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dog parent basics

Why do dogs lick their paws?

It’s normal for dogs to lick their paws as a way of self-grooming. Excessive paw licking, though, may signal underlying issues or health concerns.

Updated October 5, 2021

Created By

Will Hank,

If you noticed Fido licking their paws more than usual, injuries, allergies, environmental irritants, and anxiety all may be causes of excessive paw licking in dogs. Learn why your pup may be licking their paws, and when it might be a cause for concern.

8 common reasons why dogs lick their paws

Dogs spend hours each day walking, running, and playing, so dog paw problems aren’t uncommon. Some paw issues may be obvious to recognize, while others may take some investigation. Here are a few possible causes for excessive paw licking in dogs.

1. Paw injuries, wounds, or infections

Walking around on four unprotected paws can unfortunately lead to injuries for dogs. That often means a foreign object like a pebble, piece of glass, or thorn embedded in your dogs’ paws. Dogs also are prone to issues humans also face, like torn nails and blisters. Bee stings are less common, but still an issue should your dog end up with a stinger in its paw.

If you suspect something stuck may be causing the problem, take a close look. Carefully examine the paw tops and bottoms, and between the toes, to locate the source of the embedded object. In these cases, solving the issue may be as simple as removing the foreign object and/or cleaning and dressing the wound with an antiseptic. Simple first aid may be an option in some instances. However, a visit to the veterinarian is advised if you’re unsure what led to the paw problem, or how to properly treat it.

Left untreated, paw injuries can lead to bacterial infections. These infections may then cause issues such as interdigital cysts. This painful paw problem results in large, pus-filled bumps between the toes, which can be difficult to treat based on the severity.

2. Allergies

Dogs suffer from allergies much like humans do, and itchy paws are a common allergy symptom among dogs. Allergic reactions in dogs are usually caused by one of three factors – flea allergens, food allergens, and environmental allergens. The first and most obvious of these is caused by saliva from flea bites. With flea allergy dermatitis, the condition caused by these allergens, treatment options include topical flea-killing products like a cream or collar, as well as oral preventatives. Year-round flea and tick prevention is always a safe bet even if you don’t suspect a flea allergy.

Food allergies are often misinterpreted in dogs. Often, what seems like a true allergy is instead more of a food sensitivity. These are often in response to common ingredients in dog foods, such as wheat or beef. Nonetheless, food sensitivity can lead to similar symptoms as allergies, including itchy paws and ears, swelling or redness, and gastrointestinal distress like vomiting or diarrhea.

A visit to the vet is recommended in the case of suspect food allergy or sensitivity. Doctors may employ an elimination diet to identify the offending food, and may prescribe an allergy relief medication like Benadryl for treatment.

👉 Yes, you can give your dog Benadryl (the same one humans use), but always make sure to know all the safety and dosage information before administering medicine to your dog.

Environmental allergens like pollen, weeds, or poison ivy can cause reactions in dogs. This may lead to canine eczema, also known as atopic dermatitis, a condition marked by itchy, irritated skin. Like with food allergies, the ears and paws are commonly affected areas, so excessive paw licking may be a hint. An easy at-home method to cut down on environmental allergens is to wipe your dog’s paws thoroughly after each walk. However, If you suspect environmental allergens and you’re unsure of the culprit, a visit to the vet is your best bet, as they can run an allergy test to help pinpoint the problem.

👉 For seasonal allergies, your pup may benefit from Premium Care’s Aller-Immune Supplement for dogs. 

3. Irritants

Dogs’ paws can be sensitive to some of the harsh irritants found outdoors, both in the air and on the ground. A common issue in winter, especially in urban areas, is sidewalk salt used to melt snow. While some pet-safe snow melts now exist, traditional salt when mixed with ice can have a burning or irritating effect on paw pads. Besides salt, pesticides used in lawn treatments are another irritant dogs may encounter outdoors. In these cases, thoroughly cleaning and soaking the paws can help provide relief.

4. Anxiety or boredom

If you’ve ruled out any of the above as causes for your dog’s paw problems, consider behavioral issues. Often, dogs who suffer from boredom, anxiety, or a lack of stimulation will engage in compulsive behaviors or displacement behaviors, like excessive paw licking or tail-chasing. These may be difficult to recognize, but a deviation from otherwise normal behavior is a useful sign to look for. An animal behaviorist can help to identify and pinpoint these types of actions.

If you determine anxiety or boredom may be contributing to paw licking, try introducing new or different activities. Extending your nightly walks, doing daily training sessions, and experimenting with brain games are all good ways to engage your dog physically and mentally. Pet parents can also consider products like puzzle toys to help stimulate dogs’ minds. Lastly, dog calming supplements offer an effective mix of herbal and chemical compounds to help soothe anxious dogs.

5. Dry skin

Dry skin in dogs can be caused by a number of factors. As mentioned above, allergies or environmental irritants are common culprits. Winter weather is especially tough on the skin of dogs’ paw pads. There are, however, other causes including parasites, infections, and even metabolic diseases. Hairless breeds or those with less fur, like the Chinese crested, are also generally more prone to dry skin than other types of dogs.

If your dog is dealing with dry skin, first consider a vet visit to rule out underlying medical or behavioral issues. For non-serious medical issues, doctors may simply recommend at-home or over-the-counter treatments, such as an oatmeal bath or applying a soothing dog paw balm or wax.

6. Hormonal imbalance

A hormonal imbalance in dogs is typically caused by either not enough thyroid hormone (leading to hypothyroidism), or too much cortisol (leading to Cushing’s disease).  Left untreated, both of these conditions can contribute to skin issues like itching, balding, and red spots. Excessive licking of these spots can subsequently lead to secondary infections, making the issue worse. As these are difficult to diagnose, a visit to the vet is highly recommended in the event of a suspected hormone imbalance.

7. Parasites or bug bites

Fleas have been the scourge of dogs for ages, but they’re not the only bugs that our pets contend with. Besides fleas, ticks, mosquitoes, dust mites, and spiders are common external parasites known to bite dogs. While many dog bug bites may appear similar,  it’s important to be wary of symptoms. For example, paw licking or itching accompanied by lethargy or seizures may be the sign of a venomous spider bite. If you discover any insect bites on your dog and notice any of the symptoms above, be sure to consult a vet as soon as possible.

8. Joint pain or arthritis

Arthritis and other joint pain problems are a common issue, especially among older dogs. Like humans, dogs’ joints and bones weaken with age, and this may lead to pain and discomfort. With dogs, joint paw or arthritis in the area often occurs in the areas surrounding the paws. In these cases, dogs may be compelled to lick their paws to attempt to alleviate the pain. Thankfully, there is an increasingly large and diverse market of dog joint supplements with ingredients like glucosamine and collagen, specifically targeted to treat such issues.

dogs paws in grass

Healthy dog paws 📷 by Glen Carrie

How to prevent itchy paws 

Like toddlers, it can be hard for dogs to look out for themselves. Therefore, it’s up to us as pet parents to help our dogs practice good paw hygiene, and prevent the types of issues that lead to problems like excessive paw licking. Here are a few tips to keep dogs’ paws in tip-top shape.

Wipe down paws after every walk — You may already do this on rainy days, but it’s a good habit to incorporate on all walks. City streets can be caked with grime and environmental irritants can easily find their way into the crevices in your dog’s paws. Keep a towel or wipes next to where you store the leash and collar so you don’t forget.

Use a paw balm for protection — Another method that many may employ only seasonally, like in snow or icy weather, paw balm is a smart choice for year-round protection. Many brands also double as a soothing skin moisturizer for the tough skin on paw pads. Our go-to dog paw balm is Paw Soother by Natural Dog Company, which features effective, vegan, organic ingredients like jojoba oil and vitamin E.

For extra harsh conditions, strap on some dog booties — For even greater protection, consider a pair of sturdy dog boots. Besides being useful in winter weather, dog boots can come in handy on rocky hiking trails or terrain. Try these anti-slip booties with reflective straps, so they can be seen at night!

Consider immune supplements — Many humans take daily multivitamins, so why shouldn’t your dog? Dog vitamins and supplements help provide support and nutrition not otherwise found in food or treats, and help combat issues like itchy paw pads. We recommend the Natural Dog Company’s Daily Multivitamin, made up of ingredients to keep dogs healthy and energetic, including turmeric, antioxidants, and more.

Regular vet visits — Maintaining a regular check-up schedule with your veterinarian is a great way to stay on top of issues. You know your dog the best and can help identify problems that your vet may not be aware of.

How to stop excessive paw licking

Dogs tend to be determined, and it can be difficult to stop them from doing something they want to do. With paw licking, it’s important to realize when normal actions cross the line into problematic behavior. Regardless of the reason for licking, determining the cause of the issue is the likeliest way to help you, a veterinarian, or an animal behaviorist figure out how to put a stop to it.

While it may seem benign, excessive paw licking is a problem that tends to get worse when unaddressed. Often, this is because licking creates a moist environment wherein bacteria flourish. This then often causes an infection, causing pain, and ultimating leading to more licking. It’s crucial to be prepared for paw problems so as to avoid putting your dog through this unhealthy cycle.

Consult your veterinarian — This is the first step toward identifying paw problems, but some cases may be treated at home. For instance, if your dog is licking one paw and you discover an object embedded, that may be the only cause of the issue. If you don’t discover a wound or infection, the object may have been the culprit, and you can save yourself a trip to the vet. If the paw licking still persists, however, it may be a sign of an underlying issue that needs to be addressed by a medical professional. You may need to prepare to put your pet on a long-term allergy medication or treatment regimen if the paw licking persists.

Prevent your pup from reaching their paws — When it comes to physically preventing an itchy dog from licking their paws, there are a few methods to consider. The classic solution is an Elizabethan collar (a.k.a. “cone of shame”) to restrict access from your dog’s tongue to their paws. Lucky for your pup, traditional clunky plastic collars have largely given way to more comfortable inflatable ones, like the KONG Cloud Collar.

Keep them distracted with toys — If you don’t wish to put your dog in a collar, you may need to prepare to spend more time monitoring them. Some useful solutions in this case might be a long-lasting chew or puzzle toy, which will help keep them distracted and combat the compulsion toward excessive paw licking.

Try at-home anti-itch methods — Lastly, if you are DIY-inclined, you can try these recipes for an at-home anti-itch dog spray. Ingredients you might have in your pantry like apple cider vinegar or coconut oil have been proven effective for some canine skin conditions.

Frequently asked questions about dog paw licking

Why do dogs lick their paws?

Licking paws is a natural form of self-grooming for dogs. However, compulsive or excessive paw licking may be a sign of a wide array of physical or mental issues which need addressing.

Do dogs lick their paws when stressed?

Yes and no. Paw licking may be the result of an injury or a reaction to an external allergen or irritant. It may also be caused by hormone imbalances. However, stress, anxiety, and boredom are certainly common concerns that often lead to compulsive behaviors like paw licking.

Should I let my dog lick their paws?

It depends on how frequent or intense the licking is. Some licking is normal, but excessive licking should be curbed so as to prevent development and spread of infection. Employing a cone or Elizabethan collar, or applying an anti-itch spray, can help prevent excessive licking.

When should I see a veterinarian about excessive paw licking?

If you are unable to determine the cause of your dog’s excessive paw licking, it’s a good idea to see a veterinarian before trying anything by yourself. Some paw problems may be signs of underlying medical issues, and the last thing you want to do is exacerbate any existing issues.