It’s normal for our dogs to spend a certain amount of time licking and chewing their paws. This self-grooming process is entirely natural and in moderation is just part of our dogs daily cleaning ritual.
However, there are times when licking becomes excessive. It can be incredibly frustrating to hear your dog constantly chewing their paws all night. Especially when your dog is so engrossed in the activity that they won’t stop no matter what you do.
But a bad nights’ sleep isn’t the only consequence of an obsessive paw licker. Constant chewing can cause skin damage, hair loss, hot spots and bacterial skin infections. All of which can cause pain and irritation that your dog will try to soothe by licking!
So why do dogs lick their paws to excess, should you be worried and what can you do to stop it and prevent it happening in the future?
What causes excessive paw licking?
Although it’s not always easy to pinpoint the cause, some common triggers can prompt your dog to start chewing their feet.
This is perhaps the easiest trigger to identify. Dogs can get various injuries to their paws including, cracked or split pads, broken nails, insect bites, foreign objects stuck in or between the pads, cuts and scrapes between the toes, sprains and even broken bones.
All or any of these things encourage your dog to lick the area to ease the discomfort. Typically if injury or pain is the cause, the increased licking will be concentrated on one paw.
If an allergy is causing your dog a problem, it can be difficult to pinpoint the cause. Our dogs can be allergic to just about anything.
From grass, fleas, food, household cleaning products and everything in between allergies can be tricky to identify. But if your dog has a contact allergy it’s likely that all four paws are affected.
Identifying changes in food, a different walking route, the use of a new cleaning product can help uncover the cause, but sometimes it’s impossible to tell what triggered a reaction.
Although it’s uncommon for a healthy dog to get bacterial or fungal foot infections before they start to nibble if your dog’s paws are always wet or muddy, it is possible.
Flea bites, ticks and warm moist paws can all lead to your dog paying more attention to their feet resulting in an issue.
Frequently, however, a bacterial infection is caused by your dog’s constant licking, creating a perfect environment for bacteria to multiply.
Paw licking is often used as a self-soothing behaviour by our dogs. When they are stressed, anxious or just unsure of a new situation they will turn to their paws as a way to make themselves feel better.
Common triggers for this type of foot chewing include, a new baby, a new dog, a house move, having people over, loud noises and being told off.
Boredom and habit
How many of you chew your nails? How many of those of you that do are aware of when you start to do it?
Just like us, our dogs can get into bad habits and licking feet is one of them. Not only that, but our dogs also engage in foot chewing when they are bored as it’s something to do.
How to tell which it is?
It can be difficult to determine what’s causing your dog to excessive lick their paws. But there are some handy questions to ask yourself;
- When did it start?
- Have you changed your dog’s food?
- One paw or multiple paws being chewed?
- Have you switched household cleaning products?
- When does your dog lick the most?
- Have you walked anywhere new?
- Has your dog been unwell recently?
- Have you had a change of circumstance? New baby, dog or house for example?
Keeping a diary of when your dog licks most frequently can provide useful clues as to what the likely cause is.
Should I visit a vet?
If your dog’s licking has come on suddenly, is excessive, continues for extended periods of time and causes redness, swelling or obvious discomfort then yes, you should visit your vet.
Your vet can diagnose the underlying problem and offer advice on how to best to deal with the issue. This may involve taking skin samples (scrapings) from your dog to test for mites or infections.
Treatment will depend on the underlying cause but may include;
- Anti-fungal medication
- Medicated shampoo
- Topical sprays
- Lifestyle changes
If your dog is licking excessively, it’s not always easy getting them to stop. But it’s important that you prevent them having access to the affected area as further chewing can lead to even more problems.
How do I stop my dog licking?
It really depends on the cause of the problem as to the best way to stop your dog licking. But there are things that you can do to help prevent your dog from chewing.
If your dog is licking through boredom, providing them with more mental or physical exercise is enough to encourage some dogs to stop.
Interactive feeders, food games, and training are all ways to tire your dog out mentally.
If you already walk your dog regularly, take them on a new route. And if you don’t walk your dog daily take them outside for a wander as it’s a perfect boredom buster.
A safe place to relax
An anxious dog that licks to soothe itself may need a different approach depending on the circumstances.
Providing a safe place for your dog to call its own is useful. If your dog is anxious, this should be a spot where your dog won’t be disturbed by anyone and can feel safe.
Not only is a safe place an excellent idea for your nervous dog but you can also use a pheromone diffuser to help keep them calm.
Injuries and infections
Dogs with injuries to their paws need to have their paws covered to prevent them licking and infecting the wound.
As long as you prevent your dog having access to the injured foot, scrapes, small cuts and broken nails clear up quickly while infections take a bit longer and often need veterinarian treatment.
Allergies are perhaps the most difficult cause of foot licking to manage. As it’s not always possible to keep your dog’s paws covered all the time, finding the cause of the allergy is essential.
Because allergies can be triggered by so many things, keeping a diary of when your dog is most irritated or itchy can help pinpoint the cause.
Unless you eliminate the trigger of your dog’s allergy, it’s almost impossible to keep your dog from being affected.
Although it can be a frustrating process, changing your dog’s food, walking routine and household cleaning products can all help.
What’s more, your vet can offer medication to help relieve the itching and reduce your dogs need to lick.
Why do dogs lick their paws?
Paw licking is a regular part of our dog’s behaviour. But Excessive licking can lead to infections and discomfort.
There are some common triggers, some more easy to detect than others. So if you notice a change in your dog’s grooming habits keep a diary of symptoms and possible triggers and seek veterinary advice.