7 reasons why dogs lick their paws

Have you noticed that your dog is licking his paws regularly? Even though he’s not stumbling or doesn’t have any kind of injury he keeps doing that. There are many reasons why dogs constantly lick and gnaw on their paws. Most often, there is a medical explanation for it, but it can also be a simple habit. Even if it is just a habit, there will be some psychosocial cause behind it.

According to veterinarians, there can be at least seven serious reasons for such increased paw licking. Here are the main reasons why your dog might lick his paws.

1. Allergies

One of the most common reasons is allergy. It manifests itself as a congenital hypersensitivity to various factors of the external environment, in medical terminology, it is called atopy, which can also cause inflammation of the skin or atopic dermatitis. Most commonly it can be seen for young dogs, whose bodies are not adapted to the external environment and therefore developing a protective reaction even against supposedly harmless substances.

Allergens like pollen, hair from other animals, dust mites, mold, insect bites, food, etc., can have the same consequences as on humans.

Animals just like humans are exposed to allergens through skin, inhalation, or ingestion. Often atopy can be caused even by contact of the dog’s paws with the grass because pollen settles on it in the spring. The body responds by making more antibodies. As a result of biochemical reactions, the skin becomes inflamed and itchy. That is why dogs want to scratch their body and lick their paws. When the allergen is gone, allergic reactions are decreasing and in the end, disappear. 

However, in case of any allergies, you have to go to your veterinarian. There are many different medications that can help to reduce allergies and skin inflammation.

How to understand if it is an allergy?

Definitely consult with your veterinarian, they usually do skin and blood tests to identify what kind of allergies your dog has. It’s important to tell the doctor about your observations, that may help to figure out the real reason or to rule out other possibilities.

Keep in mind that if you have a puppy their allergies might change after some while because they usually have a weaker immune system. Although some dogs have allergies only after a few years when they get older.

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2. Infection

One of the most unpleasant things that people also experience is a fungal infection of the feet. Dermatologists call it the athlete’s foot because the most common infections occur in gyms, swimming pools, showers. Leg fungus is described as severe itching, redness, and cracks in the skin, especially between the toes.

Dogs can also be at risk of a fungal infection, especially if the body’s overall immunity is weak, as well as if there are micro-cracks in the paw pads due to minor injuries.

Fungi like to grow in wet and warm places. Since dog’s paws are not protected by shoes it is a mild target for such infections. Malassezia (also known as pityrosporum) is a skin fungus that is found in both – humans and animals. In humans, it can appear as seborrhoea – pronounced dandruff in areas of hair, also scaly skin. This type of fungus can also affect the dog’s ears, paws, other parts of the body, causing increased itching.

It must be said, that this yeast fungus is found everywhere in nature, and it penetrates the skin only when the immunity is weak.

 3. Irritation

Skin irritation can be caused by various external factors. Mostly in indoors dog paws can be endangered by household chemicals.

If your dog often licks his paws, think about what you use to wash your floors or rugs at your home. Think about the area where your dog sleeps. Is it near to some kind of home chemicals, paints, washing powders, bleaches, other chemicals that may have gotten on the floor?

When those kind of things get into contact with dog’s paws they will burn the skin, cause discomfort, and dog will start to lick the irritated area.

Initially, chemical inflammation may not be visible, especially if the dog’s paw pads are dark brown. Therefore, do not leave chemicals in places where they can be spilled or scattered, use cleaning substances that are less harmful or completely harmless to both humans and pets.

You should also think about paw protection in the winter. They often use chemicals on the sidewalks to melt the snow. Your dog may need special shoes, which can be purchased at the pet store.

4. Pain and Discomfort

When you see your dog limb and lick its paw the reason might not be just an external injury. Dogs often get injuries by running or jumping while they are playing.

When we humans accidentally hurt our fingers, we most often press it to our lips or blow air on the injured area to relieve the pain. At least moms tend to comfort their babies like that.

The dog also thinks that the pain will stop if he will lick his paws. Rhythmic tongue massage promotes blood flow to the injured area, but saliva cools it.

The pain is not always caused by a newly injured limb, the dog can also lick previously bruised or age-affected arthritis in the paws. Additionally, they can lick a place that is not directly affected by the disease or injury, because they can’t even access the “hot spot” with their tongue!

Changes in acute or chronic inflammation of the joints and connective tissue may be discovered by consulting a veterinarian.

Image by sianbuckler from Pixabay

5. Foreign Objects

Even if you can’t notice any changes in your dog when he walks, there is a chance that a “foreign object” is in his foot. It causes unpleasant feelings, so the dog bites and licks the injured paw.

It can be a splinter of a tree, horn of a plant, or, for example, a small seed, which has an aerodynamic effect – when it gets under the skin it moves further and migrates through the tissues, causing the pain.

Dog tries to eliminate the unpleasant feeling by biting the paw so he can get rid of the “foreign object”.

A superficial examination alone is not enough to determine whether a paw is really injured or there’s a small scratch that may not be visible. The veterinarian will be able to better determine if there is any “foreign object” in it by touching and evaluating the paw. If a migrating plant particle enters the skin, it must be removed in time so that it does not develop a much deeper inflammation and pus.

These kinds of long-term injuries in paws can also become a malignancy tumor over time. You should not try to pull out a “foreign object” yourself using a needle, as this can further injure your dog’s paw and allow the infection to spread.

6. Parasite Invasion

Various ectoparasites, including fleas, their larvae, and microscopic mites that live in the grass, can also be responsible for the dog’s constant biting and licking of his paws.

Areas, where the parasite bites the skin, will become itchy and painful. Dog tries to clean the skin by licking the area. Unfortunately, dogs will find it difficult to control the parasite infestation without human help.

However, you must keep in mind that there is no one-size-fits-all way to deal with the parasites. Each parasite species has its own means of control, so it is recommended to visit a veterinarian and find out what exactly is in the dog’s paws and how to get rid of it.

7. Just a Habit

The sucking reflex creates comfort for the babies even though they’re not getting food by doing so. When sucking on something or later sucking his thumb, the baby’s body produces endorphins – natural morphine, a hormone that makes you feel good.

Puppies also feel good when sucking breast milk, so over time, the dog may get used to licking various parts of his body, including the paws, in order to calm down and feel good.

Such effects are particularly noticeable in nervous, anxious, neglected, and emotionally unaccompanied dogs. They can lick their paws of boredom and insecurity.  It’s difficult to change such a habit if they have done it over a long period of time.

Therefore, do not let your dog get bored, communicate more with him. Take care of the dog more so he feels safe and loved. In any case, it will not help if you scold him for licking his paws or put some kind of substance on his paws to stop him. The dog’s olfactory system and taste receptors are much more sensitive than we humans have, so such punishment will make the dog even more nervous.

Image by sianbuckler from Pixabay

How to stop them from licking their paws?

Wearing gloves or wrapping the paws to prevent the dog from itching his hot spots will not help, over time the dog will tear the bandage off and he will be free to scratch again. Only in cases of extreme urgency, the veterinarian may advise wearing a special conus over the dog’s head, which is used in the post-operative phase, to restrict the dog’s head movements so that he cannot gain access to the injured/scratchy places.

Antihistamines designed to reduce hay fever and other symptoms during seasonal allergies will not help the dog. Only a veterinarian can prescribe the right medication to reduce the body’s adverse reactions:

  • The owner has to take care of the dog’s health every day. Dog’s paws have to be cleaned after every outdoor walk, also in summer, when the feet can be irritated by various allergens from plants. Rinse the paws regularly with clean water or use some grooming wipes to clean his paws, face, belly, and tail to remove pollen and plant juices from them;
  • If you see that the skin on the pads is dry, pink, and cracked, you have to protect them from infections entering the deeper layers of the skin. Wash their paws twice a day and spray them with chlorhexidine for disinfection, which can be bought at veterinary pharmacies. This will kill the bacteria and also protect the feet from the fungi;
  • For pets who have allergies, you should choose a diet that is free of allergens. When excluding products from the dog’s daily meal that could cause allergies can decrease paw licking. On the other hand, if allergic reactions are observed only in summer, you should start taking medicine that reduces the symptoms of allergies in early spring;
  • If your dog is always nervous and anxious you should take care of his psychosocial comfort. Do not leave him alone for a long time, especially if the specific breed of dog is characterized by separation anxiety;
  • You can also use CBD oils to help your dog with his anxieties, READ HERE.

Remember that only a veterinarian can determine what exactly causes the increased licking of the paws. If a dog does this often and for a long time, then he needs help. Don’t wait for him to stop, help him. Only more health problems and unnecessary costs for their rehabilitation are likely to occur.