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Why Do Dogs Lick Their Paws?
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Why Do Dogs Lick Their Paws?

Critter Culture Staff

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Most dogs lick their paws occasionally as part of normal grooming, but sometimes you may notice that your dog is licking more than usual. This behavior may seem harmless at first, but it can hint at more serious underlying issues, and it can also cause irritation to your dog's skin.

If you notice that your four-legged friend has suddenly started licking its paws more frequently than usual, you may want to talk to your veterinarian and other professionals to see if any of these common reasons dogs lick their paws are making your dog uncomfortable.

1

Pain

Dogs sometimes hide their pain very well. Excessive licking can be a subtle sign that something is hurting them. The causes of this kind of pain can range from arthritis to injuries to a thorny plant or other foreign object embedded under the skin.

Regardless, if your dog suddenly starts licking excessively, it's a good idea to call your vet and schedule a check-up to rule out physical causes.

Man's hands holding paws of a young puppy. Sviatlana Barchan / Getty Images

2

Allergies

Another common reason dogs lick their paws is a subtle allergic reaction which often manifests as itchy feet, causing dogs to lick and chew excessively in an effort to soothe the itch.

It's most commonly seen with environmental or food allergies, so if your dog starts licking his paws suddenly after you change foods or start using a new grooming product, this may be a cause. If there isn't an obvious new allergen, call your vet to schedule an appointment.

The dog itches Sergey Granev / Getty Images

3

Boredom

Dogs need a lot of physical and mental exercise, and if they don't get it, they often find unhealthy ways to entertain themselves. Sometimes this involves chewing up a couch or barking excessively, but excessive self-grooming behaviors like licking and chewing can also become a problem.

If this is the reason your dog licks his paws, the solution is simple. Just be sure to spend more time exercising, training, and socializing your dog.

Friendly jack russell terrier showing affection to the owner. Closeup view IRYNA KAZLOVA / Getty Images

4

Anxiety and stress

Licking is an instinctively soothing behavior, so sometimes dogs that live with excessive anxiety and stress begin to lick themselves obsessively in an effort to find comfort. Unfortunately, this can lead to skin irritation and other problems.

If your dog is licking his paws due to fear or anxiety, there are several options you can take. Some dogs need more routine or quiet environments to feel comfortable. Others may be so anxious that they need medication to help them stay calm.

Scared, frightened pets on holidays and July 4th Photoboyko / Getty Images

5

Dry skin

owner holding a dog's paw

Dogs can get dry skin just like people do, and the resulting itchiness and irritation can cause them to lick their paws. Unfortunately, this often makes the problem worse by further irritating the skin.

Some breeds are particularly prone to it, especially hairless breeds such as the Chinese crested dog or the Xoloitzcuintli. However, all dogs can get dry skin in certain conditions. You can help your pup by feeding them dietary supplements such as fish or coconut oil, as well as using topical moisturizers designed for dogs.

6

Hormonal imbalances

Sometimes an underlying systemic health problem causes dry or itchy skin. Two common culprits are Cushing's disease, which involves the production of too much cortisol, and hypothyroidism, which means the thyroid gland is underactive. Both can result in dry, itchy skin and odd hair growth.

Fortunately, both conditions are usually easy to treat, but you will need to visit your vet to get a proper diagnosis and start your dog on the appropriate medications.

A pet owner's hand can be seen reaching out to give his dog a pill/tablet. The photo was taken from the pet owner's perspective, looking down at his Shih Tzu, who is expectendly looking up, and patiently waiting for his medication. The photo was taken in the home, as can be seen by the tile floor and rugs on the floor. bradleyhebdon / Getty Images

7

Excessive bathing

Everyone likes a clean, well-groomed dog, but it's important to remember that most dogs weren't bred to be bathed frequently. In general, most pooches should only be bathed once a month at the most. Dogs with particularly sensitive skin might need it even less frequently.

You should also be sure to only use appropriate shampoos and conditioners designed for use on canines, as human shampoos often have harsher chemicals that can irritate canine skin and cause paw licking.

cute lovely small dog wet in bathtub, clean dog with funny foam soap on head. Pets indoors Eva Blanco / Getty Images

8

Fleas and ticks

Most areas have populations of fleas and ticks that your dog can pick up while on a walk, and these can cause a lot of irritation. You might notice your dog scratching excessively as well as licking his paws if this is the culprit, but in the early stages of the infestation, it might not be that obvious.

It's a good idea always to keep your dog on a flea and tick preventative to avoid this. If you do get an infestation, you'll need to groom your dog with special shampoos and tools, and you'll need to clean your home using flea-eradication techniques to kill any bugs living in the environment.

tick and flea prevention for a dog Tatomm / Getty Images

9

Ice, snow, and salt

If you live in an area with harsh, snowy winters, you may notice your dog licking his paws more frequently during winter months. Behavior such as this is often a result of snow and ice getting caught in your dog's paw hairs, which can cause small ice balls to form between the toe pads.

In some areas, harsh deicing salts and other chemicals can cause irritation to the paw pads themselves, which may cause your dog to lick in an effort to soothe them. Consider using protective boots when walking dogs in these conditions, and keep a clean towel and a bowl of warm water by your door to wipe your dog's paws off immediately after each walk.

A woman walks down the road with a big red dog Ekaterina Goncharova / Getty Images

10

Hot spots

Hot spots are also known as moist dermatitis. They usually affect breeds with long coats or drop ears that are more likely to stay wet after exposure to water.

There's an uptick in hot spots during the sunnier seasons, but these warm areas of inflammation can occur throughout the year. Hot spot sores on paws are caused by itchiness related to allergies or external parasites. Your vet will determine the cause and treat the problematic paw with a spray.

Puppy's Paw on Hardwood Floor Jim Craigmyle / Getty Images

11

Bacterial infection

Damaged skin can cause bacterial infections. One of the most common bacterial skin infections in dogs is pyoderma or impetigo. You might notice an odor and pimple-like lesions on the skin of the paws—your fur baby will want to scratch or bite at them, which leads to bleeding.

The prognosis is often good, and antibiotics can significantly improve the condition.

Great love. Dog paw and human hand are doing handshake sanjagrujic / Getty Images

12

Yeast

Yeast infections aren't contagious, but they sure are uncomfortable and tend to crop up when a dog's immune system isn't at its best. Allergies, diabetes, and an oily skin condition called seborrhea oleosa cause an overgrowth of yeast. This imbalance in turn causes dermatitis or skin inflammation in places like the paws.

Certain medications, such as steroids and antibiotics, also put your dog at a higher risk of developing this fungal infection. Medicated shampoos and wipes can provide some relief.

golden retriever licking feet C. Karim / FOAP / Getty Images

13

Ringworm

The first thing you need to know is that ringworm is a fungal infection, not a wiggly parasite. The second is that you can get it from your dog.

Ringworm isn't a deadly condition, but it's not pleasant either. You'll notice bald patches with circles that are a different texture from normal skin and possible inflammation near your dog's claws. Applying a topical ointment should suffice for mild cases.

Cute fawn french bulldog giving paw and licking seen from above Capuski / Getty Images

14

Toenail injuries

Excessive paw licking could be the result of toenail injuries and torn nails. The break can occur underneath the cuticle, so you won't always notice blood and only your pooch's overzealous licks may alert you to the problem. A vet can assist by extracting the torn section of the nail to facilitate healing.

Labrador puppy dog paw nail claw trim grooming closeup Stephanie Zieber/ Getty Images

15

Overgrown nails

Without frequent trimming, dog nails get too long and can become ingrown, which is when they curl and dig into the paw pad. Overgrown nails often cause pain, and a dog will deal with the discomfort by licking the affected paw.

Be careful when cutting nails—nicking the quick will exacerbate the issue.

black white and brown short coated dog on brown wooden floor Photo by Tania Medina on Unsplash

16

How you can help your pooch

A cute adult American Cocker Spaniel of three colors with wide open eyes lies on the parquet floor inside the room and licks his paw

While occasional paw licking is normal, excessive licking can cause damage and create problems for your dog. The first step is to prevent further harm by stopping the behavior.

Consider using a cone-style emergency collar to prevent access, or wrap the affected paws gently in a bandage or cloth. Bitter apple spray can help deter your dog, but be sure not to apply it directly to broken or irritated skin.

Be sure to call your vet and schedule an appointment to find out the root cause of the licking and develop a treatment plan to stop it from continuing to occur.

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