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Why Is My Dog Licking and Chewing Its Paws?

Picture of a Newfoundland Dog

It can be quite frustrating to have to see your dog obsessively chewing or licking his paws, especially if they seem to lose interest in everyone and everything around them. There are many reasons for this behavior, and trying to figure out the problem can be rather challenging. Going to the vet is the best idea to fix it, especially if this issue has appeared suddenly. 

In this article, we will look at the possible causes of your dog licking or chewing his paws, how a vet can figure out why this happens, how to try to stop this behavior, and whether there are any alternative means of treating the symptoms.

Why is my dog licking its paws?

Your canine friend could lick or chew his paws for several different reasons, such as experiencing pain, having an allergy, a GI issue, a hormonal imbalance, or even a severe flea and tick infestation. Anxiety, boredom, and other behavioral manifestations can also be at the root of the problem. Your dog can also have dry skin and try to desperately hydrate it through licking, or he might want to give his paws some comfort if it’s cold outdoors. 

Dry skin, allergies, and yeast infections

Allergies or yeast infections can be practical causes of this behavior. A dog can be allergic to food, carpet cleaning products, pesticides from wherever he takes a walk, different plants, and other things. A blood test is extremely helpful in this respect, because it can identify the root cause. Don’t just give your dog antihistamines or anti-inflammatories because they aren’t going to solve the problem. They will merely make the clinical symptoms better. As expected, yeast infections and dry skin are two other epidermal problems that can lead to this. 

Pain

If your canine buddy is experiencing pain, it’s quite likely that he isn’t going to start licking or chewing both paws at once. You’ll also notice limping or an actual modification of the area that he is insisting upon. You might identify things like an insect bite or a wound, especially before he inadvertently causes an injury by constant licking. Keep in mind that pain in the limbs is extremely common with older dogs, especially those that suffer from arthritis. If you suspect that this is the cause, be sure to look for several supplements for easing the pain, but after having a talk with your vet. 

Boredom

Many dogs get bored, especially when their pet parents aren’t at home and there isn’t anyone they can play with or just spend time with. Keep in mind that dogs used to hunt for about eight to ten hours of every day when they were wild animals, so being cooped up indoors can be harmful to them on a mental level. High-energy dogs can easily become frustrated if they are left alone, so along with the paw licking and chewing, you might also notice that they engage in destructive activities. 

GI tract health issues

What’s really interesting is that, although you might believe that there is no possible connection between the health of the dog’s GI tract and his licking behavior, many studies have found that there actually is one. Dogs that have GI abnormalities such as chronic pancreatitis or gastric foreign bodies (that they have swollen) are likely to lick their paws.

Anxiety and depression

Anxiety is another possible reason why your dog could lick or chew his paws. This can happen because you, as a pet parent, are stressed and anxious and dogs are extremely empathetic with the ones they love, so they might feel anxious, as well. Obsessive-compulsive disorders, along with separation anxiety, are two other factors. Some dogs can even be depressed because one of their loved ones has passed, whether that is a canine or a human companion. 

External parasites

Both fleas and ticks can cause extremely severe itchiness that can potentially lead to compulsive paw chewing or licking. In case you didn’t know, some dogs can even be allergic to flea bites. Whenever they want to feed, fleas release a chemical into the skin, which makes it easier for them to draw blood. It’s to that chemical that many of our canine buddies are allergic. However, since Fido can also be allergic to spot-on treatments or other types of flea and tick products, we would recommend first performing a test on a small skin area to assess whether the dog experiences any adverse reaction. 

How can a vet identify the cause?

It is crucial to check whether there is an underlying infection that’s causing the behavior. As such, the vet will potentially perform tape preparation cytology, get a sample, and grow a bacterial or yeast culture, or perform a skin biopsy. If there is an infection, your dog will get antibiotics, antifungals, or topical sprays. 

Short-term steroids can be used to decrease skin inflammation, but they can’t be prescribed to dogs that also suffer from diabetes or have any issues with their immune systems. Prescription shampoos are also available for localized injuries. 

If there doesn’t seem to be an underlying cause and it can’t be discovered using the methods that we have mentioned earlier, the dog might have to go through skin or blood testing to see whether he’s allergic to anything. Atopic dermatitis can also happen because of anxiety and boredom, so if that might be the cause, try to keep your dog as entertained as possible.

Usually, food trials with a novel protein are recommended for about six to twelve weeks. Lamb and salmon are better than chicken, pork, and beef. 

What you should do if your dog is licking or chewing his paws

Closeup picture of a dogs pawIf you don’t have pet insurance or you can’t get to the vet anytime soon, the first thing that you should do is check whether there are any bites, debris, or injuries on your pet’s paws. Some dogs can have debris stuck between their toes, and it can be extremely frustrating for them to try to take it out and not manage. If there is a cut or any type of wound, it’s quite likely that the dog is using licking to try to clean it or soothe the area. The paw can also be inflamed or cracked, especially if Fido is suffering from allergies, dry skin, or even a flea bite. 

You can use a natural soothing balm to reduce the itchiness and start the healing process. It’s extremely important for you to select a natural one as some dogs will continue to lick their paws even if you’ve applied the balm. If possible, try to distract your canine buddy for at least ten to fifteen minutes until the product manages to do its job, at least for a while. 

You can also try giving your dog a 10 to 15-minute soaking bath. Epsom salt can be used as it raises the dog’s pH level, which can kill bacteria. Baking soda is an anti-inflammatory that you might have in your house, as well, and it also freshens the dog’s coat. Colloidal oatmeal is present in some hypoallergenic shampoos and it’s great for dogs that have sensitive skin. Unfortunately, many of the shampoos aren’t natural, so make sure that they contain no formaldehyde. 

In the end, whether your dog is suffering from a GI tract issue, allergy, or the constant licking and chewing is a result of a behavioral problem, you should consult your veterinarian. 

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