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[UPDATED NOVEMBER 2021]
Lately, it seems like every morning my Golden Retriever Ellie will go at her paws like crazy! I usually wake up to the sound of her licking. Have you ever noticed your dog doing this? Why do dogs lick paws?
All dogs will lick their paws at some point throughout the day, it’s normal behaviour and they are grooming themselves. However, when it comes to excessive licking and sometimes chewing at their paws it’s usually a good indication that something is wrong.
A normal healthy dog should not treat their paws like a chew toy or lollipop. Excessive paw licking is usually brought on by allergies, or behavioural issues.
Too much paw licking will usually cause your dog’s fur to stain pink or rust colour. The saliva staining is especially noticeable on light-coloured dogs. As is the case with Ellie, the fur in between her toes is stained pink.
Paw licking is something that you will want to address right away before it gets out of hand.
All of that moisture from licking can cause a secondary bacterial or yeast infection, especially when it gets trapped in between your dog’s toes, making it a breeding ground for bacteria.
Once the infection starts, it becomes a vicious cycle. Your dog will lick even more and cause more bacteria to form, and the healing process will never start.
How Much Paw Licking Is Considered Normal?
On occasion, your dog will likely lick his paws as a way of grooming himself. If your dog has just come inside after going for a walk he may decide to lick his paws to clean them. Licking here and there for just a brief moment is completely normal.
Dogs will lick their paws if they have suffered a cut or scrape on their paw, and licking is a way for them to clean and try to heal the wound. Again, this is understandable and normal behaviour.
If your dog is suddenly licking his paws and chewing at them for a long time, then there is a cause for concern. Paw licking that lasts for a while and seems to happen daily is not normal and should be addressed.
Why Do Dogs Lick Paws?
Aside from the normal grooming behaviour, here are the reasons why your dog may be licking and chewing his paws like crazy:
- Pain or Injury
- Food Allergies
- Environmental Allergies
- Fleas & Ticks
- Dry Skin
- Anxiety or Compulsive Behaviour
1. Pain or Injury
If paw licking is brought on suddenly and your dog is focused on licking just one paw, it could be due to pain or injury. You’ll first want to thoroughly examine your dog’s paw for any signs of trauma.
Your dog could have suffered a cut or scrape from stepping on something sharp, or there could be something stuck in between the paw pads, such as a rock, piece of glass, or thorn.
Bug bites, bee stings or blisters that are on your dog’s paw also cause irritation to your dog, resulting in excessive paw licking.
The pain that is brought on by arthritis or other leg and foot conditions could cause your dog to lick his paw continuously in order to try to find relief. Even if the pain is elsewhere in the body, some dogs lick their paws as a way to deal with it.
2. Food Allergies
Food allergies are very hard to pinpoint and can be frustrating for your dog as well as yourself. Paw licking can be a sign of your dog having a food sensitivity to something he ate.
The most common foods that dogs are allergic/sensitive to are beef, chicken, dairy, and wheat. If you recently introduced a new food to your dog and he is reacting by licking his paws, it’s a good indication that he is allergic to an ingredient.
3. Environmental Allergies
Believe it or not, dogs can be allergic to grass! Grass, lawn chemicals, and pesticides can all be the reason why your dog is licking his paws.
Household cleaners including laundry detergents, floor cleaners, etc., could all cause irritation, resulting in excessive paw licking.
Dust and mould are also problematic to dogs.
4. Fleas & Ticks
Fleas and ticks can cause your dog to lick his paws excessively, this is especially true if your dog is allergic to fleas. A condition called flea allergy dermatitis (FAD) happens when your dog’s immune system overreacts to flea saliva. The allergic reaction causes irritation in your dog’s skin and makes it extremely itchy. Your dog will scratch and lick to try and soothe the itch.
5. Dry Skin
We all suffer from dry skin every now and then, and so do dogs. Dry skin usually happens when the seasons change, especially in winter. Dry skin can also be caused by excessive bathing, poor nutrition and allergies.
Dry skin is usually itchy and irritated and your dog will resort to licking his paws to get relief.
Dogs who are bored and unstimulated are left to find other ways to keep themselves occupied and entertained. Usually, this results in dogs developing bad behaviours, including excessive licking and chewing of the paws.
7. Anxiety or Compulsive Behaviour
Paw licking could be a sign that your dog is feeling anxious. Just like humans who chew their nails when they are nervous or stressed, dogs will lick their paws in order to find comfort and relief when they are anxious.
Paw licking that started out as a way for your dog to find soothing relief during stressful times could also develop into a form of compulsive behaviour. I’m sure you’re familiar with OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder) in humans, well dogs can have it too. It’s just called CCD (canine compulsive disorder). Find out more about CCD in this article from wagwalking.com.
How To Stop All That Excessive Paw Licking
In order to stop your dog from licking his paws continuously, you will first need to determine the root cause of the licking.
The following are solutions to the 7 reasons why dogs lick paws, that were mentioned above.
Pain or Injury: Solution
Obviously, the first thing to do is thoroughly examine your dog’s paw. There may be a foreign object stuck between the paw pads, or your dog could have a cut or been stung by a bee. Remove the object or treat the bug bite at home if you can, but if it is something more serious you will need to consult your vet.
Food Allergies: Solution
Allergies are very hard to pinpoint, trust me I know! When it comes to food, it is best to feed a high-quality diet that is as natural as possible. My suggestion is to feed a raw diet.
Many dogs are allergic to artificial ingredients found in commercial dog food and treats, as well as wheat and soy. When you feed a raw diet, you are feeding food that is 100% natural and healthy for your dog, without any additives or preservatives.
My Golden Retriever suffered from food sensitivities, especially to chicken and beef. After going through several different brands of kibble, we finally tried a raw diet, and all of her issues improved and she is thriving!
Many vets will offer to do an allergy test on your dog, but in my opinion, these tests are pretty expensive and the results are pretty inaccurate.
The best way to pinpoint the allergy is by doing an elimination diet. It is a hard process with a lot of trial and error, but once you are successful with it, your dog’s itching and paw licking will subside, and you won’t have to resort to expensive medications that are also potentially harmful.
Environmental Allergies: Solution
The start of spring and early summer is when my Ellie licks her paws like mad! It is because of the lawn chemicals, pollen, weeds, and the grass itself.
In my case, it lasts for just a couple of weeks, but during those weeks it seems like forever!
My suggestion is to wipe your dog’s paws with a cleaning wipe after your walk.
You can also soak your dog’s paws in a mixture of water and apple cider vinegar for a few minutes. If this seems like a hard task (most dogs don’t like being bathed, let alone having a foot bath!), then you can dip a washcloth in the mixture and wipe your dog’s paws that way. (Warning: don’t use apple cider vinegar if your dog has an open wound as it could sting!)
Here is a short video from Dr. Karen Becker explaining how you can do a foot soak for your dog. She recommends adding an antiseptic solution to the water such as Betadine.
You could also try putting boots on your dog for walks. Here are my number 1 recommended dog boots.
If your dog reacts to any household cleaners, or laundry detergents used to wash his bedding, it is best to avoid using them. Try natural cleaners and detergents that are free of dyes and perfumes.
Fleas & Ticks: Solution
Keep your home, your dog and your dog’s bedding clean to avoid having fleas. Vacuum regularly, wash your dog’s bedding weekly and groom your dog regularly.
Fleas thrive in humid conditions, so it is a good idea to invest in a dehumidifier for your home especially during the summer months.
Fleas will drown in water, so giving your dog a bath if he has fleas will kill them.
Diatomaceous earth is a good solution as well to kill and repel fleas and ticks. It is a non-toxic natural substance that is safe to use around animals, be sure to only use the food-grade DE. Diatomaceous earth can cause lung irritation, so be careful when handling it. You should wear a mask and gloves.
Ticks are most active when temperatures are just above freezing. Early spring, summer and fall are when ticks are prevalent. Deer ticks (Black-legged ticks) are the ones that cause Lyme disease in dogs and humans.
Avoid walking in wooded and tall grassy areas where ticks like to hide and check your dog for ticks after each walk.
It is a good idea to discuss flea and tick medications with your vet to determine the best for your dog.
Dry Skin: Solution
In the winter, when dry skin is at its worst, make sure to keep your home at a good humidity level, you may wish to invest in a humidifier.
Avoid over-bathing your dog, or using shampoos with harsh ingredients. Dogs really don’t need to be bathed frequently. A good rule of thumb is, if your dog stinks, rolls in something bad, or is dirty, then yes a bath is necessary, otherwise, it’s not needed.
Feeding a high-quality diet is important to keeping your dog healthy and his skin and coat at its best. Supplementing with fatty acids found in fish oils is a good way to help with his dry skin.
Bored dogs tend to develop bad habits, including paw licking. Make sure your dog has adequate playtime, socialization, exercise and mental stimulation throughout the day.
Dogs who are left at home alone all day will certainly become bored, frustrated and can become destructive. This is especially true of high-energy dogs.
Don’t leave your dog alone for long periods of time.
If you do have to leave your dog while you go to work, you could hire a dog walker to walk your dog and play with him while you are away. Doggie daycare is another good option.
I know the above suggestions might not be an option, especially with what is going on with Covid-19, so if you must leave your dog alone, you could provide a KONG or other treat-dispensing toys to keep him occupied.
Anxiety or Compulsive Behaviour: Solution
The first step is to determine what is causing your dog’s anxiety. Did you recently move? Did you have a baby? Did you add another pet to your household? Does your dog suffer from separation anxiety?
All of these things can cause anxiety in your dog and result in paw licking. It is always best to work on finding a way to prevent anxiety, before having to resort to any medication.
Dogs need time to adjust to any new changes to their environment, so it may just be a matter of time before your dog is not feeling anxious anymore.
Training is another thing to try to get your dog to stop feeling anxious or resorting to paw licking as a compulsive behaviour.
Training will keep your dog focused on something else other than paw licking and will keep his mind occupied.
As a last resort, you may need to discuss any medications that can be prescribed to your dog for his anxiety or compulsive behaviour.
Dogs certainly display some strange behaviour, at least in our minds! Paw licking can be a very innocent thing as it is completely normal behaviour when your dog is grooming himself.
However, sudden paw licking or excessive paw licking is a sign that something is not right. Before your dog’s paw licking turns from bad to worse, you’ll want to determine the root cause of it.
In my experience, my dog’s paw licking was brought on by environmental allergies. This is the case for many dogs.
Regardless of the reasons why dogs lick paws, the solutions above will be of help to you. I am a strong believer in trying anything natural, and any option out there before having to resort to any medications.
What About You?
Have you noticed your dog licking his paws more than usual?
Share your thoughts and comments below, and if you have any questions please ask! I would love to hear from you.