Why Do Dogs Lick Their Paws?

A smaller dog chews on it's itchy leg

It's not uncommon to see your dog chew or lick their leg or paw. After all, even dogs get occasional itches that need scratching. But if your pet has become an obsessive chewer of their leg or paw, it could signal a more serious condition. Let’s dive into why dogs chew or lick their legs or paws.

Why Is My Dog Biting Their Leg or Paw?

Sometimes dogs bite their leg as part of their normal cleaning, and they may chew on their paws as an infrequent habit. If you notice that your dog is spending an abnormally high amount of time biting, licking or chewing their leg or paw, take a closer look at the area in question. If the leg or paw has become sore, raw or inflamed, or if the fur has been licked away, there may be a more serious reason for the behavior.

A distressed dog chews on it's paw

The Most Common Reasons Your Dog Is Chewing on Their Paw

Medical or Physical Causes

Dogs that chronically bite/lick their paws or legs are experiencing more than just a typical itch. Physical reasons may include:

  • Your dog is suffering from a bug bite or a fungal infection.
  • Your dog stepped in something caustic or irritating when out for a walk, or they may have a skin allergy and encountered an irritant.
  • Your pup may have bacterial pyoderma, also known as impetigo, a bacterial skin infection common in puppies and dogs.
  • Your pet may have encountered an external parasite, such as mites or fleas.
  • Your dog's paws may become dry and itchy in the winter.
  • Your dog may be licking their paws because of food allergies. While humans with food allergies may feel itchy throats, dogs may experience a similar sensation in their paws. If your dog licks their paws after eating certain treats or foods, they could be experiencing an allergic reaction triggered by one or more of the ingredients in their food.
  • If your dog is licking the same paw repeatedly, it could be a sign they have a paw pad injury such as a cut, bite, ingrown nail, puncture or burn.
  • Your pet could be suffering from arthritis. Though dogs may be affected in various joints, licking one of their paws may be a way to cope with the achiness.

First, check your pet for signs of injury, cleaning any small wounds with clean water. Whatever the cause, if the area is sore and irritated, take your dog to the vet for an examination and treatment. Depending on the cause, your vet may recommend rinsing your dog's paws in water after walks, parasite treatment, tips for allergy management or a treatment plan for reducing discomfort.

Psychological or Behavioral Causes

Dogs are pack animals by nature; this means they need companionship and don't like being left alone for long periods. Often, if pets are left alone too long, they can exhibit obsessive behavior such as licking and chewing an area of their body until it gets raw and sore. This is most common in older dogs or pets with high energy levels that are bored or aren't getting enough exercise or attention.

If this is your dog's situation, there's a few solutions to try:

  • Ask a friend or neighbor to walk or play with your lonely dog in the middle of the day if you're gone for long hours and your pet has separation anxiety.
  • Hire a dog walker.
  • Check to see if there's a doggie daycare in your area.
  • Provide your dog with stimulating toys that will help keep them occupied when you're not around to play with them.
  • Keep the television or the radio on; sometimes this provides some distraction and "companionship" for your dog when you're away from home.

How to Stop Your Dog from Licking Their Paw

There are lots of reasons your dog may be biting, chewing or licking their leg, feet or paw pads. If you're not sure of the cause or need guidance on stopping your dog's licking or biting, it's always best to consult your vet. Together, you can come up with a plan to address what's causing this behavior and alleviate your pet's discomfort.

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