Why is My Dog Licking His Paws?

Behavior & training
Dog Licking Paw

A dog's tongue is a mighty multi-tool! They use it to taste their food, lap up water, explore their world, and, of course, give slobbery kisses. They also use their tongue to lick their paws. For most dogs it’s an occasional lick in to keep clean, but for others licking their paws can become a near obsession. If your dog seems to be licking their paws more than usual, it’s important to find out why, as some causes can be more serious than you think.

Some of the Reasons Why Dogs Lick Paws

A dog licking his paws can be due to a variety of causes, some more obvious than others. Just like us, they use their paws to navigate the world, and these hardworking appendages can pick up all sorts of things throughout the day. This natural grooming behavior can escalate into something more, leaving you wondering if it's time for a visit to the vet.

Injuries or Pain

A dog’s paws get into a lot of things during the course of a day, so it’s no wonder that an injury could be a cause for licking. A dog’s broken nail, a cut, puncture wound, or foreign object like a splinter or grass seed can all lead to lots of paw licking.

Bee stings and ant bites on dog’s feet can also be causes of pain and irritation that can lead to licking, as well as blisters or abrasions from walking on rough surfaces or burns from walking on hot pavement. Finally, pain from arthritis in their toe or ankle joints may also draw their tongue to a dog’s feet. If your dog seems focused on one paw, or they're limping, it's important to check for injuries.

Skin Problems and Allergies

A dog’s paws are covered in skin and hair, just like the rest of their body, both of which are subject dermatitis. Dermatitis is an inflammation of the skin that is typically triggered by allergies. It can be incredibly itchy, causing a dog to lick or chew their paws excessively. This may in turn lead to an infection of the skin that can further cause a pup to lick and nibble their feet.

External Parasites

You’re probably familiar with fleas and ticks and the ability for an infestation of these nasties to cause an itch. While the itch is typically centralized at a dog’s rump, it can cause itchiness all over their body. Other external parasites that can be a problem are mange. These bugs like to live a little deeper in the skin but can cause the same kind of itch that makes a dog like their paws.

Boredom and Anxiety

Another major reason for the question "why do dogs lick their paws?" is behavioral. Dogs are terrific companions; they’re there when we need them. But beyond companionship, dogs have inherent needs for mental stimulation and a job to do. This can prevent boredom and even anxiety. Both of these issues can cause a dog to turn to self-soothing or self-destructive behaviors such as licking their paws excessively.

How to Identify the Cause of Paw Licking in Dogs

Again, the occasional lick to remove water or dirt from a dog’s paws is completely normal. What you don’t want to see is licking that becomes obsessive. If that’s the case, it’s time to find the cause behind it.

Start by getting a close look at your dog’s paws. This can be difficult as some dogs don’t like having their feet touched, especially if they’re sore or irritated. Enlist the help of another if you need to. Just get your eyes and hands on their paws to check for an injury, swelling, redness, or anything else abnormal.

If that doesn’t give you a clue behind why your dog keeps licking their paws, then start observing their other behaviors. Do they seem to lick the paw all the time or only when left alone? Are they limping or showing itchiness in other areas? Do you notice anything else off, such as a decreased appetite or fever?

As you’re quietly observing your pup and their paw-licking propensity, contact your veterinarian. If the licking continues or you notice other signs, it’s time to get an appointment.

Dog Licking Back Paw

Treatment and Prevention of Excessive Paw Licking in Dogs

Your vet will likely get to the bottom of your dog’s paw licking by doing a thorough exam on their feet and the rest of their skin. They may take some skin scrapings to check for mange or an infection or run some blood work to rule out other underlying diseases. Allergy testing may be a possibility as well and can be done on blood or the skin.

Treatment for Injuries or Skin Conditions

Treatment will start by addressing any injuries or infections. This may require antibiotics, cleaning and wrapping the paws or applying topical medications. It may also require anti-inflammatories or supplements to help with itchy skin or arthritis. If your dog regularly exercises on rough surfaces or in prickly vegetation, dog booties or paw protectants may be needed to keep this issue from happening again.

Managing Allergies

Managing allergies can be a little more challenging. With any luck, the allergy testing will reveal something that you can easily eliminate from your dog’s environment by simply changing their food or pulling a plant from your yard. If you’re not that lucky, your dog may need special diets, antihistamines, anti-inflammatories or allergy desensitization shots to get some relief.

Treating and Preventing Parasites

Fleas, ticks, and mange can often be treated, and even prevented, by using a parasiticide medication year-round. Regularly grooming your dog is another great way to prevent unwanted bugs from seeking refuge on your dog as you’re more likely to spot them before they become a full-blown infestation.

Handling Anxiety and Boredom

You may need to address your dog’s mental health needs. Remember that dogs thrive when they have a job to do, and some may not do well when left alone. With this in mind, make sure that your dog gets adequate exercise and stimulate their mind through play and activities when you’re away. Interactive toys can be a great way to achieve this, otherwise getting a dog walker or someone to check in on your dog regularly may help.

If you have an anxious pup on your hands, you may help calm their nerves by sticking to a schedule. Feed and walk them at the same times every day. Provide them with a safe space that is all their own so that they can retreat there if they become overly nervous. Make gradual adjustments if something needs to change so that your dog can get used to it. For example, if you’re expecting a baby, allow your dog to get used to the new furniture, clothes, and schedule before the baby comes. Most importantly, make one-on-one time for your dog every day to reconnect with them and help reassure them that everything will be okay.

Sometimes a dog’s anxiety can be more than what you can deal with at home. If this is the case, seek veterinary help as medications or professional training may be needed.

Keeping Your Pup’s Paws Healthy with Pet Insurance

Dog insurance can be a valuable tool for responsible pet owners. Just like you wouldn't want to face a medical emergency unprepared, unexpected vet bills can cause a significant financial strain. Medical insurance for pets helps you manage the cost of veterinary care for accidents, illnesses, and conditions. This allows you to focus on your dog's health and well-being without worrying about the financial burden.

When considering dog insurance, it's important to understand what's typically covered. Most plans exclude pre-existing conditions, which are medical issues your dog had before the policy began. This is why it's important to get enrolled early, before paw licking becomes a problem.

Consider adding an optional wellness plan to your dog insurance. These plans help budget for preventative care costs such as annual checkups, vaccinations, and spaying or neutering. They may also cover grooming costs to keep those nails healthy, a prescription dog food for allergies, parasite preventatives, and behavioral training for anxiety.

Helping your Dog with Excessive Paw Licking

Paws are the foundation of a dog's adventures, big and small. Understanding why your dog licks their paws is like deciphering a secret language, a way to ensure their continued comfort and joy. By working with your veterinarian, you can address any underlying issues and keep those happy paws clicking along on life's exciting path. Remember, a healthy lick here and there is simply good hygiene, but persistent licking might be a silent plea for help. By deciphering the silent language of their licks, you can ensure your precious pup has happy, healthy paws that carry them through life's many joyful moments.