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Dogs licking paws: Why they do it and how to address It

Discover why dogs excessively lick their paws and how to address this common issue. Get expert insights on underlying causes and practical solutions...

Dogs are incredible creatures known for their loyalty, playfulness, and boundless love. However, like humans, they can experience various health issues and exhibit unusual behaviours.

One such behaviour that often perplexes dog owners is excessive paw licking. While the occasional lick is usual, it may indicate an underlying problem when it becomes excessive. In this blog, we'll delve into the reasons why dogs might lick their paws and provide insights into what you can do to address this issue and ensure your furry friend's well-being.

Why Do Dogs Lick Their Paws?

  1. Basic Grooming: Dogs are naturally inclined to groom themselves, just like cats. Paw licking is a part of their self-cleaning routine. It helps them keep their paws clean, free from dirt, debris, and potential irritants.

  2. Allergies: One of the most common reasons for excessive paw licking in dogs is allergies. These can be caused by environmental factors like pollen or household chemicals or food allergies. The itching and discomfort from allergies can lead dogs to lick their paws excessively as they try to soothe the irritation.

  3. Infections: Skin infections or wounds on the paws can be painful and itchy, leading a dog to lick them as a natural response to try and heal the affected area. However, excessive licking can hinder the healing process and worsen the condition.

  4. Dry or Cracked Paws: Just like humans, dogs can suffer from dry, cracked, or chapped skin on their paws, especially during extreme weather conditions. Licking can provide temporary relief, but it often exacerbates the problem.

  5. Anxiety or Stress: Dogs, like humans, can experience anxiety and stress. Excessive paw licking can be a coping mechanism for anxious dogs, providing a soothing distraction from their worries.

  6. Boredom: Dogs that lack mental and physical stimulation may resort to excessive licking as a form of self-soothing or entertainment. It's essential to ensure your dog has enough physical activity and mental enrichment to keep them engaged and prevent boredom-related behaviours.

  7. Pain or Discomfort: Dogs may lick their paws when they're in pain or experiencing discomfort, possibly due to arthritis or other medical conditions. It's crucial to rule out underlying health issues in these cases.

  8. Habitual Behavior: Sometimes, paw licking may become a minor issue and develop into a habit. Once established, it can be challenging to break this habit without addressing the underlying cause.

What Can You Do to Address Excessive Paw Licking?

Now that we've explored some of the common reasons behind excessive paw licking in dogs, let's discuss how to address this issue and ensure your furry friend's well-being:

  1. Consult Your Veterinarian:
    • If you notice that your dog is licking their paws excessively, the first step should always be visiting your veterinarian. They can help identify the root cause of the itchy skin, whether it's allergies, bacterial infections, yeast infections, dry skin, a behavioural issue or an underlying medical condition.

    • Your vet may recommend allergy testing, skin scrapings, or blood tests to pinpoint the cause of the issue.
  2. Treat Underlying Medical Conditions:
    • If an underlying medical issue is identified, your vet will prescribe appropriate treatment. This could include medications for allergies or bacterial infections, atopic dermatitis, wound care, or pain management.
  3. Manage Allergies:
    • If allergies are the culprit, your vet may recommend dietary changes or allergy medications. Allergen avoidance can also help. For environmental allergies, cleaning your home, using air purifiers, or avoiding specific triggers can be beneficial.
  4. Maintain Paw Hygiene:
    • Regularly inspect and clean your dog's paws. Ensure they are free from debris and irritants. Using a mild paw cleanser can help maintain paw hygiene without causing further dryness.
  5. Use Protective Balms:
    • In cases of dry or cracked paws, consider using paw balms or creams that are safe for dogs. These products can help moisturize and protect the paw pads from further damage.
  6. Provide Mental and Physical Stimulation:
    • Address boredom by ensuring your dog gets enough physical exercise and mental stimulation. Interactive toys, puzzle feeders, and daily walks or playtime can keep your dog engaged and prevent excessive licking due to boredom.
  7. Manage Stress and Anxiety:
    • For dogs experiencing stress or anxiety, consult with a professional dog trainer or behaviourist to develop a plan for reducing anxiety triggers.
    • You may also consider products like anxiety wraps or pheromone diffusers to help calm your dog.
  8. Break the Habit:
    • If excessive licking has become a habit, breaking it may require patience and consistent redirection. Use positive reinforcement techniques to reward your dog when they refrain from licking their paws.
    • Distraction with toys or treats can be effective in redirecting their attention.
  9. Elizabethan Collar (E-Collar):
    • Sometimes, your veterinarian may recommend using an E-collar to prevent your dog from accessing their paws. This can be helpful in situations where licking is impeding the healing process.
  10. Monitor Progress:
    • Keep a close eye on your dog's paw-licking behavior and document any changes. Share this information with your vet during follow-up appointments to adjust the treatment plan if needed.

Excessive paw licking in dogs is a common issue with various potential causes. It's essential to identify and address the underlying reason for this behaviour to ensure your furry friend's well-being.

Always consult your veterinarian for a proper diagnosis and treatment plan. Whether it's allergies, infections, stress, or habit, with patience and the right approach, you can help your dog overcome excessive paw licking and lead a happier, healthier life.

Remember that every dog is unique, and what works best for one may not work for another, so be prepared to adjust your approach as needed to find the most effective solution for your beloved pet.