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The Essentials

  • Dogs are highly susceptible to paw problems — Hours of walking, running, and playing on unprotected feet puts dogs at increased risk of injury and infection. 
  • Occasional paw licking is normal — It’s perfectly natural for dogs to lick their paws every now and then to remove dirt, but excessive licking could be a sign of trouble. 
  • Excessive licking is a problem that gets worse if left untreated — Paw licking creates a moist environment where bacteria flourish, often resulting in painful infections that lead to even more licking.

Noticed your dog licking or chewing their paws more than usual? Injuries, allergies, anxiety, or a combination of the bunch may be to blame. Excessive paw licking is a common condition in dogs, and it can be caused by a number of different environmental and behavioral factors. Read on to learn why your pooch may be licking their paws, and when it might be a cause for concern.

Why do dogs lick their paws?

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

1. Cleanliness and grooming

Occasional paw licking is a normal part of a dog’s grooming process, especially after walking on muddy or sandy ground. Dogs may not be as clean as cats, but they still spend time cleaning the parts of their bodies that are prone to getting dirty, like the areas between their toes. If you notice your dog licking their paws more frequently or intensely than usual, it could be a sign of an underlying problem. 

2. Communication and behavioral patterns

While paw licking is often brought on by environmental factors, it can also be a symptom of behavioral issues including anxiety, depression, boredom, and stress. In some cases, dogs may exhibit this behavior to soothe themselves in response to a change in their daily routine or environment (including the introduction of new pets and people). 

Some dogs suffer from a form of OCD known as canine compulsive disorder, which triggers compulsive behaviors such as excessive tail licking and chasing, sucking on toys or blankets, and paw licking. If your dog exhibits these symptoms, you can help relieve their nerves through play and exercise. 

3. Boredom

If you determine boredom may be contributing to your dog’s paw licking, try introducing them to new or different activities. Extending your nightly walks, conducting 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. 

4. Anxiety

For some dogs, paw licking is a nervous behavior similar to a human anxiously biting their fingernails. This can be difficult to recognize in some dogs, 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, while dog calming supplements offer an effective mix of herbal and chemical compounds to help soothe anxiety.

5. Dry skin

Dry skin in dogs can be caused by a number of factors. As mentioned above, allergies or environmental irritants like dust, pollen, grasses, and weeds are common culprits—winter weather is especially tough on a dog’s skin. 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. Allergies or irritants

Dogs suffer from allergies much like humans do, and many experience itchy paws as a symptom. 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 drops or a 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 suspected 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 it 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, take a visit to the vet so they can run an allergy test and pinpoint the problem.

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

Dogs’ paws can also 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.

7. Bacteria or yeast infections

The paws are a common spot for bacterial and yeast infections that irritate the surrounding area and trigger excessive licking and biting. Constant licking further aggravates the area leading to inflammation, increased discomfort, and in severe cases, causes issues like interdigital cysts: a painful paw problem resulting in large, pus-filled bumps between the toes that can be difficult to treat.

8. 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.

9. 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 and arthritis pain often occur 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 specifically targeted to treat such issues, like glucosamine and collagen. 

10. Injuries or wounds

Walking around on unprotected paws can unfortunately lead to injuries for dogs. That often means a foreign object like a pebble, piece of glass, or thorn gets embedded into your dogs’ paws. Dogs are also prone to issues 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.

Carefully examine the paw tops and bottoms, and between the toes, to locate the source of an 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.

dogs paws in grass

Healthy dog paws 📷 by Glen Carrie

When to visit the vet

Some cases of paw licking can successfully be treated at home. For instance, if your dog is licking one paw in particular and you discover a foreign object lodged there, that may be the only cause of the issue. If you don’t discover a serious wound or infection, you can save yourself a trip to the vet. 

If your dog’s paw licking still persists, it could be a sign of an underlying health 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 to treat long-term cases of paw licking.

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.

Home remedies for itchy paws

Some owners find success in soothing their dogs’ itchy skin with one of these DIY home remedies—just make sure to ask a vet before trying these on your dog. Remember that while home remedies can alleviate some of the symptoms that cause paw licking, they cannot treat the underlying cause. 

Oatmeal baths — Oatmeal can be ground up and added to warm bath water to relieve itchy paws and reduce inflammation. You can also make a paste by combining water with ground oats and running it over the affected areas. When applied 1 to 2 times a week, oatmeal masks keep a dog’s skin healthy, moisturized, and free of any itch-inducing irritation. 

Coconut oil — Rub coconut oil into your dog’s paws for deep moisturizing and effective itch relief. Repeat this process 1 to 2 times a day for best results. 

Apple cider vinegar —  This common pantry staple makes for a highly effective  at-home anti-itch dog spray. It’s antifungal, antibacterial, and even flea repellent. Use it on your pup’s itchy paws by combining equal parts water and ACV in a spray bottle and misting the solution over the affected areas. 

Yogurt — If your dog has rashes, hives, or other allergic reactions that are tied to gastrointestinal health, they may benefit from eating 1 to 2 tablespoons of plain, unsweetened yogurt per week. Mix some into their daily dog food to improve their digestion and overall gut health—just make sure you get the okay from your vet before introducing yogurt into their diet.

How to prevent excessive paw licking

Like toddlers, it can be hard for dogs to look out for themselves. 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.

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.

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 — Paw balm is a smart choice for year-round protection, and is especially helpful during colder months with more snow and icy weather. 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.

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.

Frequently asked questions

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.