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Paw Licking Explained: What It Really Means When Your Dog Can’t Stop

Watching your pup lick their paws can be a very cute sight to behold. Most of the time, this light afternoon licking is totally harmless and to be expected. The problem comes in when this modest tongue-lapping becomes excessive or consistent. In this case, there could be underlying reasons why your dog is licking or chewing its paws. Possible reasons for a dog licking its paws include injury, allergies, skin problems, anxiety, or even boredom.

So whilst your dog’s paws being licked is a totally normal self-grooming action across all dog breeds, it can also be indicative of a bigger root problem. Therefore, it’s handy to know all the possibilities in order to best care for your fur baby.

golden retriever why do dogs lick their paws

Why do Dogs Lick Their Paws? Normal Reasons 

1. To Communicate – Sort Of

Paw licking can be a way for owners to get more of an insight into how their dogs might be feeling, but often this communication is unintentional. Dogs don’t tend to lick their paws when they are expressing positive emotions like pleasure or excitement but rather when they are experiencing negative emotions like anxiety, pain, or boredom.

2. Grooming

Our hounds typically paw-lick as part of their self-grooming routines. If your doggy is a particularly meticulous groomer, you may notice him licking his paws more regularly. You’ll likely see this routine happening after meals, before settling down for a snooze, or perhaps after coming in from a walk or the garden in an attempt to clean off any dust or dirt that may have accumulated on the paws. 

Even if your dog isn’t naturally inclined to groom, you will still see them occasionally cleaning their paws. However, a healthy dog should not be licking its paws excessively; if you find this to be the case, there may be cause for concern and closer inspection.

whiteish dog licking paws

Worrisome Reasons for Paw Licking

While mild paw licking can be totally normal, it can also be a telltale sign of underlying emotional or physical health issues. There are a number of things you can look out for if your pooch is taking to their paws too frequently.

3. Injuries

If your pup’s licking starts suddenly and is focused on one specific paw, it could indicate an injury. In this case, examine the targeted paw for any obstructions like thorns, stones or pesky grass seeds stuck between their toes or paw pads. Also, keep an eye out for wounds, cuts, torn nails or anything similar that could be an underlying cause. 

Remember to also check under and around the dewclaw, which is the toenail on the inside of the dog’s front leg. This can sometimes get caught on things whilst your dog is running around, and can cause a lot of pain through things like bacterial infections.  

Some injuries may be simple and easy to treat such as bee stings, insect bites or shallow cuts that will heal on their own. Others, however, will be best treated with the help of a vet. Deeper wounds and cuts require professional medical attention as they may bleed a lot and require stitches. Also, if you suspect a wound to be infected, the vet might suggest a course of antibiotics. 

4. Claw Problems

A very viable reason your pup may be going at their paw could be that their claws are causing them health problems. The same rules apply; do a thorough inspection of their paw, checking each claw carefully, including the de claw.

The problem may be caused by a loose or broken claw. While going about their daily activities, your dog’s claw may hook on something unforeseen and break off. What often happens is that the claw snaps at the base but doesn’t fully detach, which can be very painful. Luckily, the sensitive inner skin can start to heal once the loose nail is removed.

white dog paws

It may even be an ingrown claw causing the hassle. If your dog does not have regular nail trims, their claws can grow too long. A nail can then curl and begin to grow into the paw pad. If you find this to be the case with your doggy, the solution can either be a simple cutting of the long claws or a vet visit if you suspect there may already be an infection.

5. Interdigital Cysts

These appear as red, blood-filled nodules or bumps between your dog’s toes. Usually found on the front paws, these painful lumps form on the skin when hair follicles get clogged or dilated. This can be due to a number of reasons ranging from fur type, environmental factors, paw shape, and even from over-licking which causes skin irritation.

These nodules can end up rupturing or bursting, causing pain, swelling, and infections. They are usually treatable so if you suspect the presence of cysts, consult your vet who may prescribe antibiotics, anti-inflammatory, or antibacterial shampoos. 

6. Parasites

Another factor that can lead to excessive paw licking could be the infamous little pests that plague our poor fur babies. Fleas, ticks and mites are an unfortunate element of being a dog owner. These intruders, which can be picked up in long grass and the wider world, cause itching and irritation and can cause your dog to lick their paws in an effort to alleviate the itch. 

Fortunately, there are some wonderful flea treatments for dogs out there that help prevent these unwelcome guests.

terrier with paw up

7. Pain or Discomfort

Our canine friends often lick as a form of soothing. This means that your pup may be licking its paw because it feels pain, even if the pain is elsewhere in the body. The act of licking releases endorphins that can help provide comfort and pain relief. If you see your dog lapping at their paws more than normal it may be because they are experiencing discomfort physically, in which case, a vet check-up is advised.

Furthermore, when your fluffy friend is in pain, it also causes us a lot of distress. Luckily, some excellent CBD oil for dogs on the market alleviates pain, anxiety, and any general discomfort. 

golden brown dog paws

8. Behavioral Issues

This diagnosis is hard to reach or pinpoint. Similar to us, dogs can experience anxiety and boredom, which often lead to obsessive compulsive behaviors like constant paw-licking in an attempt to self-soothe. It can be worth looking into CBD oils for dogs to help calm your pup’s anxiety

Anxiety in dogs can flare up due to environmental stresses like harsh noises, new routines, pets, or people.  If you suspect your pooch has a nervous disposition and is prone to general or separation anxiety or stress, it may be worth trying some at-home solutions.

To alleviate boredom and general anxiety, pet parents can try to engage their dog in more physical and mental activities. Take your dog on more walks, get them some new dog toys for your play sessions together, or present them with puzzles, toys and other outlets to satisfy their licking habit. 

Lick mats can be great for this, as they can be covered with all sorts of tasty treats, and can help to alleviate the anxiety that might be causing your pup to lick their paws in the first place. A physically and mentally enriched dog is a happy dog, and a happy dog is much less likely to display behavioral issues, including excessive or compulsive paw licking. Or if you are struggling to address these issues you may want to engage an animal behaviorist like a dog trainer.

golden brown dog licking paws

9. Allergies

Allergy signs usually begin mildly but gradually worsen and are often a major reason for dogs excessively licking their paws. Dogs can develop an allergic reaction at any time and they can be tricky to identify, so knowledge is power when trying to get to the bottom of your pooch’s specific needs and treatment. 

Here are 3 of the most common reasons for dog allergies. 

Dermatitis or Skin Conditions

If you’ve inspected the paws and pads of your furry friend for injuries but the licking persists, then it may be due to dermatitis or similar skin issues that are itchy and causing your dog to lick its paws. Over-licking may even result ‘hot spots’ – areas of infected or inflamed skin that will be red, moist and likely warm to the touch. If not treated, constant licking of these hot spots can result in bacterial, fungal or yeast infections.

You can usually spot these infections by a rather unpleasant odor that will be coming from the affected area. This will cause even more unpleasant itching, redness, and swelling which unfortunately perpetuates the licking cycle as your pup tries to relieve the discomfort, ultimately resulting in more irritation. 

It is also possible that your dog is sensitive to certain chemicals in the products that you use with them. It may be worth switching to some all-natural, skin-friendly doggy soaps and shampoos to see if the problem is solved.

dog paws in the sand

Don’t disregard very obvious causes like classic dry skin. Your pup’s licking could very well be because they have itchy skin from dryness or even cracked paw pads. This could be from winter weather, a dry climate, or even from a deficiency of fatty acids in their diet. In this case, applying a pet-friendly hydrating lotion will help as well as introducing some healthy fats for dogs into their diet.

Food Allergies

If your beloved doggo is suffering from itchy paws, it may be that they are experiencing an allergy or sensitivity to their food. It’s therefore really handy to opt for good dog food as it undoubtedly plays a huge role in your pet’s overall happiness.

If your pup continues to experience itchy paws, your vet may suggest an elimination diet to uncover which ingredients are causing the irritation. This may look like a 12-week food elimination trial, with simple foods and gradual reintroductions, in an effort to find the specific culprit. In addition to this, you could choose to give your pooch some supplements to promote skin health like anti allergy treats.

bulldog licks paws

Environmental Allergies

Many of us suffer from dreaded allergies which usually flare up around the change of season. This may result in sneezing, itching eyes or skin, and even coughing.

It may be surprising to learn that our furry family members are not exempt from this inconvenience. If you notice an increase in paw licking and sneezing around the change of season, seasonal allergies may well be the culprit. 

Many lawn and garden chemicals can also be very irritating to your dog’s skin and paws. Since it’s their playground, it may be worth looking into more natural landscaping products. A helpful tip is also to keep a foot washer or a bowl of water and towel by the door to clean your pup’s feet before coming inside. This will help in removing irritants they may have picked up outside on the grass.

dog paw pads

10. After a Visit to the Groomer

You may notice that your pup licks their paws more than usual after a visit to the groomer. This can be due to a number of reasons: perhaps their skin was irritated by the groomer’s shampoo or doggy perfume, or the mechanical implements often used to trim fur resulted in irritation. Electric clippers, especially if they overheat or are dull can irritate a dog’s thin skin, leading to excessive licking in an attempt to soothe the area.  

Similarly, if the fur around the paws is cut too short, your pup may not be used to this new sensation and might feel a little uncomfortable. Just like in humans, when a dog’s hair is cut short or shaved, the regrowth period can be itchy and irritating, leading to excessive licking.  If your dog does experience irritation after a grooming session, a bath with your own tested products can help calm the skin, and various dog friendly soothing ointments can help cool inflamed paws. 

black dog licking paws

Final Thoughts on Paw Licking

Occasional paw licking is normal, but if you find it’s your dog’s new favorite activity and it happens in excess, it’s wise to take a closer look and monitor them. 

Most licking has a simple, solvable cause. But if you find that it persists after you’ve eliminated common reasons, you can consult your vet and they will help you narrow it down.

At the end of the day, a happy pup makes for a happy you. With this knowledge and more, you’re well on your way to helping your pooch put its best foot forward.

black and brown dog licking its paws

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