Have you noticed your dog chewing their paws more than their toys? Grooming and licking away debris is one reason for dogs to lick their paws and can be completely normal. However, if your dog is paying a lot of attention to their paws, you may want to as well.
Signs of Excessive Paw Grooming
If your dog is grooming their paws constantly, and you have to try to distract them to stop, this would be considered excessive.
You may notice other signs such as:
- Skin redness
- Hair loss
- Discoloration (pinkish brown) of the fur or skin (saliva staining)
- Discoloration or material around the nail bed
- Protective of their paws when you try to look
- Discharge or blood
- Reluctance to walk
Causes of Irritated Paws
Irritated paws can occur suddenly (acute) or can be a long-term issue that lasts weeks or more and might reoccur after treatment (chronic).
Dogs may lick their paws all of a sudden if they experience an injury. With injuries, dogs will often try to soothe the area through licking, and may become defensive if you attempt to help. Some examples of injuries include:
- Lacerations (cuts) or punctures to the paw pads or interdigital spaces
- Foreign objects: thorns, stones, bee stingers
- Toenail issues: ingrown nails, infected nail beds, broken nails
- Skin irritation upon contact:
- Chemical burns or irritation from home cleaners or gardening products
- Weather-related injury due to ice, snow, salt or hot concrete
Your dog skin has a natural level of bacterial and yeast, called the normal skin flora. This normal skin flora do not cause issues unless there is an underlying skin disease or the immune system is suppressed. If the normal skin flora is not under control, overgrowth of bacteria or yeast can lead to an infection. For example, Malassezia pododermatitis involves an overgrowth of yeast on their paws. Yeast infections can cause very itchy paws and lead to brownish discharge around their nail beds, leading to very itchy paws. With excessive licking, you may also notice some redness and brown discoloration in between their paws.
Chronic paw grooming that extends for weeks or more is often related to allergic skin disease. Allergies can involve environmental or food allergens.
- Environmental allergens include grasses, pollen, dust mites or molds. Environmental allergens often occur at certain times of year, depending on the allergen.
- Food allergens are often associated with proteins. However, any food can be a source of allergen. Food allergy signs may start when a dog is very young (between 6 to 3 years of age) and may affect them all year round.
Allergic skin disease often leads to itchiness (pruritus), excessive licking and chewing of their skin. With constant licking comes irritation, and disruption of the normal skin flora. This can cause bacterial or yeast infections, which exacerbate their itchiness.
Pain In older dogs, pain due to arthritis in the foot or the limb may cause them to lick their paws. If the pain is associated with arthritis or injury to a joint, you may also notice them slowing down or limping. Sometimes even general pain elsewhere in the body may cause excessive licking. Through the release of endorphins, licking their feet may comfort them rather than point to the location of their pain.
Boredom, stress and anxiety
Many dogs experience separation anxiety or have a lot of pent up energy. They may self-soothe to relieve themselves with the release of dopamine and endorphins.
Dogs may also chew at their paws if they have parasitic infestations (fleas, mites, ticks or hookworm), growths or abscesses irritating their paws or even endocrine disorders (hypothyroidism, Cushing’s disease). With so many possible causes, it’s important to thoroughly check your dog’s paws and seek out veterinary support as soon as possible.
Monitoring your dog’s paws
Checking your dog’s paws when they don’t have any issues will help you pick up on any changes. It’s always important to look at their nails, nail beds, paw pads and in-between their toes (on the fronts and underneath their paws). Look for any signs of injury, irritation, foreign objects, or growths.
Always consult your veterinarian if your dog is excessively licking, chewing or biting their paws to determine the cause. This is especially important if it starts unexpectedly, persists for long periods of time or they experience swelling, redness, odor, hair loss, or limping. Treating early is important as excessive licking can lead to secondary infections or lick granulomas.
Depending on the cause of your dog’s paw concerns, there are some at-home remedies that may help:
- Moisturize your dog’s paws to help with dry skin or cracked paw pads. Moisturizers with shea butter and natural oils can help soothe their paw pads.
- Keep your dog’s nails groomed short to prevent ingrown toenails or broken nails. Don’t forget to check their dew-claws (if they have them)!
- Make sure to keep your dog up to date on parasite prevention.
- Clean your dog’s paws, especially after going outdoors. Using baby wipes or wet paper towel can reduce the environmental allergens on their skin. Your veterinarian may recommend anti-bacterial or anti-fungal wipes depending on the cause of your dog’s itchy paws.
- Treating your dogs allergies may involve changing your dog’s food or certain medications that prevent the itch cycle. Natural anti-itch remedies, such as Quercetin, can also provide benefits.
- If your dog is getting older, make sure to discuss their joint health with your veterinarian. Arthritic changes can lead to pain, which may cause them to self-soothe by licking. Watch for the signs that they may be slowing down:
- Hesitant to do stairs
- Changes in speed or stamina on their walks
- Unwilling to jump into the car or on furniture
- No longer playing
- Slow to rise or lay down
- To help prevent boredom, provide your dog with brain-stimulating toys like puzzles or wear them out with a long hike. Lick mats can be another option. It soothes them and provides a little treat without all the irritation to their paws. If your dog’s anxiety is hard to manage, be sure to discuss training or medical options with your veterinarian.
If your dog is continuing to chew at their paws, it is best to discuss the issue with your veterinarian to identify the cause and provide appropriate treatment.
Keeping an eye on your dog’s paws regularly and their baseline level of itch is important, as this can change day-to-day. To receive a free skin assessment and tips, try the DIG Labs Health Check. Simply submit a photo of the area of concern and you’ll receive expert feedback within 24 hours. Click here to get started!
- Bajwa J. Canine pododermatitis. Can Vet J. 2016 Sep;57(9):991-3. PMID: 27587895; PMCID: PMC4982575.
- Christine Rees, DVM, DACVD, Differential diagnoses for canine pododermatitis (Proceedings), https://www.dvm360.com/view/differential-diagnoses-canine-pododermatitis-proceedings, 2023 Jan 4.