Licking and chewing toys, your shoes, and other assorted objects may come as naturally to dogs as wagging their tails, but if you’ve spotted your dog licking or chewing their paws, you might be concerned by this behaviour.
First thing: don’t panic.
“I see many dogs in my practice for paw licking and chewing,” states Dr Meagan Painter, DVM, a board-certified veterinary dermatologist and founder of the educational website The Allergic Dog. Paw-licking is normal self-cleaning behaviour for dogs.
However, if you’re noticing an escalation in behaviour, from licking to chewing, it may be time to get a check-up. “If your dog is licking their paws so much that you believe it impacts their life quality or sleep patterns,” she continues, “it is time to see a veterinarian.”
The most likely cause of dogs licking and chewing their paws, Painter reveals, is “an underlying allergic condition.” However, other factors, including infections, injuries, and stress, can also play a role.
Let’s comb through some reasons for persistent paw licking and chewing.
Your Dog Has Dermatitis Or Skin Issues
Dogs’ skin can experience many of the same concerns as human skin. If experienced on the paws, these afflictions can encourage your dog to lick and chew to ease itching, soreness, or pain.
“Allergic dermatitis is a complex condition in dogs,” Painter says. “No two allergic dogs will behave the same way!”
Allergies can occur due to everything from fleas to seasonal changes to dust. Allergic reactions showing up as dermatitis can even be caused by foods, with one study revealing the most common triggers are beef, dairy products, chicken, and wheat.
When your dog has an allergic reaction, their immune system goes into overdrive—resulting in red, sore, itchy, and inflamed skin. Whatever the cause, Painter notes: “it is important for a pet owner to work with their veterinarian to get to the root of these problems.”
Blisters on paw pads can be painful and sore. A primary cause of blistering on a dog’s paw is when it rubs against something rough while walking.
Blisters can also result from paw pad burns if your pooch walks on hot tarmac in the summertime.
Cysts occur when your dog’s natural bodily materials, such as sweat, skin cells, and hair, get trapped underneath the skin’s surface.
Most are benign, but you should never try to remove or burst them yourself. Show anything you suspect is a cyst to your vet who will advise whether removal is recommended.
We all know how itchy we can get when bitten by a rogue mosquito—and bites from insects can be just as infuriating for our dogs.
Whereas humans only experience dandruff on their heads, dog dandruff can appear all over. The UK charity PDSA states dandruff may occur in pooches when they’re unable to groom themselves properly or as a result of another issue, such as allergies.
Hotspots are an acute moist dermatitis which appears suddenly on a patch of skin. Unfortunately, they are made worse by licking and chewing—so your dog won’t do themselves any favours by taking matters into their own paws.
Your Dog’s Paw Is Injured
Your canine friend can’t say if they’re injured—meaning they do their best to deal with the issue themselves. Again, licking and chewing can be a way to try to ease any pain or remove an offending object. Here are some of the most common paw injuries.
Dogs’ paws get mainly burned by walking on a hot surface, such as tarmac or concrete—and the delicate pads can’t (literally) take the heat.
Objects stuck in their paws
Just as you might get something stuck in your shoe while walking, the same can happen with dogs’ paws. Plenty of items can get trapped in the tight crevices, from twigs and stones to thorns and glass—and lead to soreness and irritation.
Beware of foxtails, which can burrow further into your dog’s skin.
While a dog’s nails don’t look quite like a human’s, they can still become overgrown if left untrimmed. Long nails can curl and grow back into the paw, causing pain and leading to problems such as infections and deformity.
Did you know that a dog’s toenail can crack, chip, and even break off entirely? Ouch! Left untreated, there’s potential for infection—so get a damaged toenail checked by your vet.
Frostbite or anti-ice burn
Your dog might love to frolic in the snow, but chilly weather can pose problems for unprotected paws. Some of the most common include frostbite, cuts and chapped skin, irritation from anti-ice products, and salt or grit getting stuck between their pads.
Your Dog Has Parasites Or An Infection
Fleas are perhaps the best-known parasites when among dogs (and cats!), but various little critters can wreak havoc on your canine’s skin and fur.
Your dog may lick and chew their paws to help ease any related itching or soreness.
Bacterial and yeast infections
Numerous types of bacteria can lead to infection, while yeast infections involve a specific kind of fungus. Either way, “it is important for pet owners to understand that bacterial or yeast infection of the skin is always secondary to an underlying problem,” explains Painter—such as an allergic disorder.
When inflammation and itching cause your dog to disturb an area repeatedly, “the normal flora of the skin is upset,” she continues. And this can encourage the onset of infection.
“Having a discussion with your veterinarian about this will help make sure your dog has the right diagnosis and treatment plan,” Painter adds. Treatment options, she shares, include “bathing, spray products, mousse application, or systemic antibiotics.”
This fungal infection (no actual worms involved) can occur both on the skin and inside the body. When present on the skin, ringworm’s circular red lesions can lead to symptoms such as itching and discomfort.
Your dog had fun roaming around in the woods or long grass…and now they have ticks. These tiny insects bite the dog’s skin, leading to itching and soreness. Diseases such as Lyme disease can also be transmitted via tick bites.
These little critters transfer easily between dogs—and, according to MSD Veterinary Manual, female mites burrow into their skin to lay their eggs. Itching is the primary symptom of a mite infestation, but small bumps can also appear.
Your Dog Is In Pain
When our joints or muscles hurt, rubbing the area may provide some temporary relief. Dogs aren’t able to self-massage in the same way—instead they will lick and chew to try to reduce the sensations.
As much as we’d love to consider our dogs invincible, old age and arthritis can make them prone to joint soreness and stiffness.
They might also feel pain in their paws even though the real cause of pain might be occurring elsewhere in the body. For example, back problems can show in humans as knee pain, thanks to imbalances causing other body parts to compensate. And the same can happen to dogs!
Your Dog Has Some Behaviour Problems
Sometimes, your dog might lick or chew their paws due to a behavioural or emotional issue. A few problems include:
- Boredom: Stuck inside on a rainy day or left alone for hours? Pooches quickly become bored if they’re not engaged mentally or physically, and may chew things as a form of stimulation.
- Anxiety: Dogs can get stressed out by myriad factors—from loud noises and being separated from their owner to new environments and people. To help distract or calm themselves, dogs may take to chewing their paws and fur.
- Stress: Similar to anxiety, if your dog is stressed out they may lick or chew their paws to self-soothe.
How To Stop Dogs From Licking And Chewing Their Paws
Licking and chewing needn’t be a mainstay behaviour. If you’ve ruled out any serious underlying medical conditions, there are other solutions you can try.
If allergies cause persistent itching, a vet may prescribe shots or steroids to help ease symptoms. Meanwhile, medicated sprays can help to treat an affected area in less severe fungal or bacterial infections.
It works for allergies in humans, so you might wonder: ‘Can I give my dog Benadryl?’ The answer is…maybe. It depends on the situation, and you should only ever do so with a vet’s guidance and supervision. The same applies to giving your pooch Zyrtec.
Want to go a natural route? There are multiple approaches on offer.
Apple cider vinegar
Research shows apple cider vinegar has antimicrobial and antifungal properties if used topically.
Always speak to your vet before using it on your dog’s skin, and ask them for guidance on application—for instance, it should be diluted to a 50:50 ratio with water and never used on open cuts or grazes.
Behaviour training and tracking
For dogs chewing and licking through stress or anxiety, sessions with a dog behavioural trainer could help sort things out.
Meanwhile, keeping track of any patterns relating to your dog’s licking and chewing can help your vet (and you) identify potential triggers.
“Does it happen in the morning, the evening, or all day? Or after walks only?” asks Painter. Is it a “seasonal pattern, or year-round, continuous pattern?” Write down each time you notice your dog licking or chewing and if there’s anything in particular they’ve eaten, washed, or played in.
Finally, practising good hygiene year-round is important, says Painter, and can help prevent issues from arising in the first place.
“Finding a shampoo that is non-drying will [also] help your dog’s skin barrier stay healthy and balanced,” she adds. “I recommend oatmeal-based shampoos or the Douxo products, like Douxo calm®.”
How To Protect Your Dog’s Paws
To help keep your dog’s paws in tip-top condition and avoid issues such as burns, blisters, or injury, why not give them some booties to wear for walks?
Paw balm is great for soothing dry and chapped skin (you can even make your own), while wipes keep paws clean and aid in avoiding infections. Little actions can make a big difference!
Don’t be afraid to seek advice if you think something is wrong. If your dog chews or licks their paws to the point where it disrupts daily activities, speak with a professional. However, Painter notes, “it is never too early to bring this up with your veterinarian as mild symptoms can sometimes become worse over time.”
While vets can help in many instances, “veterinary dermatologists are uniquely trained to help manage any ear or skin condition that your dog could be having,” explains Painter.