‘He put his foot in his mouth again’, can be a common joke among friends and family when one has said something a little embarrassing. But what does it mean when your dog does the same thing – literally? Is there reason to be concerned? Why do dogs chew on their feet?
In this guide, we decipher what makes a dog chew at its feet and how you can curb this behavior.
What some dog parents may not know is that dogs chewing and licking their feet is very common behavior. Plenty of owners observe this behavior in their dogs and wonder if they should rush their four-legged friend to the nearest vet. But, it’s best not to overreact immediately. Most dogs will gently nibble and lick at one or both paws as a soothing gesture.
If you have observed that the behavior has come on suddenly and intensely for extended periods. Or perhaps you’ve noticed that your dog is now chewing on their toes – then the behavior needs to be addressed seriously.
If the chewing gets out of hand or if you notice your dog developing “hot spots” on their skin, bleeding, or loss of fur then you should bring your dog to the vet, immediately.
However, don’t go speeding off to the vet just yet. Take a look at these common factors that could be triggering the chewing and see which suits your pup.
- 1 Why Do Dogs Chew on Their Feet? 6 Factors to Consider
- 2 4. Diseases and Illnesses
- 3 So, When Should I Start to Worry?
- 4 Final Thoughts on Why Dogs Chew at Their Feet
Why Do Dogs Chew on Their Feet? 6 Factors to Consider
1. Your Dog Licks Their Paw
It’s important to be able to spot the difference in your dogs’ ‘new’ habits. When your dog continuously licks their feet, the causes for why it does that differs from why they chew on its feet.
If your dog is licking without chewing, this can often be associated with a behavioral issue. Licking feet can be a sign of anxiety, depression, stress, boredom, or canine compulsive disorder, which affects as much as 3% of dogs. Something about that repetitive oral behavior may be a stress relief. This can be akin to people chewing on their fingernails.
It also can be an attention-seeking behavior. If your dog is aware that its owner gets annoyed by the paw licking, they may use this as a way to get their attention. The reaction to the licking can inadvertently reinforce it.
If your veterinarian rules out health issues as the cause of licking, consult an animal behaviorist.
2. Chewing One Paw versus Chewing Several
This is one observation that helps you narrow down the problem for your dog. If you notice that your dog is chewing just one paw, it could be a reaction to a physical problem such as an injury.
Hopefully, your dog will allow you to check both the upper and undersides of the paw, between each toe, and examine each nail including the dewclaw (the toenail on the inside of the dog’s front leg).
Commonly seen problems include:
These are common in very active dogs. Most cuts happen while they’re running around, especially in bodies of water where sharp objects such as stones, wire, or glass can’t be seen and avoided. Shallow cuts may heal if left alone but deeper cuts will often bleed a lot and may need stitching.
Claws are easily snapped or broken during normal activities if they become caught. Often the claw breaks at the base but doesn’t fully detach which causes discomfort. Once the loose part is removed the sensitive inner section will heal.
If claws are not kept short by walking on hard surfaces or regular trimmings, they can curl around and grow into the pad. This is especially common in some small breeds of dogs due to the shape of the feet and on the dewclaws. The problem is simply remedied by cutting the claw, but there may be an infection that needs treating by a vet.
Interdigital cysts (otherwise referred to as ID cysts) are painful swellings between the toes. They’re particularly common in the front feet of flat-faced dogs due to the shape of the limbs.
They’re often treatable by a vet but can reoccur in the same place or on the other feet.
Other causes are possible but uncommon, such as nail bed infections, ulcers, or foreign bodies. More serious injuries such as broken or dislocated toes tend to cause limping rather than chewing, though some dogs will also lick over a source of pain.
However, if you notice that your dog is chronically chewing at several paws, it can be due to stress, or a tell-tale sign of a skin allergy. Often the whole dogs’ body will be itchy and they will scratch all over. But the classic areas to be affected include the feet, armpits, and groin.
3. Types of Dog Allergies
Yes, dogs have allergies too and this is one possible answer to why your dog is chewing on its feet. If you tend to need a couple of blessings after a sneeze (or two) around the change of seasons, consider that your dog could be dealing with the same thing.
If the behavior coincides with a change of seasons, this offers a clue that an environmental allergen, such as pollen, mold, or mildew, might be triggering them.
There’s also a condition called Atopy, where no underlying cause is found. Sometimes skin biopsies are required for an accurate diagnosis.
Unfortunately, allergic skin diseases are not curable but can be successfully managed. Often dogs will need a combination of treatments consisting of oral medications with shampoos, topical treatments, and occasionally individual allergy vaccines.
Long-term chewing, however, could signal a food allergy. But determining the exact food ingredient which caused this reaction can be difficult and time-consuming. It is a process of elimination and trial and error. You may want to get help from a vet in this instance.
Your vet may propose a 12-week food elimination trial that offers the best chance of finding a specific culprit. These trials involve starting a program that consists of a simplified diet of foods the dog has eaten.
Allergies are usually diagnosed between 6 months and 5 years of age, with signs often starting mild and gradually worsening.
4. Diseases and Illnesses
Another possibility for your dog incessantly chewing at their feet could be because of a skin issue. There are numerous between-the-toes skin diseases that can cause a dog to chew at its feet. In addition, injury or pain (such as from arthritis or hip dysplasia), or even an autoimmune disease, cysts, tumors, and cancer can lead to foot biting.
Some dogs might take to nibbling on their digits because of a skin infection caused by hormonal imbalances. These hormone imbalances generally happen because of too much cortisol or too little thyroid hormone.
Don’t overlook even some of the innocuous factors. Factors such as dry skin from winter weather, an arid climate, or a deficiency of fatty acids in the diet can cause this intense and excessive paw biting.
Even a foot callus like a corn could be a factor. Greyhounds are said to be prone to these especially. Maybe a thorn, pebble, or any other foreign object is lodged in or between the paw pads.
Also, think of some external factors that may be to blame. Some doggy soaps and shampoos, the salt used to treat snowy streets and chemical substances such as harsh lawn and garden pesticides can also cause foot chewing.
No matter how small-scale the issues can be, they can all compel some big behavioral changes.
5. Anxiety or Depression
Just like humans, dogs can get anxious and depressed too. However, it can be difficult to spot the symptoms of an anxious, stressed, or depressed pet. Your pet might try to tell you that they are stressed by pushing their ears back, tucking their tail, salivating, yawning, licking their muzzle, or lifting their front paw.
Other, more obvious signs of dog anxiety include cowering or hiding, trembling, panting, chewing on their feet, or expressing their anal glands.
They also tend to lick their paws and scratch compulsively. Dogs may react that way due to common separation anxiety, or anxiety caused by lack of proper exercise. Dogs who are ill, generally sad, or depressed will often lick their paws obsessively.
Try to alleviate your dogs’ anxious energy by reexamining your routine with them. Play some music or treat your pup to a massage. If you find that your dog is not coming out of that slump, consult alternative solutions with your veterinarian.
Parasites like ticks, fleas, and mites are another big cause of foot chomping in dogs. Your dogs’ quick solution or cure for the parasite infection is to chew it away. While you can usually see ticks, mites on the other hand are microscopic, and fleas tend to go unnoticed until there are hundreds of them.
So, just because you can’t see the pesky culprits doesn’t mean your dog isn’t being attacked. Check with your vet to determine if your dog’s chewing is being caused by a parasite infection if you can’t determine any other cause.
A vet might encourage you to change your dog’s diet, or use a product to eliminate parasites, address anxiety issues, or give your dog medication. Together, you can figure out what the best solutions could be for your best friend.
So, When Should I Start to Worry?
This is why it is encouraged that you observe your doggos behavior over time. You shouldn’t work yourself into a dizzy spell but you should, of course, consult with your vet about this behavior. Especially if the chewing has become worse and is accompanied by redness, swelling, odor, bleeding, limping, or other possible signs of pain and infection.
If your dog continues this behavior, without any resolution, the chewing and licking can disrupt the normal skin barrier and skin defenses.
The dampness from saliva can lead to yeast and bacterial infections, particularly for dogs with thick fur that retains moisture. And repeated friction from a rough tongue can rub off fur and cause acute moist dermatitis (the hot spots mentioned earlier) and lick granulomas (skin lesions).
What About Possible Treatment?
Just as there are lots of causes for your dog chewing at their feet, there also are lots of treatments. Sometimes, what initially might have offered temporary relief to the dog ends up making things worse. In this case, there needs to be a multi-pronged resolution.
You can try breaking the itch cycle with antihistamines, topical creams, or lotions; treating any infections, and eliminating the underlying cause.
For any one of these above-mentioned issues, there might be multiple treatment options. Focusing on basic health care is a great start to at least minimizing some of these other issues.
Then it’s a matter of watching your dog carefully and making educated decisions about when to have your dog evaluated by a veterinarian.
Final Thoughts on Why Dogs Chew at Their Feet
Ultimately, if your dog didn’t lick themselves it would be concerning too. But, it’s important to intervene and seek a solution if you notice that your dogs’ new pastime is getting excessive.
If you can’t find the cause of your dog’s paw chewing here, do speak to your veterinarian. There are lots of other rarer causes, and they can help you to narrow it down.
The good news is, most paw chewing is short-lived, or solvable. Even your dog wants to get off on the right foot.
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