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Why Does My Dog Lick His Paws?

The most common reason to see a dog licking his paws is that they are itchy or that there is an irritation such as a stick stuck in them or arthritis. A less common cause to see a dog licking paws is behavioral, typically as a result of boredom or anxiety.   Regardless of the cause, it should be found out as chronic paw licking may lead to skin diseases such as granuloma or yeast infections if it is not addressed.

Skin Disease and Paw Licking

Skin disease is by far the most common reason diagnosed for why a dog is licking their or chewing their paws. 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.  It can be misleading at times though, as chronic paw licking can lead to skin disease, which makes the paws itch even more.

This is because 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 an allergic skin disease. Allergens, which can be environmental (eg. Plants, pollens, dust mites etc) or food allergens can lead to generalized inflammation of the skin.

When the skin becomes inflamed, red and itchy, it is more prone to becoming secondarily infected, and this makes it itchier! Something you can try for itchy paws is a good antibacterial/antifungal shampoo such as Curaseb. Often, however, medications are required to treat the infection and the underlying itch. Beware – skin allergies are often quite a long-term problem and long-term medication such as Atopica or suppressive that needs to be prescribed by a veterinarian may be required.

Dog Licking Paws due to Foreign Body

Another fairly common reason, especially if your dog is only licking one paw, is something stuck or a foreign body 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.

Licking Paws as a Sign of Arthritis in Dogs

Arthritis is 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.

Lick Granulomas

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.

When to worry:

  • Try to examine your pet’s 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

If your dog is licking her paws and is exhibiting any of these symptoms, please consult your veterinarian to make sure she gets the proper care.

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