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Why Do Dogs Lick Their Paws? – What to Look for and When to Be Concerned

dog paws

There are plenty of reasons why dogs lick their own paws. In some cases, the dog is simply licking his or her paws as part of their grooming routine and it is nothing to be concerned with. On the other hand, excessive licking can be a sign of a serious mental or physical health condition. It could be anything, from a food allergy to dry skin to itchy paws, and excessive licking could lead to long-term skin irritation.

As a pet owner, if you are unsure whether or not your dog’s paw licking is normal, we can help! To make things easy, we are going to explain some of the main causes of paw licking. This will help you determine if your dog’s behavior is normal, or if it is something that should be brought to the attention of a veterinarian!

close up of white dog with black nose

Non-Serious Causes of Paw Licking

Before we get into the more serious reasons why dogs lick their paws, we are going to explain situations where you should not be alarmed by the behavior.

If your dog only licks his or her paws occasionally and for short durations, it is probably just a part of the dog’s self-grooming routine. Some dogs will lick their paws briefly after they have been given a bath, after they have been outside, or before they settle down to sleep. This is simply because they like to clean their paws.

While dogs are nowhere near as meticulous about their hygiene as cats, most will still perform some form of self-grooming. If the dog simply licks his or her toes for a few seconds and does not favor one foot over the others, there is a really good chance it is just a grooming habit.

What to Do?

In these situations, you may want to inspect the paws for any sort of injury or abnormality. If everything seems okay, just keep an eye on the behavior to ensure that it does not become obsessive.

You may also try wiping off your dog’s paws with a washcloth when they come inside or putting doggie shoes or socks on them before they go outside. If your dog is sensitive, these methods can prevent outdoor allergens from being in contact with their feet for too long. You can also try dog-friendly foot balms to soothe dry paws.

Health-Related Causes of Paw Licking

tired shepherd dog lying on floor

If your dog is licking at their paws aggressively for long stretches of time, or they seem to only lick one specific paw, it could be a sign of a number of potential health issues. The following are some of the most common causes of this type of behavior:

Physical Injury

If the licking is focused on one paw and has only developed recently, it could be a sign of an injury, such as a cut, burn, trapped foreign object, or damaged nail. Your dog could have injured their paw by stepping on something sharp, walking on a salted sidewalk, or by tearing a nail.

If you suspect this is the case, you should visually inspect the paw. Be gentle, as the dog could be in significant pain. If you cannot locate any sort of injury, but they recoil when you touch the paw, you should contact a veterinarian. It is possible that the dog could be suffering from a more internal injury, like a broken or fractured bone.

Dermatitis and Other Skin Issues

Dogs will also lick at their paws when they are suffering from excessively dry and itchy skin. There are a number of causes of dermatitis, so it is sometimes difficult to determine what caused your dog’s paws to become so itchy and irritated.

Consider the fact that our dogs navigate the world without any sort of protection on their feet. While we wear shoes, the pads on their paws are the only barrier they have between them and the world. Your dog could be experiencing some sort of reaction to a chemical fertilizer on the grass, a mild allergic reaction to something their feet touched, or even some sort of bacterial infection between their toes.

Again, look for abnormal and aggressive levels of licking. If your dog seems to lick at their toes relentlessly, there is a good chance they are experiencing some sort of irritation as a result of a skin issue. Try to clean the feet with warm water and a mild dog shampoo. Keep an eye out for developments and if the situation does not improve, you should contact a veterinarian.

Food Allergies

Not only can an environmental allergy cause a dog to lick at their toes, many food allergies are known to trigger itchy paws, ears, and skin. These types of allergies can be difficult to pin-point, especially when the dog eats different types of food.

Poultry is a common allergen for dogs, so you should check the ingredient list on the dog food you buy for chicken, duck, and turkey meat and by-products. While you are in the process of determining whether or not your dog is experiencing a food allergy, you should also avoid giving your pooch any human food. Try switching their food to a dog food that uses salmon, beef, or lamb as the primary protein source.

If you still find there is no improvement in the dog’s behavior, you can contact your veterinarian about trying out a special diet that could help alleviate the dog’s food-related allergies.

Behavioral Issues

If you and a veterinarian have ruled out any sort of physical cause of the paw licking, it is possible that your dog could be suffering from some sort of mental health issue, such as anxiety, chronic boredom, or even depression.

While these issues are difficult to diagnose, compulsive behaviors are common in dogs that suffer from mental health issues. If you feel you have been neglecting your pooch lately, try taking him or her for more frequent and lengthier walks. Playtime and games are also important for helping dogs get over their boredom and depression.

While separation anxiety and boredom are serious concerns for dogs, some mental health issues are more difficult to identify. Fear can be a major trigger for anxiety in dogs. In these cases, calming treats can help with their anxiety, as can certain dog-specific prescription medicines that your vet can speak with you about.

For more information about behavioral causes of paw licking, consider reading our Guide to Understanding Dog Anxiety.

Final Words

While it may seem harmless, excessive paw licking can actually result in infections, hot spots, and other fairly serious health complications. This is why it is so important to identify the root cause of the behavior.

You can try using a bitter-tasting spray to discourage the licking, but it is better to solve the problem than temporarily prevent it from occurring.

If you suspect a serious mental or physical health issue could be causing your dog to lick his or her paws, we encourage you to reach out to one of our Hello Ralphie online veterinarians. Our virtual vets would be happy to set up an appointment and help you come up with a solution for your furry friend’s excessive paw licking!

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