Moisture from constant licking can exacerbate a bacterial or yeast infection and make it harder to treat.