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You’ve spotted your dog licking or chewing his paws. Should you be concerned?
Every dog will lick or chew at his paws from time to time. It’s normal canine behavior. But if your dog is constantly licking, chewing, or gnawing at his paws, there may be something wrong. Injuries, allergies, parasites, and stress can all be causes of paw chewing in dogs.
Here are a few reasons why dogs chew their paws and what you can do about it.
Dogs chewing on their paws is a common complaint among dog owners. While the occasional bite or lick is normal, excessive licking and chewing is not. A common answer to the question “why does my dog keep chewing on his paws” is allergies.
Seasonal and environmental allergies can cause itchy paws, as can food allergies.
Notice your dog’s paw chewing or licking gets worse during the spring or fall? Seasonal allergies are likely to blame.
If you live somewhere with a lot of excess moisture, check your dog’s surroundings for mold or mildew.
Dogs can also have allergic reactions to common household items. If your dog’s urge to lick or chew his paws came on suddenly, stop to consider if you’ve started using a new laundry detergent or floor cleaner.
More often than not, food allergies are at the root of excessive foot itch. And, the resulting chewing and licking. Secondary yeast and bacterial infections can make the itchiness worse. Unfortunately, food allergies can be difficult to diagnose and need vet oversight.
Find out about other common dog skin problems you need to watch out for.
Parasites are another common cause of dogs chewing on their paws. In particular, fleas and ticks love to hide out in the dark spaces between your dog’s toes. Mites are also possible, and, unlike fleas and ticks, are nearly impossible to see with the human eye.
See your vet if you suspect parasites, as itchy paws may be the least of your worries. Parasites can carry a variety of illnesses, some of which can be life-threatening.
Check out the eight spots where ticks like to hide on dogs.
Because allergies and parasites are likely to affect more than one paw at a time, if your dog keeps licking one paw, there’s a chance she has an injury.
For instance, your pup might have something sharp in her paw, like a bee sting after running around in the grass. Look at each paw pad and between her toes to check for anything that might be causing pain or discomfort.
Even something like a torn nail can be uncomfortable enough to set your dog to chewing.
If the paw smells bad, take your dog to the vet right away. She might have an infection from a previously unnoticed injury.
Additionally, the paws on your dogs’ feet are sensitive to heat. If you’ve been out for a walk on a hot summer day, she may have burned her paws on the hot streets. Similarly, in the winter, salt and ice melt can burn your dog’s paws.
If you notice your dog chewing paws after a walk, check for swelling, blisters or bleeding. If you find burns or blisters, use a paw pad balm and apply a cold compress to help with swelling and pain. More severe burns may require a visit to the vet.
If you can’t find anything wrong, but your dog continues to focus her chewing on only one paw, it’s time to take her to the vet. The vet can check for fractures and other more serious injuries.
Obsessive and compulsive behaviors, like paw licking, can also be caused by emotional issues, such as anxiety or boredom.
Excessive licking (without chewing) can indicate your dog is anxious or bored. It may even be a symptom of a compulsive disorder, though these are uncommon in dogs.
In anxious dogs, like those who suffer from separation anxiety, paw licking is a way to self-soothe. Over time, the self-soothing behavior can become compulsive. These dogs often develop lick granulomas – wounds on the tops of their paws caused by continuous, obsessive licking.
Calming supplements can help anxious dogs, but counterconditioning with a trained behaviorist is recommended.
If you think your dog may be licking out of boredom, try taking him for more walks. Or engage in more frequent playtime. Look for puzzle toys to keep his mind occupied or chew toys he can gnaw on, rather than his own feet.
Allergies, parasites, injury and emotional issues are the most common answers to the question, “why is my dog biting his paws.” But there are other, less common, culprits as well.
Neurological disorders, autoimmune diseases, hormonal imbalances, cysts and tumors, and even the pain from something like hip dysplasia, can trigger dog paw chewing and licking.
Regardless of what’s causing your dog to chew or lick his paws, the simplest solution is to remove the irritant. If it’s seasonal or environmental allergies, try to remove the allergen. If that’s not possible, reduce the allergic reaction through natural anti-inflammatory supplements or prescription medications from your vet.
Medicated shampoos and anti-itch creams formulated for dogs can also help reduce the itchiness that’s causing your dog to lick or chew.
If it’s a food allergy, you’ll need to spend several months working with your vet to identify the specific food causing the reaction. During this time, you’ll have to stop using anti-itch shampoos and dietary supplements to ensure accurate results.
For dogs with underlying emotional needs, work with a dog behaviorist to help re-train your dog.
In all cases, avoid punishment. Your dog is not trying to annoy you. Paw chewing and licking is almost always a symptom of something else. Until you diagnose and remove the root cause, your dog will continue to chew and lick his paws.