It is not unusual to see our dogs exhibit any number of ‘strange’ behaviors – those little quirks that may seem difficult to explain. Depending on the cause and consequences of these behaviors, we need to take time to understand the reason behind them, particularly as dogs are unable to tell us the exact nature of the issue.
In the grand scheme of things, your dog licking their paws may not seem like a major problem. It is certainly not an uncommon trait. However, incessant paw-licking could be due to a number of factors – ranging from physical to environmental reasons. By identifying the cause of the behavior, we can take steps to address it – and ultimately, improve our pup’s quality of life.
In this article, we will take a look at some of the most frequently cited reasons for dogs licking their paws, and offer up some tips for making sure their paws remain in prime condition.
Potential Reasons Why Dogs Lick Their Paws
There are numerous reasons why your dog may be licking their paws. As their guardian, identifying the reason behind the behavior will require perception and awareness. Ask yourself – how often does your dog do this? Are they licking their paws all day, or is it only after they have been in your yard? Is this a recently developed trait, or have they done it for the majority of their life?
The answers to those questions may help lead you to an explanation behind their paw-licking habit. Speaking with your veterinarian at your next appointment can help to rule out some of the physiological or medical causes. If the veterinarian is unable to identify the problem, they may recommend speaking with a professional dog trainer or behaviorist who can help.
Here are some of the most common reasons why your dog may be licking their paws.
An allergic reaction can be uncomfortable for your dog, and is likely to manifest itself through itchy paw pads. Be aware of precisely when your dog begins licking their paws. If it is directly after eating, they may be allergic to something in their diet (be mindful if you have recently changed their food). If the allergy is environmental, they will likely itch after returning from being outside. Solutions range from hydrocortisone creams to prescription medication.
Is your dog only concentrating on one paw when they lick? If so, this increases the likelihood it may be an injury or other ailment specifically affecting that part of their body, as opposed to wider issue affecting all their paws. Study your dog’s paw for visible injuries such as cuts, broken nails, thorns, or foreign objects, and administer first aid if necessary. Your dog may also have been stung by an insect or stepped on a hot pavement.
A cyst is a build-up of fluid which can be an irritant for your dog. Cysts can become larger with time, and can occasionally contain foreign materials which can be uncomfortable and potentially cause infection. Consult with your veterinarian on the appropriate course of action.
One of the most common causes of your dog licking their paws? Sheer boredom. With nothing productive to occupy their mind, your dog will be forced to entertain themselves by any means possible. This lack of mental stimulation can result in a number of destructive behaviors; paw-licking may be just the start. Consider ways to provide your dog with enriching experiences in the home to alleviate their boredom, such as dog puzzles or chew toys.
Your dog’s paws are always in contact with the ground. Their warm, inviting fur is perfect for small insects like fleas, ticks and mites to land upon, and naturally, this can cause significant irritation for your pup. Depending on the type of parasite, your veterinarian can recommend a suitable plan of treatment.
You may inspect your dog’s paws and find nothing unusual on the surface. This could indicate that their constant licking is due to a skin condition such as dermatitis. This can be caused by an allergic reaction to food, bacterial issues, or other sensitivities. Your dog’s skin may also be irritated by the type of grass or plants in your yard – if you suspect this be the culprit, consider wiping their paws with a bowl of clean water each time they return inside.
Some dogs just like to be clean! Your dog’s self-grooming regimen may include licking their paws and trimming their nails. If done infrequently, this behavior is not a cause for concern – although carrying out an occasional inspection of their paws is a good habit to get into.
How To Protect Your Dog’s Paws
As with many issues which have a health or wellbeing component to them, prevention is often better than cure. With this in mind, consider implementing the following tips to keep your dog’s paws in pristine condition:
- Regularly check your dog’s paws for foreign objects, debris or other visible irritations, and take appropriate action to remove them.
- Trimming your dog’s nails on a regular basis will ensure that the nails do not become overgrown and remain comfortable to walk on.
- Consider using a dog-safe moisturizer on your dog’s paw pads. Do not use human moisturizer as these may contain ingredients which are unsafe for your dog to ingest.
- If your dog will be walking on a surface that will be particularly hot in the summer (for example, pavements) or particularly cold in the winter (such as snow or ice), investing in comfortable dog boots can protect their paws.
- Speak with your veterinarian if you have any concerns about the condition of your dog’s paws.