Every dog will lick their paws on occasion for one reason or another. If you find yourself watching your dog one day and wondering why they’re licking their paws, know that there could be multiple explanations for this behavior. While most instances of licking are typically minor and not worthy of concern, there may be some instances where a health issue is responsible. In the event of a potential health problem, you’ll want to contact your vet and get treatment for your pet as soon as possible.
Below, our Marinette, WI, veterinarians discuss some of the reasons your dog might be licking their paws, and whether they should see a vet to rule out any serious problems.
1. Natural Grooming Habits
Basic self-grooming is one of the most common explanations for licking the paws. Every dog does it, regardless of their age, size, breed, or personality. Their paws could be dirty and/or wet, or maybe they’re just bored. This type of paw licking is rarely excessive and under regular circumstances, does not cause any skin issues or hair loss.
Anxiety affects our canine companions just like it can affect us humans. Paw licking can be seen as a coping mechanism for your dog, a repetitive action that brings them temporary comfort. Anxiety in dogs manifests in a variety of ways and has many possible root causes.
Some dogs suffer from separation anxiety, where they can’t be left alone. Others develop anxiety during noisy events such as fireworks displays and thunderstorms. Aside from licking the paws, your anxious dog may also engage in destructive behaviors around the house. If you suspect anxiety in your pet or want to find a solution to their behaviors, consult with your vet and ask for a behaviorist recommendation.
3. Itchy, Irritated Skin
Itchy paws can be caused by an allergy (grass, pollen, mold, food allergies), a bug bite, or exposure to poison ivy. The only way your dog can (temporarily) soothe this discomfort in their paws is by licking them. They may experience momentary relief, only to have to start licking again once the relief subsides. The problem is that continuously licking will damage your pet’s skin and paw pads. This could potentially break the skin and increase your dog’s risk of developing a skin infection.
If your dog seems to have chronic itchy paws, contact your vet so they can help you figure out the cause of the itching and treat your pet’s symptoms.
4. Skin Injury
It’s normal for dogs to sustain minor scrapes and cuts to their paw pads, especially if they frequent areas where the ground is rough or romp through thick brush and debris. Often, if a dog scrapes or cuts one of its paws, its natural response will be to lick that paw.
In most cases, you don’t need to panic if you notice that one of your dog’s paws is bleeding a little. However, if you are still concerned, you can certainly call your vet for more information, and to see if your pet needs a checkup. An injury to the paw can be more serious if it involves broken glass or rusted metal, or if your pet was attacked and bitten by a wild animal. Sometimes, it’s better to be safe and check with your vet!
Dogs will also lick themselves if they are feeling pain in a certain area. A dog licking their paw might have injured that paw after jumping down from too high up, slipping on ice while running, or getting the paw stuck in something. This might cause swelling of the paw, but swelling may not always be obvious.
Check your dog to see if they are frequently limping or holding their paw off the ground. They might have an internal injury that needs tending by vet. You can try gently holding and squeezing the paw to see if your pet shows signs of pain, but it would still be best to have your vet take a look. It is possible that they will recommend an x-ray to check for bone or joint damage.
Be Proactive to Keep Your Pet Healthy
Paw licking is common dog behavior, but it’s always possible that a deeper health problem might be afoot. You don’t need to panic when your pet starts licking their paws, but we do recommend being attentive, and observing your pet’s day-to-day behaviors. Check their feet for swelling, bleeding, or signs of pain. Keep an eye out for limping or holding up one paw frequently. Little things like this could result in a bigger issue for your pet if they are left untreated by a vet!
If your dog is licking their paws only occasionally, you likely have nothing to worry about. But if they are licking their paws or just one paw seemingly constantly, they might need medical attention.
At Town & Country Veterinary Clinic, we are more than happy to answer your questions if you are concerned about your dog. We hope to put your mind at ease or suggest appropriate treatment options during an exam to help your pet feel better again. Contact our Marinette, WI, animal hospital at (715) 735-9511 for more information or to schedule an appointment!