When not snoozing, playing or running after their own tails, dogs can often be found licking their paws.
Should this be a cause for concern for owners? There is no simple answer, as there are several reasons why a dog might take excessive interest in its paws. So, it’s best to identify the issue before any complications arise.
What Does It Mean When Dogs Lick Their Paws?
Kirsten Dillon, an animal behaviorist for pet food retailer Natural Instincts, points out that licking comes naturally to dogs, but owners must pay attention if their pups are acting out of the ordinary around their paws.
“Licking any part of their body is completely natural behavior for a dog as they like to keep clean and irritant-free. Often, they will lick their paws as this is the area that comes into contact with, literally, everything,” she told Newsweek.
“If you see your dog licking excessively, it is time to investigate without delay.”
Dr. Jerry Klein, chief veterinary officer at the American Kennel Club, agrees, adding: “A thorough examination of the paw and pads can be warranted.
“When a dog excessively licks one paw, often there has been an injury such as a laceration or irritation or foreign material causing pain or inflammation.
Kim Melotte, from dog supplement brand Buddy & Lola, suggests allergies might be to blame. “These reactions usually come in one of three forms,” she told Newsweek.
“Seasonal—allergies like pollen might be more prevalent at some times of the year.
“Food—like humans, dogs can have allergies to food. Wheat, as well as beef and dairy products, are common dog allergies.
“Household products—cleaning products, floor cleaners, and detergents can potentially cause a reaction. It’s not common, but it is possible.”
She also warned that certain breeds were more prone to allergies than others. “Terriers, cocker spaniels and German shepherds all have a high risk of food intolerance. If your dog is one of these breeds it could explain biting at their paws.”
Hallé Yetken-Salvadori, the owner of raw animal food specialist Petculiar Little Shop, believes healthy dogs will deal with allergies better than others.
She told Newsweek: “Health from the gut. Balance the microflora of the gut and make natural substances readily accessible to your pet to give them a better chance of healing themselves.
“Keep chemical use in the house to a minimum. This includes smelly candles and plug-in [air fresheners].
“Reducing stress is also very important. Active household, out-of-the-norm activities and new visitors can all cause stress. Give your dog a safe place to de-stress.”
Melotte also suggests dry or irritated skin might be a contributing factor in paw licking.
She said: “Like humans, in extreme temperatures, dogs are more likely to get dry skin. If it’s been really hot or really cold, this could explain it. If this is the reason for paw biting, you can help your dog.”
She recommends salmon oil. It contains Omega 3 and 6, which improves moisture levels in your dog’s skin. “On top of this, salmon oil can help joint health and promotes a healthy coat.”
When dogs are out exploring the world, their paws are usually the first point of contact for parasitic critters such as fleas, ticks and lice.
Melotte said: “If you’re a dog owner, this is the real ‘F word.’ Flea bites cause itching all over your dog, and they can spread to other animals or even to other surfaces.
“A further complication is flea allergy dermatitis. This is a condition a lot of dogs experience. It’s an allergic reaction to flea saliva, and if they have any bites around their legs or feet it can cause your dog to obsess over the area.”
Boredom and separation anxiety could lead to excessive licking as well as other unhealthy habits such as barking, digging and destructive chewing.
Melotte said: “Dogs often over-groom to try and soothe themselves. This can take place if they are lonely, depressed or feeling anxious.
“You can try to prevent this in a number of ways. Stimulating your dog and providing plenty of interaction is a good way to prevent anxiety from setting in.
“Some anxious feelings can’t be solved with attention. Separation anxiety, for example, is quite a complex issue. Paw licking and biting can be a sign of this.”
“Of course, you should support your dog psychologically. Providing them with plenty of attention and removing anything that triggers anxiety. On top of this, dietary supplements can be an effective treatment.”
Why Do Dogs Lick Their Paws Before Bed?
Owners often see their dogs licking their paws at bedtime. Dr. Klein from the American Kennel Club describes this behavior as understandable, as it “may be just a way to clean and relax” before sleep.
However, he added: “If the licking is excessive and only one paw, the paw should be carefully inspected to make sure there is not an underlying medical problem, such as a foreign body, torn nail or an interdigital laceration or inflammation causing the dog to lick. If this is the case, your veterinarian should be contacted.”
The excessive licking itself might lead to a problem, according to Melotte. “Dog tongues are rough and if they keep licking at their feet then they can even cause themselves an injury.”