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Why Do Puppies Lick Their Paws? 12 Reasons

Everyone’s puppy has a lick at their paws from time to time, some more often than others. Seeing them spread out in their bed having a comforting lick is frankly adorable. The real question when is a dog licking its paws a cause for concern, and when is it a normal habit? Why do puppies lick their paws?

There are a variety of factors that influence how often and how hard a pup may lick its paws for it to be considered harmless or harmful. Here’s the lowdown on everything you need to know about why puppies lick their paws.

puppy licking its paws

Why Do Puppies Lick Their Paws?

From benign self-soothing laps to more furious licks, there are plenty of different reasons for pups to lather up their paws with their tongues. Here are the most common causes for paw-licking in puppies.

Good Reasons Puppies Lick Their Paws

There aren’t many good reasons for your pup to be licking their paws too frequently, but here’s the most common reasons for this behavior.

1. Self-Grooming

Cats might be considered the kings of self-grooming, but despite the difference in lifestyles—and species—dogs like to keep themselves clean too.

They’ll happily lick their paws, legs, and even their nether regions to get rid of any unwanted debris or smell they feel is clinging to them. They usually prefer it to a bath, at any rate. This is a healthy behavior that’s very normal for a pup to engage in, especially when they still remember their furry mom licking them to keep them clean.

It’s good to note how often your dog licks at their paws, though, as there is a line between normal self-grooming and problematic behavior indicative of a bigger issue.

doodle puppy licking its paw

2. Self-Soothing

Licking is a soothing activity for your dog, whether they’re licking themselves or licking you. It can be a simple relaxing behavior to calm themselves down after playtime or if their nerves are a little rattled. It usually isn’t excessive, though.

Bad Possible Reasons Puppies Lick their Paws

There are many different factors to take into account if your puppy is practicing excessive paw licking too frequently to account for grooming. These are often health problems. Sometimes the underlying cause is more difficult to deal with than others, but many are taken care of with relative ease.

3. Parasites

Ticks are common problems for dog owners who love to take their furry companion on a jaunt through fields and forests. They can be found just about anywhere on your puppy, including the vulnerable areas of skin irritation between the toe pads.

Though flea allergies can be very hard to find in such a tight space surrounded by fur, the burrowing and biting may cause Fido to lick at the affected paw. A good flea and tick medication should prevent itchy skin. If you find a live tick on your dog’s skin, it’s important to remove the entire tick with the head and mouth parts intact using a special tool.

why do puppies lick their paws

Fleas are a similarly annoying pest that can cause licking of the paws, but they are easy to spot and can be controlled with the above-mentioned medication or a flea collar.

4. Yeast Infection

Yeast may not sound imposing, but it can be an uncomfortable (and smelly) skin problem for puppies. It often occurs on paws that are chronically licked as yeast grows well in a moist environment. The more it grows, the more it smells, which in turn encourages more licking of the area, so the cycle continues.

It’s fairly easy to diagnose and deal with, though. A medicated dog shampoo or special dog wipes combined with an antifungal element will set your pup on the path to yeast-free paws.

5. Toenail Injury

When your puppy is focusing its constant licking one paw in particular frequently, the problem might not be their paw at all but an injury to a toenail. A dog’s toenail has multiple layers, starting with the bone higher up, then the surrounding quick, and lastly the hard outer layer of thick keratin. 

Each progressive layer is longer than the last, with the protective outer layer being the hardest. Sometimes when running on uneven ground or walking through long carpets, they can catch in something and tear or break, exposing the delicate pink quick. This is painful for your dog, so much so that they may even limp due to the live tissue and nerves being exposed. 

puppy with tongue out

If you look at the area they are licking and discover a torn or broken nail, you will need to have the torn portion of your dog’s toes carefully removed by a vet. Depending on how high up the tear is, this might involve having the entire nail pulled. A course of treatment usually follows this to prevent infection and secondary infections and help with inflammation, but once treated, these injuries heal quite quickly. 

To prevent long nails from catching and tearing in the first place, get yourself some dog nail-trimmers and give your pup a mani-pedi. 

6. Foreign Object Injury

If your pup loves to frolic on the beach or in fields, there’s a chance a sharp piece of glass or a thorn may have made its way into their paw. 

Usually if the foreign object is still stuck, your dog will limp to avoid putting pressure on the artifact or lick at it to try and dislodge it. If it’s firmly planted in your pup’s paw, it may cause a painful cyst—a swollen pocket of fluid— that can grow bigger over time. 

Either way, antiseptic care of the area is necessary to prevent secondary infection and a vet should determine whether there is any residual object left in your pup’s paw. Usually these instances are identified and fixed up in next to no time. 

black and white puppy with paw up

7. Food Allergies

Food allergies typically develop when the dog is less than a year old. They’re an allergic reaction to a specific type of protein that your pup is ingesting, usually resulting in itchy paws, face, or skin in general. The typical response to itchy paws is to lick them a lot to soothe the sensation, so this could be a valid reason for your pup’s pedantic behavior. 

It can be a tricky one to diagnose, though, as it usually involves eliminating certain suspect ingredients from your dog’s food and waiting to see results. Slowly reintroducing them to see if any of them spark a change in itchiness can be a painstaking process. 

This is because your dog will have to be on a special diet devoid of most proteins such as lamb, beef, chicken, soy, and dairy to establish which is the culprit food. The upside is that if a food allergy is the problem, once your pup stops consuming food with the allergen, the itch should clear up quickly. 

puppy with tongue out and curled

8. Dermatitis 

If your pup’s paw pads seem to be in good condition, the cause of the licking may be in their skin. As much as your dog may love rolling in the grass, dermatitis can be a response to environmental allergens such as grasses and mold spores, or to food allergens. 

The skin itself becomes inflamed and causes a mild to severe degree of itchiness, resulting not only in obsessive licking but also in chewing, biting, and rubbing. If these symptoms seem to occur at only certain times of the year, it’s more likely to be a seasonal environmental allergen, whereas a year-round dermatitis is usually food-related.

Either way, it can take some time to identify the allergen culprit, but there are creams and medicines that a vet can prescribe to help with your dog’s dry skin.


9. Hot Spots

These local areas of inflammation can pop up overnight and are a type of acute moist dermatitis. They’re triggered by a licking or scratching episode that activates inflammation and allows an entry to bacteria. 

They’re painful and very itchy, so your dog’s response to them will be to scratch and chew and lick more, causing further harm to the area. They can even discharge pus or fluid, causing crusting in the fur, and they can get bigger quickly if not attended to in time. 

A trip to the vet to diagnose and help determine the cause of the hot spot is in order. A topical hydrocortisone spray will help alleviate your four-legged friend’s distressing itch in the meantime. 

10. Burns

It’s always lovely to walk your dog when the weather is good, but watch out for those high summer temperatures. Hot surfaces like tar and concrete that have been baking in the sun all day can leave your pup’s paw pads scalded if they walk on them. 

Even undiluted chemicals you use to clean your floors could potentially leave chemical burns on their pads. If your dog’s paws are burned, you’ll see paw pads that are red and cracked, often with blisters or peeling skin. 

Depending on the severity, medicine for secondary infection or pain may be required. To avoid this, it’s good to stick to the rule of “if it’s too hot for my feet, it’s too hot for theirs,” or buy them booties to protect their paws.

11. Pain

Puppies are inquisitive by nature and don’t usually know their limits, so leaping off of a couch or high step isn’t that uncommon. Even rough play or overexertion can compromise their delicate tendons and give them a sprain. 

white puppy licks face

At this stage, their little bones are still growing and their joints are not properly formed yet—in fact, it takes up to age 12-18 months before their bones are fully set and developed. This is why they’re so adorably wobbly at younger ages.

But it also means they can develop joint pain from accidental ligament sprains or fractures more easily than older dogs. What’s more, pain can be referred or simply come from a place too high for the pup to reach, so licking at their paws may be the next best thing for them. Look for any swelling on or around the paw that’s being licked and gently check for sensitivity up and down the leg. 

If there is a sprain or similar injury, there usually isn’t much to do besides getting your furry friend some medicine for pain relief from your vet. In other cases, there could be something more sinister at play. Panting and restlessness are other pain indicators, so if this is combined with some feverish licking, a visit to your vet for a proper diagnosis is recommended.  

puppy with fingers how to socialize a puppy

12. Behavioral Issues

If most other causes have already been ruled out, it’s possible your canine friend is suffering from a behavioral issue. 
It may be something as treatable as boredom, in which case buying them more engaging toys or treat dispensers may encourage intellectual and physical stimulation. Even taking them for more frequent walks should help. 

It may also be a symptom of anxiety. Perhaps your canine companion is suffering from separation anxiety, or they have a fear that is being aggravated. In this case calming treats and thunder shirts can be a boon, but a decent behavioral specialist should have more ideas in order to help work out the issue. The occasional paw licking is fine but if this turns into compulsive behaviors, pet parents need some guidance with getting your pup to steer away from the activity with a vet visit.  

puppy tongue

Should I Worry if My Puppy is Licking Their Paws?

A gentle groom here and there is healthy for your dog and wouldn’t cause them any harm. However, chronic licking at a high frequency is indicative of something else causing an issue that needs your attention. 

It’s not often a reason to worry wildly, as the causes are usually rather benign and can be taken care of quite easily. If you notice excessive licking behavior though, it’s better to take action sooner rather than later. 

If left unattended, apart from any other consequences, chronic licking may result in hair loss with a thickened and raised skin, or a lick granuloma in the worst-case scenario. 

golden retriever puppy

Final Thoughts on Puppies Licking Their Paws

Puppies can be a cuteness overload, especially when indulging in adorable acts like cleaning their little paws or wagging their tiny tails. If you notice them licking at their paws a bit too much, take note but don’t get overly worried. 

The reasons can vary wildly from grooming to environmental allergies to bacterial infections to skin conditions to boredom or pain, so take more of their behavior into account for a better picture. If you’re concerned though, it’s a good idea to take your furry friend to the vet for a check-up of the affected area.

black puppy licks face

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