It’s a familiar scene: your family members are relaxing in the living room, watching TV, reading a book, and . . . licking their paws? Why do our dogs do that anyway? What does it mean when a dog licks his paws? Licking the paws is a typical behavior for many dogs. While occasional paw licking can be a normal part of your dog’s grooming routine, frequent licking might be an indication of an issue. Here are some reasons your dog might lick his paws, and a few ideas to help curb this behavior.
Is it an allergy?
Allergens in your dog’s environment (like pollen or grass) or his diet (like food or treats), may cause your dog’s feet to itch.1 She will try to relieve the itching by licking or chewing her paws. Think back to when you first noticed your dog licking her paws more frequently. Did it coincide with a change in her diet? It’s possible an ingredient could be the culprit.2 Did something in her environment change recently? Seasonal changes can impact your dog, just like it affects you. If an outdoor allergen is causing the itching, you might notice your dog mainly tends to lick her paws after spending time outside.
Is it a physical problem?
Take a few minutes to examine your dog’s paws, footpads, and nails. Do you see anything obviously amiss? Dogs may lick their paws due to injury or in response to a parasite. Your dog could also have dry skin or have been stung by a bee, or there could be a physical object, like a splinter, that is causing pain. Your veterinarian can evaluate your dog’s paws to check for possible issues.
Is it a habit?
On the other hand, there may not be any real reason your dog licks his paws. This is especially true if your dog only licks his paws occasionally. It may be something he does out of boredom or for some other non-health-related reason. But if the paw licking becomes excessive and turns into a habit that your dog does for no reason, it could potentially lead to secondary issues you’ll want to avoid, like infections.
Your veterinarian can help you determine if the paw licking is caused by allergies or pain, or whether it’s merely a habit fueled by boredom.
How to stop it
Okay, so you’ve figured out the cause of the paw licking, and now it’s time to take steps to minimize the behavior. If allergies caused the issue, follow your veterinarian’s recommendation to avoid the allergen, such as keeping her paws clean or trying a limited-ingredient diet.
Your veterinarian may also perform blood or skin tests to help determine the exact cause of your dog’s trouble and may recommend antibiotics or other treatments. And as always, be sure to protect her from fleas and ticks, as they can be a potential cause for allergies.
Finally, try to prevent boredom! If your dog licks her paws out of habit and your veterinarian has ruled out health reasons, try to distract her when you see her licking her paws. New toys or new routines may help interrupt the habit. Make it fun to stop licking paws! 3
- Kucera, Tabitha. The Spruce Pets. “8 Common Dog Paw Problems,” May 12, 2020, https://www.thesprucepets.com/dog-paw-problems-4584406
- Lee, Justine A. Pet Health Network. “Why is My Dog Excessively Licking His Paws?” http://www.pethealthnetwork.com/dog-health/dog-diseases-conditions-a-z/why-my-dog-excessively-licking-his-paws
- Stregowski, Jenna. The Spruce Pets. “Why Is My Dog Licking His Paws?” May 1, 2020, https://www.thesprucepets.com/why-is-my-dog-licking-his-paws-3384908