Dogs do a lot of silly things, but even though some of their behavior doesn’t seem all that explainable, the frequent licking of the paws might be a sign of a potential medical condition. Of course, all dogs will lick their paws at some point or another, but if your pet is licking excessively, there could be a handful (paw-ful?) of reasons that might cause this behavior.
“Dogs may lick or chew their paws due to injuries, skin problems, a parasite, weather, food allergies, boredom, or anxiety,” explains Leonardo Gomez, founder of dog treat and dog toy company TryRunBall.com. “A dog that constantly and intensely licks his paws should be taken seriously.”
And don’t forget—an infrequent amount of paw-licking is totally normal in dogs. After all, it’s a way to self-groom, or you know, there might just be something tasty on there that they picked up earlier!
“The occasional licking of the paw is normal as it is self-grooming,” Gomez explains. “If the licking breaks the skin, that’s when you need to be concerned.”
Parade consulted veterinarians and other pet experts to get to the bottom of all the potential causes of why dogs lick their paws.
Why Do Dogs Lick Their Paws?
One of the most common reasons that dogs lick their paws is allergies—either food or environmental. Though, according to Dr. Crystal Heath, owner of VetHarmony and founder of Our Honor, it’s most likely environmental allergies that are upsetting your dog’s paws.
“Most dogs lick their paws due to allergies,” Dr. Heath explains. “This can be caused by environmental allergies to grasses, dust mites, pollens, but rarely due to food allergies. [However] most common food allergies are animal proteins—chicken, beef, and dairy.”
Both food and environmental allergies can lead to itchy paws in dogs, though the specific reason why allergies affect the paws is unknown.
If you suspect that your dog is experiencing allergy-related paw-licking, be sure to contact your vet.
“Treatment involves getting them on a high-quality flea prevention and treating the itching,” Dr. Heath adds. “A great new treatment option is giving an injection of Cytopoint from your veterinarian, which is a monoclonal antibody against the cytokine in the skin that causes itching. This injection lasts one to two months.”
Alternatively, if you think that your dog may have a food allergy (often, an upset tummy or runny stool may be an indicator that it is indeed a food allergy), consult your vet about your dog’s diet.
“If they are allergic to something in their food, a diet trial with a prescription diet that does not contain the offending allergen is the best course,” Dr. Heath explains. “Diet trials can take several weeks.”
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Dogs may also lick their paws as a response to anxiety, the West Suburban Humane Society says. If the licking becomes excessive, consult your veterinarian about potential anxiety medications.
“In an attempt to relieve stress, similar to the way we bite our nails, a dog may lick their paws when anxious,” Dr. Stephanie Austin, DVM, a veterinarian in NYC and advisor and contributor to Dog Spotted, explains.
In most scenarios, however, dogs experiencing anxiety can be redirected by a special treat (try boredom-busters like frozen peanut butter treats), an hour-long walk, playtime, or other kinds of exercise and/or mental stimulation. If your dog is suffering from a specific anxiety trigger—such as riding in the car, a thunderstorm, a vacuum, or fireworks—dressing your dog in a ThunderShirt may help ease symptoms.
Boredom in dogs can also cause paw-licking. After all, if they have nothing better to do, dogs tend to revert back to destructive behaviors they know.
“If not mentally stimulated, a dog will find other ways to entertain themselves, which may include self-destructive behaviors such as licking their paws,” Dr. Austin adds.
The good news is, if boredom is causing your dog to lick their paws, obviously, there are plenty of trainer-backed ways to redirect. Similar to how you may redirect anxiety-induced behaviors, try stimulating your dog more. This could mean a long walk, more exercise, a trip to the dog park, a 30-minute playtime session, a boredom-busting treat like frozen PB in a Kong, a mental strategy game or puzzle, or a tug toy that will tire out your dog while also stimulating them mentally and physically.
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Surprisingly, dogs can develop corn, too—just like people. Known medically as paw pad keratoma, MVSVets.com explains a keratoma as “a mass caused by a benign growth of the keratin-producing cells in the skin... [T]hese are most commonly found on the bottom of the pad and are known as corns. These can be painful for the dog to walk on.”
Corns are a specific concern for greyhounds, as the breed itself is prone to developing corns due to the way their feet are formed. These corns can be caused by scar tissue development from the damage and trauma of racing (popular in both retired and active racing greyhounds, as that’s what the breed is known/bred for). Corns—which present as strange-looking masses on the paw pads of a dog’s foot—can also develop as a result of a viral infection.
If you suspect your dog’s paw-licking is due to corn on their feet, consult your veterinarian ASAP. Other things you can do to help alleviate your dog’s corn-related pain are to avoid walking them on hard surfaces like pavement (stick to grassier areas) or invest in walking booties for your affected pup.
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A hormone imbalance can potentially cause your dog to feel itchy all the time, and we all know that when a dog feels itchy, licking (and scratching!) happens. According to First Vet, a dog’s body may overproduce the hormone cortisol (the stress hormone). With too much cortisol in production, a dog’s body may then find itself lacking in the thyroid hormone, and such a significant imbalance in the cortisol and thyroid production can result in extreme itchiness to the skin. In this case, a dog’s paw is the area most likely to be affected.
Dogs may start obsessively licking their paws due to an injury that is causing inexplicable pain. This could be anything really, and though you may think, as the pet owner, you would know immediately if an injury occurred in your dog, sometimes it’s hard to spot.
“Injuries such as a broken bone, broken toenail, or other related injuries [may cause a dog to lick their paws] as a way to ‘self-soothe,’” Dr. Austin explains, “which, unfortunately, usually results in them causing more problems!” Another likely cause of an injury could be a random object.
“A foreign object caught in their fur/skin/pad such as grass seed, a pebble, piece of glass, etc. could likely be causing pain and discomfort,” Dr. Austin says.
“If your dog has a broken toe or [has a] very painful injury, they will lick that spot to help calm the pain,” Dr. Sara Ochoa, a veterinary consultant for DogLab.com, explains. “And if your dog has a wound, they will lick that spot to help keep it clean and make it heal quicker.”
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We know—yuck! But parasites are an unfortunate reality of having a pet sometimes. After all, pets are more likely to suffer from fleas, ticks, and even mites. And as we all know, any kind of unwanted parasite could cause a whole lot of itching and licking. However, most parasites cause a dog to lick their private areas rather than their paws.
“If your dog has parasites, they may be licking their rectum,” Dr. Ochoa explains. “These parasites will cause their rectum to itch and cause them to lick that area a lot.”
Of course, it goes without saying that if this behavior is frequent, it’s crucial to book an appointment with your vet as soon as possible.
Still, ticks and other small parasites aren’t above settling themselves in between your dog’s paws, either. This is especially an issue during the hot summer months when parasites most often come out to play. Be sure to enlist the help of anti-flea and -tick medication, and always consult your veterinarian if you suspect a parasite problem.
‘Skin dermatitis’ is really just a fancy name for any kind of skin irritation. A dog that may suffer from some kind of skin irritation may try to ‘right’ the irritation itself by licking the discomfort away.
“This can be [anything] from a bee sting to snow salt on the sidewalks during the winter,” Dr. Austin adds.
When to Consult the Veterinarian
As Gomez shares, you will want to immediately consult a veterinarian if your dog’s incessant paw-licking is causing a break in the skin.
Dr. Stephanie Austin, DVM, a veterinarian in NYC and advisor/contributor to Dog Spotted, adds, “It is not abnormal for a dog to lick their paws when grooming. However, this shouldn’t be excessive, but rather once or twice a day (max).” Dr. Austin clarifies that the following licking behaviors warrant a vet consult:
- One paw excessively
- A particular area on the paw
- Their paws multiple times a day
- After a pet parent has told their pet to stop multiple times
“These are all reasons to have [your] pet seen by a veterinarian,” Dr. Austin adds. “Additionally, if you notice that the skin is red between the paw pads, see saliva staining (brown discoloration to the fur), or you see a particular wound, these would also be reasons to have your pet evaluated by a veterinarian for paw-licking.”