Why Does My Dog Constantly Lick His Paws?

by Dr. Nicola Parry

Does your dog lick or chew his paws constantly? If so, then more than likely this behavior is already driving you insane. Although all dogs lick themselves as normal grooming behavior, excessive licking and chewing indicates an underlying problem. Getting to the bottom of why he is doing this, however, is not always easy since this problem can result from many causes.

5 Reasons Why Your Dog May Be Licking His Paws

  1. Allergy: Often dogs will lick their paws if they have an itch – although it can be due to itchy paws, it can also be a result of an itch elsewhere. Oftentimes when dogs feel itchy, they just lick somewhere accessible – the paws – as a way of soothing the irritation. Although many types of allergy can be causative, flea allergies or even a simple flea infestation can be very common causes, especially in the summer.
  2. Injury: Damaged skin also causes itchiness. This can arise secondary to problems like flea allergy, or it can be a primary problem. It’s not uncommon for dogs to cut their paws, or even to have foreign material such as grass seeds stuck in the skin between their toes.
  3. Habit: Boredom or lack of exercise can often lead to licking, especially in dogs left home alone for long periods of time.
  4. Anxiety: This can be linked to boredom, for instance if dogs become anxious when alone, but other incidents can also cause anxiety. Simple things like a change in routine can lead to anxiety in some dogs, as can additions to the family, such as a new baby or a new pet.
  5. Compulsive Disorder: Some dogs develop obsessive, compulsive issues that lead to constant licking. Although uncommon, this can be very difficult to control.

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Why Is The Licking A Problem?

In addition to being annoying to most owners, the constant licking can be a real problem for dogs, so it’s important to address the problem as soon as possible.

If left unchecked, the licking can lead to skin damage, open sores, and secondary bacterial infection. This can then become a vicious cycle, since the damaged skin is more irritated and painful, causing even more licking.

If your dog licks his paws due to habit or anxiety, there is also the risk that this can progress to become a compulsive behavior.

5 Tips For Treatment

  1. Treat for fleas: Since these are a very common cause of paw licking, be sure to institute a flea control regime, even if you don’t see any. Flea The Scene is an effective, natural product that can help eliminate this problem.
  2. Control the itch: Breaking the “itch-scratch” cycle can help to stop the licking in cases due to flea allergy. Itchin’ For Relief and Healthy Skin Shiny Coat are great for this purpose, helping to soothe your dog’s skin naturally.
  3. Cover the paws: Some dogs respond well to this, and it can occasionally stop the behavior. Dog booties can be used, or even simple dressings using self-adhesive material such as Vetrap®.
  4. Health check: If your dog’s constant licking persists, or if open wounds develop, your veterinarian should rule out underlying health problems, such as skin infections or entrapped foreign material.
  5. Behavior Therapy: If your dog licks his paws as part of a compulsive disorder, a behavioral expert may need to recommend behavioral changes or medication.

So if your dog is licking his paws, take some comfort in the fact that this is a common complaint! I remember constant issues with my dog and his combination of allergic skin disease, habit, and anxiety that caused constant licking – and despite being a veterinarian, I found that little trio quite difficult to completely control. The good news, however, is that many cases are less complicated and very manageable.

Nicola Parry is a veterinarian at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She is ACVP board-certified and her career has taken her along various paths, including general practice and academia. She enjoys teaching veterinary pathology, as well as writing for the veterinary, medical and scientific worlds. She currently lives in Massachusetts with her oddball cat, Tiddles

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