Dog paw licking and dog paw chewing is a common condition with a wide variety of causes. If left untreated, it can lead to painful and often serious consequences.
This site is an attempt to help solve this itchy puzzle and provide a plan of action for dog owners.
We know that many of you wouldn’t be reading this if you hadn’t already seen your vet, tried everything you can think of, and still can't seem to find a solution.
Every dog is different, but paw licking usually falls into a few distinct categories so here's a list of ways to figure out why your dog licks his paws and what you can do to help your dog.
Dog paw licking usually boils down to asking two questions:
1. Does my dog have itchy paws?
2. Does my dog lick his paws out of boredom, anxiety, or instinct?
Paw licking can be caused by environmental factors like allergies, mites, fleas, fungus, etc. Or, the psychological tendency of dogs (especially certain breeds) to lick their paws, sometimes to the point of self-injury.
If your dog licks only one paw with no visible injury, or just the front paws, it's probably psychological.
If she licks all four paws, it's probably allergies, physiological issues or environmental factors.
Thousands of owners and vets have reached the limits of their resources and yet some dogs continue to lick and chew to the point of bleeding sores, hair loss, infections, granulomas, and permanent scarring. In these cases, treatment comes down to an attempt to alleviate symptoms and control the behavior as much as possible.
Paw licking is triggered by stress from both external and internal factors. Allergies, parasites, environmental causes, psychological events or a combination of multiple reasons can cause a dog to begin licking his paws.
Complications from infections, or other contributors, such as hypo-thyroidism or changes in brain chemistry, can cause more licking and chewing, which further damages the skin, spreads infection, and begins a downward spiral.
Usually, the more intelligent dogs are also the worst lickers. Their intelligence often causes them to react to stress in ways very similar to humans. Genetically selected for thousands of years to be our companions and helpers, these dogs were bred to understand commands and perform duties such as herding, hunting, fishing, defending the home or going to war. In short, they were genetically designed to have jobs.
Without jobs, they feel useless and bored. Without something to do, they will think something up.
Compulsive or chronic dog paw licking usually follows this cycle:
1) A trigger starts the cycle.
2) The dog licks his paws as a reaction to the stress trigger.
3) The owner, either on his or her own or in consultation with a veterinarian, treats the symptoms with a wide variety of drugs including steroids, antibiotics, pain killers, anti-depressants; chewing prevention devices like Elizabethan collars, also known as lampshades or plastic cones; boots, bandages, even muzzles or face cages. 4) These attempts may not work, causing frustration for the owner.
5) The dog may sense the owner's frustration and misinterpret it for disappointment or disapproval.
6) Additionally, the dog doesn't understand why the owner would put a plastic cone on her head, or a muzzle, or become angry when the dog wakes up the exhausted, frustrated owner in the middle of the night with constant, loud, licking and chewing. The dog may think she is being punished but doesn't know why. Confused and frustrated, she may increase her licking.
7) Excessive licking and chewing can further damage the skin, often leading to a secondary infection, and the cycle continues. In severe cases, chronic paw chewing can lead to a granuloma, a ball-like collection of dead cells and tissue that can form inside a serious, infected wound.
8) The dog can become chemically addicted to the act of licking. This theory comes from the possibility that licking raises endorphin levels. The dog becomes addicted to these opiate-like chemicals produced by the brain in times of physical or emotional stress.
9) The problem becomes even more frustrating and expensive for the owner, more difficult to treat, and more itchy, painful, and confusing to the dog.
Fortunately, few dogs reach the most serious stages of compulsive licking. Usually, it's a minor problem and one or another treatment relieves the symptoms. The key is to find the cause and remove it. In cases of fleas, mites, and some allergies, this can easily be accomplished with a visit to the vet. If the cause cannot be identified, symptom treatment is the next best thing. This is often the case with allergies.
The next pages may help you to identify what is causing your dog to lick his or her paws, suggest prevention and symptom treatments, and list things to avoid. Every dog is unique and every case of paw licking is different. Just ignore the parts that don't apply to your dog. Hopefully, you'll find something that helps.
The more information you have, the better able you will be to make decisions concerning your dog’s health. We remind you to check your sources, including information from this site. The opinions expressed are not meant to be used without the collaboration and advice of your veterinarian.