Why Is My Dog Licking His Paws?

Bernese Mountain Dog licking his paws

The Spruce / Kevin Norris

You have probably noticed your dog licking his paws from time to time. It's normal for dogs to lick their paws occasionally, but excessive paw-licking may be a sign of a problem. If you see your dog frequently licking his paws, it's time to take some action.

Why Dogs Lick Their Paws

Dogs typically lick their paws as a part of self-grooming. If your dog is a fastidious groomer, you may notice him licking his paws after meals, while settling down for a nap, or after coming in from outdoors, after meals. Even dogs that don't do a lot of self-grooming will occasionally clean their paws. If you notice your dog licking his 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 his 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 his 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 his 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.

illustration of reasons why dogs lick their paws
The Spruce / Katie Kerpel

Allergies often cause itching or irritation of the paw pads, causing a dog to lick their paws for relief. Many dogs have allergies that make the paws itch. Food allergies are especially known to cause paw itching.

It's not uncommon for dogs to develop bacterial or fungal infections of the paws. These infections may occur for unknown reasons. However, sometimes they are secondary to allergies. When a dog frequently licks his paws, they stay damp and are more susceptible to bacteria and fungi.

External parasitic infections like fleas or mange 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, 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.

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.

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.

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, it is most likely that your dog is licking their paws for behavioral reasons. 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 the licking continues, consider behavior modification techniques to help your dog. Consult a dog trainer or behaviorist for help.

Tips

  • Behavioral modification to stop paw licking and chewing takes time, patience, and consistency.
  • Consider a bitter-tasting topical product that is pet-safe to discourage licking. If this does not work, a physical restraint like an e-collar may be necessary.
  • If additional behavior help is needed, consider working with a dog trainer, animal behaviorist, or a veterinary specialist in behavior.