Paw licking is a common habit among all types of dogs, but what exactly does this behavior mean? While it’s perfectly normal for a dog to lick its paw occasionally, if this behavior appears suddenly and is happening for prolonged periods of time, it could indicate an underlying issue.
There are a number of reasons why your dog may be licking its paws, ranging from health to behavioral issues. Let’s look at some of the most common reasons why your dog may be licking its paws and how you can help them to stop.
Potential cause #1: Food allergies
When it comes to allergies in dogs, food allergies are in the top five. Food allergies can leave a dog’s skin with an itchy red rash, which can result in excess scratching and – you guessed it – paw licking. What most pet parents find is that it’s the protein in their dog’s food that triggers this allergic reaction. If you suspect that your dog’s paw licking stems from a food allergy, your vet will recommend a diet where you ‘eliminate’ any ingredients that your dog has previously eaten. After eight to 12 weeks on this diet, you re-introduce these ingredients slowly to pinpoint what triggers the allergy. They may also recommend a follow-up radioallergosorbent (RAST) blood test if the elimination diet is inconclusive. Chicken is often the culprit of allergies, so if your dog falls into this category take a look at some of our best chicken-free dog recipes.
Potential cause #2: Environmental allergies
If your vet rules out food allergies as a cause of their excessive licking, they will likely look into environmental allergies next. Paw-licking and ear-scratching are two of the most common symptoms of dogs that are sensitive to environmental allergens like grass, mold, and plant pollen. If your dog isn’t licking its paws constantly, keep a close eye on when they start to do so. If this behavior starts after a walk, a visit to the yard, or when all the windows are open in the spring or summer, then their itchy paws are likely caused by something outdoors. Similar to food allergies, your vet may recommend your dog undergo a RAST blood test to figure out what environmental allergens they’re reacting to.
A great choice of food for dogs with sensitive skin is our Freshpet® Select Sensitive Stomach & Skin recipe. This all-natural recipe made with gently steam-cooked chicken, fiber-rich pumpkin, and brown rice is packed with vitamin A and omega fatty acids to help maintain healthy skin and shiny coats.
Potential cause #3: Parasites
If your dog is struggling with fleas, mites, or other parasites then it will likely be experiencing very sensitive skin, including that on its paws. In these cases, your dog will lick their paws to provide some relief from the parasite bites. Fortunately, parasites are usually quite easy to get rid of by following the treatment prescribed by your vet. They will also likely recommend using a regular parasite treatment product going forward to avoid parasite-related issues in the future.
Potential cause #4: Obsessive or anxious behavior
When dogs undergo big life changes, such as moving to a new home or major changes to their daily routine, they can develop feelings of anxiety. In an attempt to comfort themselves, some dogs can start licking their paws. While this behavior often stops when a dog’s level of stress decreases, it sometimes persists and develops into Canine Compulsive Disorder (CCD). CCD most often has a genetic link, as studies have found that some breeds are more susceptible to specific compulsive behaviors than others. There is still much to learn about CCD, but many owners have seen success with a combination of medication and behavior modification therapy.
Potential cause #5: Boredom
If a dog lacks mental stimulation, it may start licking its paws out of boredom. This is especially true with high-intelligence, working breeds that thrive when they have a regular task to perform. If you think your dog may be licking its paws out of boredom, it’s a good idea to first schedule an appointment with the vet to rule out any underlying health issues. If they have a clean bill of health, you can look into ways of making their daily life more engaging. For instance, try swapping out their bowl with a puzzle feeder, play games that teach them new skills, or try one of these other methods for exercising your pet’s mental health. As you can see, there are several potential reasons why your dog is licking its paws which is why the best place to start is with your veterinary team. If you come to the appointment with details of when and how often your dog is licking its paws, as well as if you notice any patterns in what triggers it, they’ll be able to narrow down the potential causes and come up with a diagnostic plan.