Why Is My Dog Licking His Paws?

Golden retriever licking its paw

C. Karim / FOAP / Getty Images

There's a good chance you have noticed your dog licking their paws from time to time. While it's normal for dogs to lick their paws occasionally, excessive paw-licking could be a sign of a problem. Is your dog's paw-licking a concern?

Why Dogs Lick Their Paws

Dogs lick their paws for several reasons. If your dog is a fastidious self-groomer, you may notice them licking their paws after coming in from outdoors, after meals, or while settling down for a nap. Even dogs that don't do a lot of self-grooming will occasionally clean their paws. If you notice your dog licking their paws every once in a while, and the paws look normal, then it's probably nothing to worry about.

It's abnormal if your dog seems to be licking their paws all the time. This is usually a sign of a health problem or a behavior issue.

Health Problems and Paw-Licking

The first step is to determine if there is a health problem with the paws. Dogs are likely to lick their paws excessively if they are itchy, irritated, or painful.

A paw injury or foreign object would explain a sudden onset of paw-licking. The dog may have stepped on something that causes discomfort, like a sharp item or hot pavement. They could have been stung or bitten by an insect or another animal. Or, it could be simply that they have an object or substance stuck to their paws and 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 their paws like 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.

A paw injury, foreign object, or growth is most likely the case if your dog is focusing on one paw more than the others. 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 excessively. Many dogs have environmental and/or food allergies that cause paw discomfort. Food allergies will most commonly make the paws itch.

Infections commonly cause dogs to lick their paws. Many dogs 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 licks their paws a lot, the paws stay damp and are more susceptible to bacteria and fungi.

External parasitic infections, like fleas or mange, can also make the paws very itchy, leading to excessive licking.

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.

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 as well as the spaces in between the digits. Look for foreign objects, cuts, bruises, bleeding, swelling, redness, crusting, scabs, discharge and anything else that looks abnormal. Administer first aid if necessary.

Note that excessive licking may cause saliva stains on the hair around the paws. This is often rust-colored and is especially visible 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.

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.

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.