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Why Do Dogs Lick Their Paws? 5 Signs There’s an Underlying Problem

Have you been trying to figure out why your dog licks at his paws constantly? We list 5 reasons that might explain your pup's unusual behavior.

Dogs always manage to fascinate us with their unusual tendencies. From wagging tails to spontaneous barking sessions to howling when left behind, it’s not easy to understand the causes. Paw licking is one such mannerism that dogs take to as part of self-grooming.

Even dogs that don’t engage in a lot of grooming lick paws occasionally to clean them.  However, when your canine friend licks their paws aggressively and incessantly, it’s a tell-tale sign of an underlying problem. The next part of the article explains some of these reasons:

  1. Injury

A common reason for aggressive and frequent paw licking is pain. Your dog may have an injury such as a torn nail, cut, thorn, growth, or ice ball stuck between pads causing pain. Examine the nails, pads, toes, and the top of the feet to identify the cause of the pain.

The dog may have stepped on a sharp object, developed a blister, or walked in salted or hot sidewalks. If you can’t identify the problem, visit the vet. Sometimes your canine friend may have an underlying condition. Fractures and some types of inflammation may be difficult to diagnose at home.

  1. Allergies

Chronic paw licking is often attributed to food allergies, and they can be a result of just about anything. It can be chemicals sprayed on your lawn, food, grass, medicine, weeds, carpet-cleaning products, to mention a few.

For example, your dog may lick paws after taking a stroll in the yard. It shows he may be allergic to the pesticides in the lawn grass or a particular weed. If so, you must clean his feet after a walk to prevent irritation.

Sometimes, your dog may be allergic to particular foods. The most common ingredients known to cause allergic reactions in dogs include:

  • Pork
  • Wheat
  • Chicken
  • Soy
  • Beef
  • Artificial additives

If your dog licks paws after a meal, have your vet perform a food allergy test to determine the ingredients causing allergies. The vet may recommend an all-natural diet instead of commercial foods.

  1. Gastrointestinal problems

Paw licking may also be a result of gastrointestinal problems. A study published by the Journal of Veterinary Behavior found unusual paw licking, a sign of gastrointestinal problems in dogs.

The researchers studied the dogs’ medical and behavioral histories, conducted thorough physical and neurological examinations, and performed abdominal ultrasounds. The research showed that 14 out of the 19 dogs examined had GI problems like chronic pancreatitis, lymphocytic-plasmacytic, and gastric foreign bodies.

  1. Dry skin

Dogs develop dry skin due to a variety of conditions, including:

  • Breed-specific condition: Dog breeds like the American Hairless Terrier, Chinese Crested, and the Xoloitzcuintli have furless skin. As such, they’re prone to skin conditions like excessive dry skin, which can lead to paw licking
  • Harsh weather conditions: It is common for dogs living in dry and cold climates to develop dry skin. Dry paw pads are itchy, and dogs lick them for relieve. If it’s the case, ask your veterinarian to recommend oil or lotion that can relieve the dryness
  • Paw pad hyperkeratosis: This skin condition causes a dog’s body to develop thick skin on the paws. It’s evident during the first few years of their life and may fade as the dog matures. If the excess skin doesnt it causes the paw pads to grow thick and dry, leading to excessive itching.
  • Bathing habits: If your dog’s dry skin condition isn’t a result of either of the reasons highlighted above, you may be using harsh soaps when bathing him. Excessive bathing also leads to dry skin and cause excessive paw licking.
  1. Behavioral problems

If you’ve ruled out all the health concerns, it’s likely your dog is licking paws due to behavioral issues like fear, anxiety, or stress. Modern times have created a dull environment for dogs whose natural instinct is to hunt and run.

Today dogs are confined to small apartments, yards, and crates for long hours. High-energy dogs can get frustrated and engage in destructive activities, including excessive paw licking. You can prevent the behavior by engaging your dog in exciting activities like:

  • Taking them for a walk
  • Giving them a treat-filled toy to keep them occupied
  • Playing fetch at the park for 30 minutes every day
  • Allowing your pup or dog to socialize with people and other dogs

Anxiety is another reason your pup licks paws compulsively. Possible causes of anxiety vary and range from compulsive disorders to separation issues. In this case, the dog licks paws to soothe themselves.

How to stop your dog from licking paws

You can stop your dog from licking paws by distracting them with toys and using an Elizabethan collar. A physical restraint also comes in handy particularly if your dog is over-grooming. The restraint keeps their mind off the compulsions and helps them develop a new behavior.

Creating a stress-free environment is also important if your dog is anxious. This means maintaining silence, using low lighting and using slow movements in the house. Also, you must be patient, consistent and invest time in training your dog to stop the behavior.

If the dog has an underlying issue, the vet will administer treatment. However, if their licking tendencies are a result of behavioral reasons, incorporate pet-safe products like a bitter-tasting topical product to discourage licking. The vet may also administer behavior modification drugs like Clomipramine and Flouxetine if the natural remedies aren’t effective.

If all such efforts aren’t effective, it may be time to enlist the help of an animal behaviorist, trainer, or veterinary specialist.

Quality of life is important to pets just as it is to humans. Occasional paw licking is healthy but can be a problem when your canine friend is incessant and compulsive. If your dog is licking paws excessively, discuss these signs with your vet to determine the cause before using any of these remedies.

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