Why do dogs lick their paws?

by Dr. Nicola Parry

If your dog refuses to stop licking his paws, you are not alone! This is a very common complaint from dog owners, and if left untreated it can lead to serious skin problems due to the damage caused by self-trauma.

So Why Does My Dog Constantly Lick His Paws?

Although there are many possible, underlying causes of paw licking in dogs, they all typically fall into one of two categories:

  • Environmental: Many environmental factors can lead to itchiness of the skin, causing your dog to lick his paws to try to soothe himself. Some of the more common factors include fleas, skin mites, and allergies (such as flea allergy or food allergy).
  • Behavioral: Although less common, some dogs do constantly lick or chew at their paws because of psychological tendencies, often due to underlying boredom or anxiety.

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How Can I Tell What’s Causing My Dog To Lick His Paws?

Due to the large number of possible causes, it can be difficult to immediately recognize why your dog is licking his paws all the time; however, as a general guide:

  • If he is licking just one of his paws, or just both front paws, check for evidence of damaged skin or an embedded foreign body. If neither is present, the cause is likely psychological.
  • If he is licking all of his paws, likely there is some environmental reason for this.

How Can I Help To Treat The Problem?

Treatment of this problem involves a three-pronged attack:

  • Stop the itchiness: If his paw licking is due to environmental causes like allergies, relieving the itchiness can go a long way to resolving the problem. Although there are various prescription medications that your veterinarian can prescribe for this, you may wish to try a more natural, chemical-free approach. There are numerous products that can help, but three of our favorites include:
    • Comfy Dog oatmeal conditioning shampoo: Wash him with this at bath time to help soothe the skin and relieve itching.
    • Itchin’ For Relief : This has a unique blend of ingredients to soothe itchy skin, and reduce inflammation, as well as a special nozzle to direct the spray onto affected skin – so it doesn’t just wet the fur.
    • Healthy Skin Shiny Coat : This comes in a handy dropper bottle – simply give him a few drops by mouth to help relieve itching.
  • Treat skin damage: Excessive licking can lead to skin damage. This in itself is enough of a problem, but additionally it can continue the cycle of itching and licking, so it’s important to do whatever possible to allow the skin to heal. Often this involves antibiotic therapy, although some minor cases may resolve themselves once the itchiness is treated.
  • Identify and eliminate the primary cause where possible: This is often the most difficult task! Some causes may be immediately evident, such as a grass awn stuck between the toes. Others, however, may require the help of your veterinarian. Allergic conditions, for instance, may require an extensive diagnostic work-up to attempt to determine what the allergic stimulus is.

While not all cases of paw licking are created equal, the approach to their treatment is certainly similar. And although in some difficult cases the cause remains unidentified, you can still provide a lot of relief for your dog’s itchiness. This symptomatic treatment will go a long way to alleviating the problem, whatever the underlying cause.

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