Licking of the paws is one of the most common symptoms that we vets see. Sometimes, it’s not even noticed as being abnormal by pet owners. Only once the vet asks that the problem is revealed. So, how much is a normal amount for a dog to lick their paws, and why could they be licking more than usual?

So, why do dogs lick their paws?

It’s normal for dogs to clean their paws after going out and getting wet or muddy. Unlike cats, dogs don’t groom daily and tend to only clean themselves if they are very dirty. So licking, chewing and nibbling at the paws at any other time is usually abnormal. 

Why are my dog’s feet pink?

Dogs with white or light fur that repetitively lick their paws will often get orange-pink-brown staining to their paws. This is a sure sign they’ve been licking at them more than necessary. The staining is from porphyrin, which is present in canine saliva. Constant, repetitive licking means the saliva is left on the fur, where it dries and leaves the pigment. If your dog has one or more pink-coloured feet, it’s a good idea to investigate further to find out why.

Why could my dog be licking his paws?

There are lots of reasons that your dog could be licking his paws more than usual, so we’ll go through the most common ones here.

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Allergies

Allergies are an extremely common condition in domestic dogs, with one in ten dogs displaying symptoms. One of the most common symptoms is licking at the paws. This is because the paws become itchy and irritated. But on top of the usual itch they may also get fungal or bacterial infection of the skin on the feet that cause the itch to become worse. 

Other symptoms of allergies include ear infections, off-and-on upset tummy, recurrent skin infections, runny eyes and being generally itchy. Depending what your dog is allergic to, symptoms may come and go with the seasons or be present all the time. 

Injury to pad or Claw 

Dogs will pay particular attention to a foot if it’s injured in some way. This type of licking usually comes on suddenly after a walk or playing in the garden. It is also usually confined to one foot – unless your dog has been unlucky enough to damage several feet at once. Other signs you might notice are limping, spots of blood, or crying in pain. Please be aware that some dogs can behave unpredictably when they are injured and may lash out without thinking.

If your dog doesn’t mind you looking, the important place to check is the claws (all of them, but especially the dew claw); dogs may rip and break claws whilst playing. You should also look between the toes and between the pads for any sign of injury. Once you know where the injury is, how big it is, and whether it’s bleeding or not – it’s time to call your vet.

Foreign Object

Similar to an injury, dogs will also lick repetitively if they have a foreign object in their paws. The most common example is grass seeds, which work their way under the skin and burrow a tunnel. Other examples include nails, thorns, and bits of glass. This is really irritating and uncomfortable. Dogs are often insistent that they need to lick the area; unfortunately, they rarely manage to remove the foreign object themselves. 

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The problem is best treated as soon as it’s noticed. Hopefully when any foreign body is still near the surface rather than having worked its way inside. Your dog will probably need pain relief, and maybe antibiotics as well, even after the object ahs been removed.

Arthritis

If your dog is older, or has a history of injury, one of the causes for foot-licking might surprise you. Dogs that are arthritic sometimes lick the sore joint, almost in an effort to soothe it. You may notice they’re licking their wrists rather than their paws, although they can lick any joint that’s sore. Dogs with arthritis may limp or appear stiff, especially first thing after rising from a nap. 

It’s important to remember that, although arthritis is common, it’s not ‘normal’ – lots of people attribute their dog’s stiffness to old age, when in fact they’re in pain. Your vet will be able to suggest some things that may help reduce the pain and inflammation in the joints.

Anxiety, Boredom or Habit

Some dogs will lick and chew at their feet because of anxiety, boredom or habit. You may notice that your dog licks more during thunderstorms, firework shows, or when left alone – which makes it more likely to be anxiety. 

Just like humans, a dog’s mental health is still health, and it’s important to do what we can to identify and treat anxiety and boredom. Repetitive licking may seem like a minor sign compared to destroying the house, but over time they can damage themselves, and get difficult-to-treat sores called Lick Granulomas. 

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Your vet may be able to suggest some medication, or refer you to a behaviourist. Sometimes it’s as simple as providing more interest during their day – adding in an extra walk, or feeding them from a slow feeder. Sometimes larger interventions or even a desensitisation program are needed.

How can I stop my dog from licking his paws?

If your dog is licking his paws, the best thing to do is to take him to the vet so that you can sort out the root cause of the licking. Whilst you wait for an appointment, however, you may need to try to stop him from licking. A plastic ‘buster collar’ or ‘cone of shame’ – or more modern variants – are often excellent ways of preventing them from licking in the short term. It’s a good idea to keep one in the house in case of emergencies. 

So what do I do next?

Whatever the cause of your dog’s licking, your vet is usually the best-placed person to help you to decide if it’s normal, how much is too much, and what to do about it. Whether it’s easily treated (such as removing a thorn), or more complex (like allergies or anxiety) – your vet will be able to guide you through the investigation and treatment process appropriate for your dog.

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