Why is my dog licking his paws? Is there something wrong? Does my dog have OCD? Well, to answer some of these questions, paw licking is a very normal behavior in the context of grooming. However, when it is done excessively, it could be a sign of something else going on. There are a wide variety of reasons that dogs lick their paws, so it is important to look into each one of them to make sure that it is not something the dog is doing in response to pain or discomfort. The key to a healthy and happy dog is to have him properly cared for and trained. For more information on training your pup, check out our dog training courses Polite Puppy and Training Your Dog 101.
We haven’t exactly figured out why yet, but some breeds tend to have more paw issues than others. These breeds include Labradors, poodles, Maltese, Chihuahuas, and terriers. Working breeds such as greyhounds and cattle dogs are more prone to relieving stress through paw licking and over grooming. Further, we know that it can also be genetic, running in families. If the parent dog licks excessively, the puppy usually develops the same issue around the second year.
So, now you want to know why it happens and what you can do to stop it? Well, there are a number of reasons it can occur, so in order to try to identify why it happens and how to stop it, you must isolate the cause and effect. In other words, figure out what triggers the behavior. Does Fido only lick his paws when he’s left at home alone or does it happen after playing out in the yard? Next, look to see if it is just one paw he is licking or if it is the front two, or even all four. If he is only licking one paw, chances are, there is something wrong with that paw. If he licks the front two paws or all four, it could be a sign of anxiety, allergy, parasites or something that is not localized.
The most common reason for excessive paw licking is allergies. Paw licking can occur when there is pain or irritation in the paws. The dog is licking his paws to soothe the pain, the same way you scratch around the outside of a bug bite to try and soothe the itching. It could be a sign of itchy skin problems, known as contact dermatitis, which can be very difficult to resolve and may be a long lasting issue. Contact dermatitis can arise from certain shampoos, soaps, or pesticides. Other times, allergies will flare up as a result of food or environmental triggers, like mold spores or grass and weed pollen. Additionally, it could be cat dander, dust particles, or cockroaches that aggravate a dog’s allergies. Food allergies are commonly cited, but very rarely the issue behind paw licking.
Another related source of paw licking is contact irritants. There may be something that your dog’s paws are coming in contact with that are aggravating his skin. Perhaps there is a detergent you are using on his pet blankets or maybe it’s the new shampoo you’ve been trying. Take note of when his paw licking flares up. It could be something out in the yard or it could be from a household cleaning product.
After allergies, the next most common cause for excessive paw licking is parasites, like fleas, ticks or mites. Many of these critters cannot be seen by the naked eye, so just because you cannot see them, does not mean they are not there. Fleas are rarely ever on the paws for an extended time, but they can leave bites or cause staph infections that are lasting. Your pet could even have a flea saliva allergy. Even if fleas are not the direct cause of the paw licking, they can certainly exacerbate an existing problem, so you are going to want to make sure your dog is protected from them.
Boredom or Anxiety
In the same way that humans do things to occupy their time when they are bored, pets sometimes lick their paws. When you’ve been sitting outside the doctors office for over an hour, you might start to mess with your hair, bite your nails, or pick at your skin. Similarly, when dogs get bored, they begin to scratch themselves, chew on items, and lick their paws. Over time, dogs can even develop a type of obsessive compulsive behavior (OCD) which can be very destructive and harmful.
If boredom is the major reason, try teaching your dog some tricks from our course Dog Tricks & Training.
Historically, your dog’s ancestors had much more work to do on a daily basis. They had to find and kill their prey, so there was very little idle time. Now, since many people lead busy lives, they do not have time to challenge their dogs and make them work for their meals. Boredom is a natural result and grooming is something that dogs do in their free time. I know it is obvious, but active dogs need more activity.
Some dogs, just as some humans, are more prone to erratic behavior. If your dog acts strangely and licks his paws excessively, then it could be related to the dog’s psychological makeup. There is no way to completely rid a dog of excessive anxiety, but you can redirect the dog’s attention to other things.
Finally, the dog’s paw licking could be a result of some trauma or irritation to the paw. It could be anything from a broken nail or splinter, to bone issues such as arthritis. Dogs may be licking their paws in response to back problems or hip dysplasia. Or, it could be a thorn stuck in the foot pad, an infected cut, or a fracture. It is best to thoroughly check the foot and surrounding area for tenderness and pain so that you can isolate the problem.
Remember do not fret if your dog is excessively licking his paws. There are a number of reasons this happens and many of them are not serious and life-threatening. Be patient and try to isolate the triggers and find out how to alleviate them. If the dog you currently own has a paw licking issue, think about how that might affect any other dogs coming into your home so that you can treat the problem first before exposing other puppies. For more ideas before bringing a new dog into your home, take a look at our course on Planning for Success.