Pet Care Blog

Why Do Dogs Lick Their Paws? 7 Red Flags To Watch For

Dr. Ricky Walther
Veterinarian
white dog licking paw

Dogs are known for their quirky behaviors, and paw licking is one that often puzzles pet owners. While occasional licking is normal, excessive or persistent paw licking can signal underlying issues that need attention.

In this blog post, we'll explore the common reasons why dogs lick their paws and offer some tips on what you can do to help your furry friend.

1. Allergies

One of the most common reasons dogs lick their paws is allergies. Dogs can be allergic to various environmental factors such as pollen, dust mites, mold, and even certain foods. These allergies cause their skin to become itchy, especially on their paws, which leads to licking as a way to relieve the discomfort.

Solution: If you suspect your dog has allergies, consult your veterinarian. They may recommend an elimination diet to identify food allergies or prescribe antihistamines or other medications to manage environmental allergies.

2. Infections

Bacterial or fungal infections can cause a dog’s paws to become red, swollen, and itchy. Yeast infections are particularly common and may have a distinctive odor. These kinds of infections can also occur secondary to an underlying allergy like that described above. 

Solution: Keep your dog’s paws clean and dry. If you notice signs of infection, such as redness, swelling, or an unpleasant smell, consult your vet for appropriate treatment, which may include topical or oral medications.

3. Dry Skin

Dry skin can cause your dog’s paws to become irritated and itchy, leading to licking. This can be due to various factors, including cold weather, dry indoor air, or over-bathing.

Solution: Moisturize your dog’s paws with a vet-approved paw balm or oil. Ensure that your dog’s diet is rich in essential fatty acids, which can help maintain healthy skin.

4. Injuries

Paw licking can be a response to injuries such as cuts, scrapes, or embedded objects like splinters. Dogs often lick their paws to clean and soothe minor wounds or to try to remove the irritant.

Solution: Regularly inspect your dog’s paws for any signs of injury. If you find a cut or a foreign object, clean the area with mild antiseptic and apply a dog-safe ointment. Seek veterinary care for more serious injuries or if the problem persists.

5. Parasites

Parasites like fleas, ticks, or mites can make a dog’s paws intensely itchy. Dogs may lick their paws to relieve the itch caused by these tiny invaders.

Solution: Regular use of preventive flea and tick treatments can help keep parasites at bay. If you suspect a parasitic infestation, your vet can recommend suitable treatments.

6. Pain

Licking occasionally can be a response to pain caused by conditions like arthritis or other orthopedic issues. Dogs may lick their paws or limbs in an attempt to soothe the discomfort.

Solution: If you suspect your dog is licking due to pain, seek veterinary advice. It is important to rule out more common factors like those listed above first. Pain management options such as medications or supplements can help relieve their discomfort.

7. Behavioral Issues

Stress, boredom, or anxiety in dogs can lead to excessive paw licking as a self-soothing behavior. This is similar to how some humans might bite their nails or fidget.

In other cases, paw licking can become a habit or a sign of obsessive-compulsive behavior. Dogs may start licking out of boredom or stress and continue the behavior even after the initial cause has been resolved.

Solution: Increase your dog’s physical and mental stimulation through regular exercise, playtime, and interactive toys. If anxiety is severe, consult your vet about possible behavior modification strategies or medications.

For compulsive licking, address any underlying health or behavioral issues. Redirect your dog’s attention with toys or activities and consult your vet for further guidance on managing compulsive behaviors.

When to See the Vet

While occasional paw licking is normal, excessive or persistent licking can indicate a more serious problem. If you notice any of the following signs, it’s time to consult your veterinarian:

  • Redness or swelling: Signs of infection or injury.
  • Persistent licking: Licking that doesn’t stop after a short period.
  • Limping or favoring a paw: Indicates pain or injury.
  • Behavioral changes: Such as increased anxiety or aggression.

Final Thoughts

Paw licking is a common behavior in dogs, but it can be a sign of underlying health issues. By understanding the various reasons for paw licking and taking appropriate action, you can help ensure your dog stays happy and healthy.

Always consult your veterinarian for advice tailored to your pet's specific needs.

Keep in mind that pet insurance can help pay for future veterinary bills, but it's crucial to sign up before your pet is diagnosed with a pre-existing condition that's excluded from policy coverage.

Get pet insurance today for peace of mind knowing that your policy will cover all of your pet's future health concerns, no matter what reason may be behind why your dog is licking their paws.

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Ricky Walther, DVM

Dr. Ricky Walther
Veterinarian

Ricky Walther, DVM, is a small animal general practitioner in the greater Sacramento, California area. Realizing the positive financial and medical impact that pet insurance can provide for pet parents and the profession, he lends support and advice to companies like Pawlicy Advisor "The Pet Insurance Marketplace") that simplify the process of connecting with veterinary financing resources.

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