Reasons Why Dogs Lick Their Paws

There are many reasons why your beloved pet is licking his paws. This need not be a problem if it is occasional, but sometimes, paw licking can become a serious problem, leading to skin problems, disease, pain, bleeding and even permanent scarring and recurring paw problems. Getting to the bottom of a paw licking problem is not always easy, and if in doubt you should always visit a qualified vet, but perhaps the following might help you to discover the root cause of your dog's paw licking:

 Environmental causes:

Sometimes the problem is environmental. It may be simply be that your dog has something stuck between his pads that he can't get rid off, like a seed or burr. Something may have irritated the sensitive skin of his or her paws and he or she may have a small cut or scrape that is hard to see. Also in the bracket of environmental causes, your dog may have an allergy to something in their environment, like a carpet, grass or cleaning material. If you have exhausted other causes, it may be worthwhile checking for allergies, including also allergies to the food they are eating. Allergies can be difficult to diagnose, but for most allergies, it is easy to avoid the allergens and prevent further paw licking.

Illness, infections or infestations:

The problem is often one of physical illness, infection or infestation. Bacterial, fungal, or viral infections, mite, tick or flea infestations are all common causes for paw licking in dogs. A fungal infection can often be treated at home with a diluted solution of cider vinegar applied to the paws, which will also cleanse affected skin, whereas a bacterial infection, infestation or more serious illness will usually have to be treated by a vet. Make sure your pet's flea treatment is up to date.

Psychological causes:

Sometimes there is no physical cause for paw licking. It can, like a human biting their nails, be a reaction to stress or unhappiness. Boredom can also lead to paw licking. Remember - dogs, especially more intelligent breeds, need mental stimulation as well as regular exercise, and were bred to work for human beings. Sitting around can cause repetitive behaviours - much the same behaviour as is often found when humans are incarcerated with nothing to do for long periods of time. Try to remove or reduce stress triggers from your dog's life, make sure they have enough to do and be aware of how your own stress responses can be picked up by your pet.

Learned behavior/ Habit:

It happens sometimes that one of the above has caused paw licking in a dog, and although the initial trigger may be gone, the dog may have learned the behavior. Paw licking may have become a habit. Just as in the case of a nail biting human, the habit can be hard to kick. The dog may have become addicted to the positive feelings of self-soothing, physical and/or mental that they get from the paw licking. Try to discourage the behavior while replacing the positive association with another less destructive joy.
Make sure to always keep your dogs paws clean and check them regularly for signs of infection or injury. Watch out for ice in winter or hot paving in summer which can badly burn paws. Whatever the cause for your dog's paw licking, your dog will thank you for your vigilance and care.