Dogs lick their paws for many reasons. They probably lick their paws on a daily basis to keep them clean. But if you dog is licking their paws constantly or aggressively, this excessive paw-licking may be a sign of a problem, such as a cyst, an infection, or an injury. If you see your dog frequently licking its paws, it's time to take some action. Learn why your dog is licking its paws and how to react appropriately.
Why Dogs Lick Their Paws
Dogs can occasionally lick their paws as a part of self-grooming. Even dogs that don't do a lot of self-grooming will occasionally clean their paws. If you notice your dog licking its paws every once in a while, then there's probably nothing to worry about.
It is not normal if your dog seems to be licking its paws frequently or aggressively. This is usually a sign of a health problem or a behavior issue.
Health Problems and Paw-Licking
If you think your dog's paw-licking is abnormal, the first step is to determine if there is a health problem with the paws. Dogs often lick their paws excessively if they are itchy, irritated, or painful.
A paw injury or foreign object may explain a sudden onset of paw-licking. The dog may have stepped on something that causes discomfort, like a sharp object or hot pavement. Or, he could have been stung or bitten by an insect or another animal. There may even be an object or substance stuck to its paws and he needs help removing it. Foreign objects like splinters or grass awns can get embedded in the paws and cause irritation.
Another possibility is that your dog has an abnormal growth on one of its paws, such as a cyst or a tumor. Or, your dog may have arthritis or an injury to the soft tissue or bones of the paw. The latter may not be something you can see with the naked eye.
if your dog is focusing on one paw more than the others, then it's more likely a paw injury, foreign object, or growth. However, these problems can easily affect more than one paw at a time.
A very common cause of licking paws for relief is allergies in dogs. Allergies often cause itching or irritation of the paw pads, causing a dog to lick its paws for relief. Many dogs have allergies that make the paws itch. Food allergies and environmental allergies are especially known to cause paw itching.
It's not uncommon for dogs to develop bacterial or fungal infections of the paws which means they need a trip to the veterinarian. These infections may occur secondary to allergies or for unknown reasons. When a dog frequently licks its paws, they stay damp and are more susceptible to bacteria and fungi.
External parasitic infections like fleas or mange or hookworms also tend to make the paws very itchy, leading to excessive licking.
What to Do If Your Dog Is Licking Their Paws Too Much
If it feels like your dog is constantly licking their paws, you can begin by taking a close look at the paws. Inspect the tops and bottoms of the feet, the toenails and nail beds, and the spaces in between the digits. Look for foreign objects, cuts, bruises, bleeding, swelling, redness, crusting, scabs, discharge, broken nails, and anything else that looks abnormal. Administer first aid if necessary.
It's important to contact your veterinarian whether or not the paws look abnormal to you. Your vet needs to rule out health problems before you start trying to address a behavior issue.
Note that excessive licking often causes saliva stains on the hair around the paws. This rust-colored staining is easiest to see where the hair is a light color.
If your dog has a problem that may need advanced testing or treatment, your vet may refer you to a specialist, like a veterinary dermatologist or a veterinary surgeon.
If there is no physical reason for your dog to lick their paws excessively, then there's a chance your dog has developed a behavior issue.
Behavioral Problems and Paw-Licking
If all health concerns have been ruled out, your vet may think the paw licking is occurring due to behavioral reasons though these are far less common. It may be as simple as boredom. Or, it could be a sign of stress, fear, or anxiety.
The licking might have started due to boredom, and then developed into a habit that has become relaxing or satisfying for your dog. In severe cases, your dog may have obsessive-compulsive tendencies that lead them to obsessively lick their paws.
A simple way to address behavioral paw-licking is to distract your dog. Take them for more walks, play with them more often, and offer them toys to hold their focus. Don't scold them for licking, but don't reward them with treats either. If these methods do not work, consider a recheck with the vet to look into other causes or treatments.
If the licking continues, consider behavior modification techniques to help your dog. Consult a dog trainer or behaviorist for help.
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