The hands-down, most common reason for dogs licking paws or chewing their paws is skin disease. Anything that causes the skin to become itchy and inflamed will generally do the trick, and the paws are an easy target for your dog to lick.
Furthermore, the nooks and crannies of the paw and between the pads often provide an excellent area for bacterial and yeast overgrowth that can occur secondary to skin disease. The most common type of skin disease in dogs is allergic skin disease. Allergens, which can be environmental (eg. Plants, pollens, dust mites etc) or food allergens can lead to generalised inflammation of the skin.
When the skin becomes inflamed, red and itchy, it is more prone to becoming secondarily infected, and this makes it more itchy! Something you can try for itchy paws is a good antibacterial/antifungal shampoo such as malaseb. Often however, medications are required to treat the infection and the underlying itch. Beware – skin allergies are often quite a long-term problem and a long-term medication such as Atopica may be required.
Another fairly common reason, especially if your dog is only licking one paw, is something stuck between the toes. This can usually be seen by identifying a ‘draining sinus’. Grass seeds are common culprits due to their pointed shape. It is possible, but less likely, that more than one paw is affected.
A lick granuloma is a lesion that results from constant licking of one area. It is often a raised, red or hyperpigmented (dark), hairless area of the skin that results from the trauma of constant licking. Often it is a self-perpetuating cycle, as the damage to the skin from licking, causes the skin to be itchy, which leads to further licking.
It can start from your dog licking at an area of the paw with a splinter or an area that is inflamed from skin disease, then the licking becomes habitual. In these cases your dog can continue to do it even once the inciting cause is removed. Anxiety is another cause of a lick granuloma, but it should be stressed that this is fairly rare.
Non-visible pain (e.g. pain from arthritis) is also a fairly uncommon cause of paw licking. Usually you will notice other signs such as stiffness after rest, trouble going up and down stairs or getting in/out of car or reluctance to exercise.
When to worry:
- Try to examine your pets skin between the toes both on the top of the paw and underneath between the pads. If it is sore, red or itchy, and a medicated shampoo isn’t helping, then it is a good idea to have a vet check.
- If you see a draining sinus, which often appears like a reddened blister with a hole in the tip, then it may indicate a foreign body such as a splinter or grass seed and this may need to be removed at the vet.
- If your pet is limping
- If there are other accompanying new or unusual symptoms such as pain, stiffness, anorexia etc
- If the paws are sore to the touch