Why Do Dogs Lick Their Paws?

By helloBARK!
Updated on 22 October 2020
Expert Content

Does your dog lick their paws a lot?

You’d be forgiven for being a little mystified by this particular dog behaviour.

Some pet parents may think their dog is simply cleaning their paws or carrying out some self grooming.

It could be an anxious behaviour that your dog is displaying because they’re nervous about something.

However, if you spot your dog licking your paws, you’re likely to be worried that they’ve injured their paw.

We’ve spoken to four experts to learn more about this behaviour and find out what it means when dogs lick their paws.

Cute puppy dog licking the bandage on its paw (Photo: Adobe Stock)

Cute puppy dog licking the bandage on its paw (Photo: Adobe Stock)

Paw Licking Is A Completely Natural Behaviour

Heather Taylor, Dog Behaviourist and Founder of In Line Canine UK

There are many reasons why your dog might be licking its paws, some behavioural and some medical. Licking paws is a perfectly normal behaviour for dogs as part of their grooming routine, but if you notice your dog excessively licking his paws, or he seems to be licking quite aggressively, then you may need to look at why.

Behavioural Causes

Some dogs lick their paws out of boredom – it’s just something to do! If you think this might be the cause, try adding some enrichment into your dog’s life whether it be puzzle feeders, snuffle mats or scent work. You should offer enrichment to your dog anyway but they can help alleviate boredom.

The other main cause of excessive paw licking from a behavioural point of view is stress and anxiety.

It’s soothing for the dog to nibble and lick his paws so you might see them do this when there are fireworks going off, or new people in the house depending on what your dog is frightened of.

Never scold your dog for licking his paws if due to anxiety, but instead seek advice from a force-free dog behaviourist.

Medical Reasons

These can be grouped into two main categories – the first being allergies.

Whether environmental or food allergies, these can make your dogs feet itch, so to relieve this they may nibble or excessively lick their paws.

It might be worth changing your dog’s food to see if things improve, but always consult your vet if you think there is an allergy. The paws will normally be quite red and sore from the excessive licking.

The other medical causes are parasites or bacterial/fungal infections. Always check for grass seeds and ticks, they can get lodged in between the paw pads. If you can’t see anything, it’s possible they may have a yeast infection or similar. This can create quite a pungent smell of cheese from the paws. Again, if you believe this is the cause of licking, please consult your vet.

For some dogs, it just becomes a habit so if you think your dog is licking his paws too much, try to redirect his attention onto a toy or you.

Excessive licking can cause saliva stains around the paws, which are rust coloured and easier to see on lighter coloured dogs.

We always recommend a vet check before embarking on any sort of behavioural modification training to rule out any medical causes.

Paw licking is a completely natural behaviour and you should see your dog doing this, probably on a daily basis, but if you think the licking is getting a bit too frequent then it might be worth a quick check-up.

Pug is checked over by vet (Photo: Adobe Stock)

Pug is checked over by vet (Photo: Adobe Stock)

Latent Myofascial Trigger Point Activation

Colby Lehew, Canine Message Therapist and Founder of Dogletics

One possible reason is due to latent myofascial trigger point activation. When owners touch their dog they may inadvertently hit a sore spot.

Myofascial trigger points are “ highly irritable spot of exquisite tenderness in a nodule in a palpable taut band of muscle tissue” (Dr. Janet G. Travell & Dr. David Simmons).

In other words, trigger points are in the nodes of muscle that one typically feels their hand roll over on our should blade and are what laymen associates with being tight. Trigger points are painful upon compression and can cause referred pain. Referred pain is when you feel pain in a different location than where is being touched. For example, if you find a trigger point along the neck of the dog, he may feel pain in his forearm.

Trigger points in dogs’ necks are common as dogs do not have clavicles and muscles, tendons and aponeurosis are the only structures holding their head up.

Many times, when massaging a dog, you will see them lick their paws which indicates they are experiencing latent trigger point pain down the arm.

Dogs lick when they are in pain because it is a calming behavior as defined by Turid Rugaas. Therefore, when they feel pain they will lick the spot to soothe it. Latent is different than acute or active trigger points.

Active trigger points are typically associated with lameness, hypersensitivity, and dysfunction of the muscle while latent trigger points can be chronic and show no symptoms unless compressed. Therefore, it is common that owners do not know they exist and may accidentally touch a sore area causing pain and licking.

There are many other reasons dogs might lick their paws such as allergies and latent trigger points are only one possible reason. This is why it is wise to see a vet eliminate to get a diagnosis.

However, most dogs like humans have trigger points and could be the cause of paw licking.

Lastly, as a dog trainer, I would not discourage a dog from licking their paws, unless indicated by a vet, as it is a sign that something is stressful (pain, other dogs, environment, and so on).

Irritation Or Obsession

Dr Stacy Choczynski, Doctor of Veterinarian Medicine and Vet Expert at Pumpkin Pet Care

Dogs lick at their paws for two reasons: irritation or obsession.

Our canine friends often have itchy, irritated feet from allergies.

Food allergies from protein sources often lead to pruritic feet but they can also be allergic to the environment.

Less commonly, their paws come into contact with an allergen or foreign body that will cause immediate excessive licking.

Dogs can also get an infection of the foot resulting in “pododermatitis”. The main culprits are a yeast called malassezia that makes the foot smell like corn chips or a bacteria called Staphylococcus pseudintermedius. Both of these infections will need to be treated by a veterinarian.

Once I treated a dog with demodex mites that pulled out his nails. This is licking to the EXTREME!

Some dogs manifest anxiety with licking or simply get in the habit of licking at the feet after an infection. I’ve seen some dogs gnaw their nails down to little nubs with this obsessive compulsive behavior.

Husky puppy has a check up (Photo: Adobe Stock)

Husky puppy has a check up (Photo: Adobe Stock)

They Have Injured Their Paw

Dr Sara Ochoa, Doctor of Veterinarian Medicine and Veterinary Consultant for Doglab.com

There are a few of the most common reasons that your dog may be licking their paw.

• Their feet are very itchy – If your dog has allergies, their feet will commonly itch. Most dogs with allergies are because of things in their environment, such as the grass in your back yard. When your dog goes out in the back yard to play, their feet will come in contact with many of the allergens on their feet. This causes their feet to be very itchy. When your dog comes back inside, they will commonly lick their feet to itch them.

• Their feet are infected – If your dog has an infection in their paws, they will lick them. Many times, your dog may have gotten a cut or scrape on their paws, causing bacteria and yeast to easily get into your dog’s paws. Once these feet become infected, your dog will want to sit and lick their paws to help keep them clean.

• They are bored – Some dogs will easily get bored and will just sit and lick their paws. This is very commonly seen in younger dog’s as they have a lot of extra energy that needs to be let out. If your dog is left alone with nothing to do, they will commonly lay in their bed and lick their paws. This will keep their paws wet, which can lead to infected paws.

• There is something stuck in the paw pads – Your dog can cat Something stuck in their paw pad. Stickers from the yard or even a piece of metal or wood that is in your yard can get suck in their paws. Your dog will be licking their paws to try to get this out by licking their paws.

• They have injured their paw – If your dog has injured their paw or has fractured a small bone in their paw, they may lick their paw. Usually, these dogs will also be limping or not putting any weight on a paw. Your vet can take x rays of your dog’s paws and make sure that there are not any broken bones.

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