8 Reasons Why Your Dog Keeps Licking His Paws

Updated on October 13, 2017
alexadry profile image

Adrienne is a former veterinary hospital assistant, certified dog trainer, behavior consultant, and author of "Brain Training for Dogs."

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It is very frustrating when you watch your dog incessantly and obsessively licking his paws, especially when he loses interest in everything around him. There are specific reasons for this behavior, and it is up to you, as the owner, to try to figure out what the problem may be. If the behavior appears suddenly, continues for an extended period of time, or is accompanied by bleeding, swelling, limping, or odor, the best thing to do is to see a veterinarian and have him/her do the investigative work with the right diagnostic tools.

While it's normal for dogs to groom their paws every now and then, too much licking is often indicative of an underlying problem. Don't let your dog's paw-licking get out of hand. Sometimes, it can become an addicting habit that is difficult to eradicate. Dogs who lick their paws excessively often develop stains on the fur of their feet (if they are light-colored), and sometimes they may even develop red, swollen, or inflamed wounds that can be difficult to treat.

What Does It Mean When a Dog Licks or Chews His Paws All the Time?

  1. Pain
  2. Allergies
  3. Boredom
  4. Anxiety
  5. Hormonal imbalance
  6. Dry skin
  7. Fleas and ticks
  8. Deicing salts and cold weather

1. Pain

Licking One Paw Only

If your dog suddenly starts licking his paws, then it is usually indicative of pain, especially if he is licking only one paw.

If the licking is limited to one paw, then this often suggests that the source of trouble is right there on the paw. The pain in that area can be caused by anything, such as wounds, insect bites, a thorn, a piece of embedded glass, a broken nail, etc.

Licking and Limping

If you do not see anything, don't ignore it. Take your pet to the vet as soon as possible. Sometimes there may be something going on at a deeper level, such as a muscle sprain or some type of inflammation or fracture, especially if the licking is accompanied by limping.

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2. Allergies or Yeast Infection

Chronic licking is usually attributed to allergies that can be traced to just about anything. It could be the food, the chemicals in your yard, your carpet cleaning products, weeds, and so much more.

For example, if you dog is licking his paws after walking, then the itching is likely caused by pesticides found in the grass or by the grass and weeds themselves. Clean your dog's feet with a wet wipe after going for a walk to prevent further irritation.

Finding the real cause of the itchiness can be a very frustrating ordeal. It may take some enormous investigative work to figure what your dog is allergic to, and it is best to run a blood test with the vet so you can treat the root cause of the problem rather than just giving your dog anti-histamines to cover the problem.

If you suspect a yeast infection, then it is usually caused by a poor diet. Sometimes the simplest treatment for hair loss and itching is switching out your dog's food. Make sure to provide quality foods full of specific nutrients and vitamins that are beneficial for the gut and the skin.

Causes and Treatment for Dog Allergies

Causes
Treatment
Food
Common ingredients that cause allergic reactions include beef, chicken, pork, corn, wheat, and soy. They can also be allergic to artificial additives. Have the vet run a food allergy test. Avoid cheap commercial foods and try to feed them an all-natural diet.
Mold, Grass/Weeds, and Pollen
Wash food and water bowls frequently. Don't let your dog out into the yard during high pollen season or right after you cut the lawn. Clean your dog's feet with a wet wipe after going for a walk to prevent further irritation.
Dust Mites
Vacuum often or limit your dog to carpet-less areas. Wash your dog's bedding weekly. Change furnace and air conditioning filters.
Prescription Drugs
Speak to your vet. They might be able to prescribe another brand.
Flea-Control Products, Cleaning Products, and Perfumes
Avoid using these.
Insecticidal Shampoo
Avoid using if you suspect this is the cause.
Rubber or plastic material
Use glass or stainless steel food and water bowls.
Be sure to see the vet and have them run an allergy test to find out the exact cause.

3. Boredom

Modern times have created an environment of boredom for dogs. Once used to walking and hunting for up to 10 hours a day, dogs today are often left at home in a small yard, or, worse, in a crate for many hours a day. High-energy dogs may become frustrated, and often engage in destructive activities that may include excessive licking and chewing of the paws.

Treatment:

  • Don't leave your dog at home alone for long periods of time.
  • If you must leave it alone, give it a Kong to keep it occupied.
  • Give your dog frequent times to play and exercise. Take your dog for a walk or to play fetch at the park for at least 30 minutes each day.
  • Allow your pup to socialize with other people and other dogs.
  • Don't keep your dog confined to a crate or tied in the backyard.

4. Anxiety

Anxious dogs often try to find relief by licking themselves excessively. The causes of such anxiety may vary and range from separation anxiety to obsessive-compulsive disorders. In this way, paw-licking or chewing is similar to human nail-biting.

Dogs may often lick their paws before bed or lick themselves to sleep. This is just their way of relaxing and soothing themselves. If there is no redness or swelling, this type of paw-licking should not be a concern.

Causes of Anxiety:

If the licking becomes compulsive and excessive, dogs may lick themselves raw and develop unsightly ulcers often referred to as ''lick granuloma." It is still not completely understood whether lick granulomas are triggered by anxiety or if they are the cause of anxiety. It's a "chicken or egg" scenario.

5. Hormonal Imbalance

When a dog has a hormonal imbalance, he either produces too much cortisol (otherwise known as Cushing's disease) or doesn't produce enough thyroid hormone (hypothyroidism), which causes red spots, balding, and brittle hair. Licking these irritated red spots or bald patches can lead to a secondary infection.

6. Dry Skin

Dry skin can be breed specific or caused by over-bathing or a dry environment.

Breed Specific

Hairless breeds are often prone to a variety of skin conditions because they don't have the natural protection that hair provides. Breeds in this category include the Chinese Crested, the Xoloitzcuintli, and the American Hairless Terrier.

Weather

Dry skin is also common among dogs living in cold and dry climates. If this is the case, ask your veterinarian to recommend a natural dog lotion or oil to relieve the dryness. If you are worried that oils will leave a mess around the house, feeding them quality vitamins and oil supplements is one of the best remedies for dry skin.

Bathing Habits

You should avoid excessive bathing and the use of harsh soaps.

7. Fleas or Ticks

Fleas and ticks cause severe itchiness that can lead to compulsive paw licking and chewing. The condition can get even worse if your dog is allergic to fleas. In addition to using insecticides and flea medication, make sure to rid your house of fleas. If your pet is allergic to cleaning products or over-the-counter medications, there are non-toxic ways to get rid of fleas and prevent them from coming back.

8. Deicing Salts and Cold Weather

If your dog only licks his paws during the winter, then the cause may be deicing salts or sore paws caused by iceballs.

Deicing Salts

The salts used to melt ice on driveways and roads can lead to chemical burns on your dog's feet. Avoid areas that are sprayed with deicing products or give your pet boots to wear when going outside during the winter. You should also keep a bowl of warm water and a towel near the door, so you can wash off your pup's feet and prevent him from ingesting the toxic salts.

Ice Balls

Ice balls form between hairy toes when snow gets caught in the fur. It can lead to cracking, bleeding, and hair pulling, which is really painful. Keep hair between the pads and toes trimmed and short during the winter. If you have a really hairy dog, there are ways to prevent the formation of ice balls, including rubbing Crisco between the pads and into the fur.

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How to Solve the Problem for Good

The cause of your dog's irritation may have been something simple like a mosquito bite, but his chewing and licking may have worsened the problem and caused a secondary infection. You must simultaneously stop your dog from licking his paws AND find a cure to relieve the itchiness.

How to Stop Your Dog From Licking His Paws

  • Use a bitter apple spray
  • Have your pet wear an Elizabethan collar or cone
  • Distract your dog with toys and lots of affection

Home Remedies for Itchy Paws

  • If your dog has allergies or is suffering from dry skin, use a steam vaporizer or a humidifier in your home. The steam brings back moisture to the dry air and also prevents your dog's nasal passages from clogging up with mucus. Make sure to clean the humidifier to prevent mold, otherwise the irritation may get worse.
  • Make a foot soak using warm water and povidone iodine. Povidone iodine is non-toxic, anti-fungal, anti-bacterial, and anti-yeast. Soak your dog's feet for one minute. Then, dry his paws thoroughly and apply an ointment or a natural oil (like olive oil) to keep them moisturized.
  • Spray apple cider vinegar directly onto your dog's paws. Do not do this if there are open wounds as it will sting. You can also add a tablespoon of the vinegar to your dog's food and see if the irritation gets better after a week. If it does not, consult your vet.
  • Let your dog soak in a bath of warm water and epsom salt for 30 minutes. The epsom salt restores the skin's natural pH level, which helps kill off the bad bacteria that is causing inflammation.
  • Give your dog a high-quality fish oil supplement rich with omega fatty acids. The fish oil strengthens your dog's immune system and overall health.

Vet Treatment for Paw Licking in Dogs

Treatment, of course, is based on the underlying causes.

Anxiety

If a dog is anxious, find out the cause of anxiety. Prevention is always better than medication. If you cannot remove your dog from the thing or situation that is causing anxiety, then sedatives may be prescribe. Pheromone plugins may be helpful and so are Bach Flowers.

Allergies

Some allergies may require anti-histamines and, in severe cases only, steroid shots. Steroids have nasty side-effects, so use this as a last resort and do not use it on a long-term basis. Again, the best way to remedy allergies is to avoid the stimulant that is causing irritation.

Hormonal Imbalance

The cause is often food and infrequent exercise, but if your dog is eating a natural diet and getting ample amounts of outdoor time, then the problem could be something more complicated. Has your pet been spayed or neutered? Often times, spaying and neutering alone will solve hormonal issues.

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    • profile image

      lynne noble 6 weeks ago

      my dog is always licking his bed is there a medical reason for this

    • profile image

      Donna Jackson 4 months ago

      Thanks for the information it helped me alot

    • alexadry profile image
      Author

      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 5 years ago from USA

      I had to train my dog the "leave it" command and slept at night with a flash light so to check on him, very frustrating ordeal! Did you try comfy cones? I am not sure if it would work, this hub below addresses my ordeal and has some tips, but sounds like you already tried many! Hang in there and try monitoring as much as you can.

      https://pethelpful.com/dogs/How-to-treat-a-dogs--p...

    • profile image

      debby 5 years ago

      i have a pom he had his teeth cleaned he has been licking the spot on top of paw were the needle was inserted ,i have tried every thing amocacillian predasone genisis tropical spay bitter apple cocanut oil ,long ago he broke his little leg jumping and it cost five thousand dollars to fix it they say he shoulnd jump or run much, he went trew a lot the poor little thing .he is like my child very spoiled cant seem to find any thing to work for him ,we put a cone on him and he bite through it the vet badaged it he took it off ,any more i can do he has tones of toye and lots of beds ,,any thing would help ty

    • profile image

      dino 6 years ago

      my 3year old dog started liking its pawe i dint now what to do and then i hade another looke at it the next day it was vary red so i pot some sea salt in a bole and put his paw in it and let it stay thar and then i put his cone on and now it is starting to heale

    • profile image

      beaglelady 6 years ago

      My 10 yr old beagle starts licking her paws continuously Mid-August every year. This is due to allergies. Our Vet has said this time of year allergies are common place. So she is put on prednisone It helps to alleviate her lickin and the allergy symptoms greatly, BUT makes her thirsty, increases urgency to urinate and increases her appetite. if you are familiar with beagles, having their appetite increased is NOT good !! But 4-6 weeks of treatment is tolerable to get her to stop licking.

    • alexadry profile image
      Author

      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 6 years ago from USA

      You really need to go at the base of this problem to solve the issue. Watch where your dog walks as some lawns us pesticides. Invest in an Elizabethan collar to minimize licking and offer a stuffed Kong to distract him from the licking. The only way to take care of the black skin is by investing in topical products to prevent infection and promote healing (ask your vet for these) and stopping the dog from licking them as this is what is causing problems in the first place. Ask a bout a hypoallergenic diet in case this is triggered by dog food.

    • profile image

      adjgonzos 6 years ago

      my 4 year old pom has been licking and licking constantly at his paws that they are black and his hair has fallen out! he is still beautiful but I feel terrible about his licking. he will even cry while he is licking. he is on steroids from the vet and childrens benedryl which seems to help some. i have tried the epsom salt soaks too but I work full time and my mother is home with him and can't do that for him during the day. my concern is the black skin now. is there any help for that?

    • alexadry profile image
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      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 7 years ago from USA

      If its just a minute or two I do not see much harm, but to prevent problems why not get her a kong toy to be occupied for a few minutes before bedtime? if the paw gets raw it is extremely hard to heal as the dog may want to lick it all the time, so your best bet is to give something else to do. If this continues, a vet visit is in order to rule out allergies or other skin conditions. best wishes!

    • profile image

      TheSweetcupcake5581 7 years ago

      My toy poodle/maltees lick his paws but only when he is bored like before bedtime and then stops after a minute or 2 by the way what happens if the paw gets raw .is that bad?

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      Philip Pickersgill 7 years ago

      I have a 6 year old Boston Terrier who has a busy life now, but came from a stressful previous owner I believe it is an anxiety based problem .I am reluctant to feed him phenobarbs

    • profile image

      Ray Chan 7 years ago

      Thanks so much. i wish i had thought about this 3 years ago

      i have finally found a way to help my dog from not licking his paws. But pls he cant stop! i tried and i tried. Anybody please please help?

    • Lyria profile image

      Lyria 8 years ago

      I can vouch for the bitter apple spray...it works like a charm! My dog licks from nervousness and boredom and this stops it immediately. The smell/taste of the bitter apple will last a little while too, and hopefully breaks the cycle.

    • Marian White profile image

      Marian White 8 years ago from Hampshire

      My dog Jack never ever licked at his paws, his mum did all the time but Jack never.

      Then when Mollie died suddenly at Christmas Jack can't leave his paws alone. Being a Westie he now has the stains on all paws from his constant licking, he sleeps under the bed and his licking wakes me up!

      Someone told me its anxiety....

    • akirchner profile image

      Audrey Kirchner 8 years ago from Central Oregon

      Wish I'd read this last year when my poor Kodi boy was licking, licking, licking....I have the Bitter Apple now for our new malamute pup - and it WORKS! Even the little bit that our female mal has slurped up by accident is not meeting with her liking either! I have heard that sometimes they also lick because it is a referred pain from their legs but think allergies, etc. is more plausible! Great post!

    • Gift Experts profile image

      Gift Experts 8 years ago

      All of my dogs have done this. I always thought this was caused by allergies. Thanks for the info. I'm going to try your remedies. Thanks

    • alexadry profile image
      Author

      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 8 years ago from USA

      Wow, this doggy must be lucky, he surely sounds like he is kept busy! Checking thyroid levels never hurts according to:

      http://www.k911.biz/Petsafety/Licking.htm QUOTED: ''Hypothyroidism has played a role in some cases of Acral Lick Granuloma. Especially in Black Labs with lick granulomas it would be a good idea to have the Thyroid Gland function checked. Thyroid medication may just be what the dog needs to have those skin lesions resolve.''

      Best wishes!

    • profile image

      lab dog 8 years ago

      My 6 year old lab also does this, we walk him twice a day and take him to the lake every morning, along with doggy daycare everyday!!!

      We have taken him to 4 vets over this and has added up to 600 dollars and nothing has worked, everything short of the collar, which would be hard to see him with!! Right now, the last vet has just given him anxiety medicine, hoping this will work

    • alexadry profile image
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      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 8 years ago from USA

      FYI, hypothyroidism has been linked to seizures as well

      http://www.canine-epilepsy.com/Lowthyroid.html

    • alexadry profile image
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      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 8 years ago from USA

      Well, let's keep finger crossed that this may be a cure all! Keep me updated as this sounds interesting and may eventually help other owners as well. My best wishes.

    • My NJ Dog profile image

      My NJ Dog 8 years ago from NJ, USA

      alexdry: An update: the pup's thyroid was low. A doggie endocrinologist advised that is was probably due to the phenobarb and not to treat it, as he is probably not a true low thyroid dog. However, my vet and I are in agreement to try him on a low-medium level thyroid replacement and re-evaluate it in 4 weeks. I picked up the pills this morning.

      I don't know if this will help with the paw licking, but regardless, thank you for passing along the information. Neither my vet, the endocrinologist, or I had associated the phenobarb - low thyroid - paw licking. Thank you so very much.

    • Research Analyst profile image

      Research Analyst 8 years ago

      This is interesting because I have actually seen this happen with dogs and wondered what the cause was, it reminds me of nail biting for humans due to boredom and anxiety but it was surprising to hear that dogs have these same issues.

    • alexadry profile image
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      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 8 years ago from USA

      Yes, boredom indeed can be a great trigger especially in under exercised dogs or dogs that suffer from separation anxiety. Having worked for a vet, the most cases I have seen instead were for allergies, to just about anything, food, pesticides in the yard, products to clean floors etc... The worst however, were those called ''idiopathic'' in other words, unknown cause... very frustrating!

    • Camping Dan profile image

      Camping Dan 8 years ago

      Sometimes a dog gets something in their pads but more often than not the dogs I have seen doing this were bored.

    • My NJ Dog profile image

      My NJ Dog 8 years ago from NJ, USA

      We have a vet appt in a week. They will be redoing his phenobarb levels. I'll ask about checking the thyroid at the same time.

      The licking started about 2 years ago - seizures 4.5 years before that. I suspect that his 1st encounter w/ anesthesia may have precipitated the seizures....and each encounter afterwards requires a re-evaluation (and usually an increase) in the phenobarb dose. We decreased the dose last winter (worried about liver damage). He has had 3 encounters w/ anesthesia since...he startles more easily and spends a couple hours a day 'hiding' in the bathtub. *sigh* I'm looking at increasing the phenobarb again.

      Thanks so much!

    • alexadry profile image
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      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 8 years ago from USA

      the abcanimalhospital link does not work until you copy and paste the whole URL, sort of odd..

      http://www.abcanimalhosp.com/html/..\html\lickgranulomas.html

    • alexadry profile image
      Author

      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 8 years ago from USA

      Hmmm... interesting medical history! He sure sounds like a very happy fellow. I wonder if his licking issues started when his seizure activity started.

      Phenobarbital in some cases may cause low thyroid levels and low thyroid levels may cause licking behaviors. Something to look into...

      About hypothyroid dog licking- look under causes number 6

      http://www.abcanimalhosp.com/html/..\html\lickgranulomas.html

      About phenobarbital causing low thyroid levels

      http://www.canine-epilepsy.com/HypoPBEpi.html

    • My NJ Dog profile image

      My NJ Dog 8 years ago from NJ, USA

      Thanks for your response. He will leave the lollipop paw for a rawhide smeared w/ a film of PB, a stuffed Kong, etc....then go right back to licking. He was doing this before the toddler arrived....and he loves baby. She is really good with him too - not too rough and we make sure she doesn't drive him nuts chasing him, etc.

      The dog has 2 replaced hips, so we are trying to avoid pinning the kneecap; hence the PT and minimum 3 walks a day. It seems to be working. He is also on phenobarbitol for seizures (behavioral seizures - he tries to climb or becomes blind/deaf or hyper-sensitive).

      He has rotten genes, but the best temperment. I'll check out the OCD hub. Thanks!

    • alexadry profile image
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      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 8 years ago from USA

      Here is a hub with some tips for ocd behaviors

      https://hubpages.com/animals/Why-some-dogs-run-in-...

    • alexadry profile image
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      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 8 years ago from USA

      Wow, that must be a very frustrating ordeal to deal with. I know you have already tried a lot, but have you ever thought of saying ''no'' and redirecting to a Kong stuffed with hard to get goodies, like peanut butter at the bottom, hot dog slices in the middle and a bisquit on the top? What happens if you would do this? would he eat the kong's content and go right back to his paws? would he ignore the Kong? With quite severe OCD behaviors it is often very likely that he would ignore the kong and go on with his licking habit. 

      OCD usually means the dog will appear disinterested in other activities. Is this the case? Will he for example lick his paw and ignore other interesting things going on in his surroundings? Or does he lick when there is not much going on, like before going to sleep or during quiet times? Just food for thought, even though I am sure with two years dealing with this you probably very much tried almost everything...

      However, OCD is something that did not appear in nature in dogs in the wild, it is rather a result of domestication, if dogs engaged in OCD behaviors in the wild they would have not survived today.

       

      Therefore, perhaps finding your dog something draining to do, will likely gradually wean the behavior. You want to see the behavior less and less because you are giving your dog less opportunities not to engage in this activity. Because dogs live in the present, if he is not thinking much about licking that paw, he may start forgetting about it...

      Yes, he is walked 3 times a day and I am sure this does not take place during walking, so this means he is in a very balanced state of mind when outdoors (ie distracted, curious, alert) No offense, but could it be your toddler may make him slightly anxious?

      Sometimes toddlers may be a bit rough on dogs not knowing the difference between a stuffed animal and a dog. Your dog may appear to tolerate the toddler well but he may do this because he knows he must respect your chiId. If your child ever plays rough, it would be best to crate your dog every now and then and provide some quiet time with a safe toy like a Kong, which by the way can be therapeutic.

      I would normally recommend agility training that allows dogs to gain in confidence but with your dog's patella issues I guess this may not be an option. 

      Did the licking start along with the patella issues? Sometimes dogs lick out of pain as a way to comfort themselves.. and then it turns into a habit...Ever thought of surgery for the luxating patella?

      This is all I can think of,. I have seen OCD cases of tail chasing and running in circles,.. very frustrating issues to deal with! My very best wishes!

    • My NJ Dog profile image

      My NJ Dog 8 years ago from NJ, USA

      My pup has a 'lollipop' paw.....it's been inspected, x-rayed, he's on allergy meds for it, and bitter apple ......and he just keeps licking the bottom of the one paw. It's never become raw. He's walked 3 times a day and we do PT exercises for a luxating patella. The house has 3 adults and a toddler - he's not bored or lonely. After 2 years of trying to hunt down a cause, I'm starting to think it's an obsessive compulsive thing and am getting used to the slurp-slurp on the floor next to me when I go to sleep.

      Great article - wish I had come across it 2 years ago.

    • fyxer profile image

      fyxer 8 years ago from mt vernon

      maybe it's the same as when people bite their nails--hope he did not see you biting your nails and decide to follow lol

    • alexadry profile image
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      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 8 years ago from USA

      Hope it helps, make sure he does not drink the water as it may cause diarrhea, best wishes!

    • happygiggle profile image

      happygiggle 8 years ago from A long way from home

      I have a dog that continually chews his feet. I will definitely make a batch of your foot soak to see if i can give him some relief. Thank you

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