Why Do Dogs Lick Their Paws? (9 Common Reasons)

dog paws

Paw licking is a common sight if you have dogs around.

Yes, dogs will lick their paws. But how much or how often they do so will determine if you should worry or just ignore.

Occasional paw licking is okay to ignore, but if your dog is obsessed with licking its paws or has suddenly developed this habit or if you notice bleeding or swelling alongside, chances are that your dog needs more attention. So, why do dogs lick their paws?

The reasons can be more than just one.

They may have developed a yeast overgrowth or food allergies, they may have hurt themselves, they may have gastro-intestinal issues or hormonal imbalance or dry skin or fleas and ticks, they may be anxious or bored or their paws may also be irritated by the deicing salts used during the colder months.

Let’s consider more possible reasons:

1. Yeast Overgrowth

We all have yeast in our digestive tract. Even dogs do! The level of yeast in our system or theirs is maintained by a healthy diet.

Too much carbohydrates can raise this level and lead to yeast overgrowth. When that happens, it causes itching and irritability in the dog’s paws and they start licking their paws to soothe themselves.

Thus said, it is important to choose your dog’s diet right.

Your furry friends are carnivores, so they cannot just live on a low-meat, high-carb diet. Nor are the commercially available, heat-processed dog foods the best bets.

These are mostly harmful for the dog’s healthy immune system. And if you are feeding him on homemade food, make sure you include enough meat and bones in the diet.

However, some dogs may be allergic to certain meats. So, get it checked before you dish out a meaty meal to your dear dog.

2. Food Allergies

Food allergies can often be a culprit behind your dog’s paw-licking behavior. Allergies towards beef, pork, wheat, soy and corn are quite common.

Some dogs are even allergic to certain brands of dog food containing artificial additives. Therefore, the two wisest things for you to do are:

  • Check with the vet and get an allergy test done and
  • Avoid commercial dog foods and stick to homemade natural foods.
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3. Pain or Hurt

A comparatively less serious cause behind your dog’s incessant paw-licking behavior can be a pain or wound in any of the paws.

If your dog is licking a particular paw continuously, it has most likely hurt itself there and the symptom would vanish as soon as the pain subsides. In that case, the safest bet is to take it to a vet and have a thorough check-up done.

As the wound heals upon treatment, your dog would also stop licking that paw a hundred times over in a day.

4. Gastrointestinal issues

A recent research in 2012 has attributed excessive paw-licking in dogs to gastrointestinal diseases like chronic pancreatitis, lymphocytic-plasmacytic infiltration and gastric foreign bodies.

GI issues were found in 14 out of the 19 dogs observed in the study. Such a finding indicates that excessive paw-licking is not as simple as it may apparently seem.

Paw-licking has sometimes been believed to be a grooming behavior in dogs, but it is rarely true when the behavior is sudden and frequent.

If your dog has GI issues indeed, it will lick its paws compulsively and obsessively. So, run to the vet, without much delay!

5. Hormonal imbalance

Just like humans, our canine friends can develop hormonal imbalances too.

They may produce too much (hyper) or too little (hypo) of the thyroid hormones in their system, resulting in hair loss or hair thinning. When they lose their furry coat, their skin is exposed.

Dogs are prone to licking these exposed areas, perhaps in an attempt to heal it. However, contrary to their intentions, dogs often generate wounds around these areas due to excessive licking.

Therefore, it is best to treat the cause before it leads to another serious problem. Consult a vet and treat the hormonal imbalance as soon as you can. The licking behavior would soon disappear!

6. Dry skin

Don’t you feel itchy all over when you have dry and patchy skin? Really, dry skin isn’t good news.

Neither for us, nor for dogs.

While we moisturize ourselves, dogs scratch and lick themselves to get rid of the discomfort. But why or how do their skin dry up?

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Dry skin may develop due to over-bathing and over-cleaning your dog. If you are a cleanliness freak and love to bathe or groom your pooch often, you are treading a wrong pet schedule.

What you are doing, in essence, is robbing the dog’s skin off its natural oils.

These oils keep their skin hydrated. Too frequent bathing and grooming cause dry skin in them and eventually lead to excessive licking behaviors.

The solution here is simple and in your hands –do not over-bathe your dog and always choose mild shampoos and soaps while you wash them.

7. Fleas or ticks

Fleas and ticks are a regular problem with dogs. They easily get infected with fleas and ticks, especially if they walk around woodlands.

When these fleas and ticks attach to the skins of dogs, it irritates their skin.

The dog would then start to scratch itself and get rid of the irritation. And when too much scratching leads to a burning sensation, it would then lick itself to soothe the skin.

Sometimes they get the fleas and ticks from the soft furnishings and rugs or carpets in your home.

So, it is always a good idea to keep your home vacuum-cleaned and free from these pests. In case your dog has too much fleas or ticks, it is best to get advice from the vet.

8. Anxiety and boredom

Again, a less severe cause behind your dog’s excessive paw-licking can be anxiety and boredom. This is less severe because it is situational and in your control.

So, with a bit of attention and care, you may be able to stop the compulsive paw-licking tendencies in your dog.

Often, when a dog is anxious, it starts licking its paws to control stress. The trigger can be anything – from an unpleasant noise to new guests at home to a change in routine, etc.

Or if your dog has grown old, it may be more prone to anxiety attacks and consequent paw-licking.

Here, observation is the key. You need to identify what makes the poor creature nervous or irritated and remove that source of anxiety. The paw-licking will go away on its own.

Sometimes, dogs are too bored and lick their paws. What’s the connection? Well, a dog is generally active and loves games and play.

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When it has no such option, it goes against its nature and increases its stress hormones. As a result, the dog will start licking its paws to reduce stress. Therefore, you must try to keep your dog company most times of the day.

A lonely dog is likely to be bored. If you must leave your dog alone, try to keep your absence brief and keep your dog in a place where it can move around and play with objects while you are away.

9. Deicing salts and cold months

In very cold countries, where driveways get covered with ice and snow in the chilly winter months, salts are used for deicing.

When these salts come in contact with the paws of the dogs, they cause chemical burns and redness as they contain toxic chemicals.

The dog then licks its paws continuously to relieve itself. Even the snow and ice can be a problem for these furry animals as they stick to their feet fur and cause painfully bleeding or cracking toes.

The remedy is to either cover their feet while taking them for a walk in the colder months or to wash their feet every time they come back from their walk in winter.

And if you have a really furry dog, it is important to trim the hairs around their paws during the cold months, so that ice balls cannot form in the hairy toes.

Conclusion

Now, if you are really worried about your dog’s paw-licking, try and identify which among the above could be the possible reasons.

If nothing helps, you can always consult a vet.

But no matter what you do, do not blindly fall for suggestions like spraying cayenne pepper on your dog’s paws or giving it a toy bone to distract.

For example, if your dog has GI issues, none of these suggestions will reduce the problem.

Therefore, knowing the cause is the first step towards cure. So, if you really care, observe your faithful friend closely and then look out for solutions to the ‘paw’blems.