Why Does My Dog Always Lick Her Paws?
It's probably OK — but here's how to tell when it's not.
You’ve seen your dog do it a thousand times — that cute paw licking that can quickly turn to “Hey! Stop that!” once it becomes a total obsession.
In general, paw licking is normal behavior for many dogs. They do it after they eat; they do it after they’ve been playing outside; they even sometimes do it before taking a nap. While all these are expected, you should start to take it more seriously if you’re noticing a sudden increase in licking, raw or irritated spots between their toes, or even loss of fur.
When it crosses the line between normal grooming and excessive paw licking, it’s probably time to try to figure out the root of the problem — so we chatted with one of our favorite veterinarians to get some expert advice.
“There are a number of reasons why dogs lick their paws, but one of the most common reasons is allergies,” Dr. Alex Blutinger, a veterinarian from BluePearl Pet Hospital in New York City, told The Dodo.
“This behavior can be caused by environmental allergies, food allergies and even fleas or ticks,” he said.
Dr. Blutinger said many everyday substances can also cause an allergic reaction, including things like pollen, grass that’s been treated with insecticide, certain plastics or rubber materials on food bowls, and even certain medications or shampoos.
“There are other caustic chemicals that dogs encounter in their environment,” he said, “[like] deicing salts to melt ice.”
This means that if you’ve noticed your dog is licking her paws more than usual, she’s likely experiencing allergies. If that’s what you suspect, it’s a good idea to chat with your vet about how to help her feel better.
Trauma to the Paws
Aside from allergies, excessive paw licking — which includes paw chewing — can also be caused by various types of injuries.
According to Dr. Blutinger, some of these types of trauma can include burns from walking on hot surfaces like cement or blacktop, splinters, broken nails, injured bones or ligaments, or even insect bites.
It’s a good idea to inspect your dog's paws to see if you can find any physical trauma, and consult your vet if you think it’s something that may need extra attention.
“Interestingly, dogs that have gastrointestinal disorders (like pancreatitis) have also been shown to lick their paws,” Dr. Blutinger said.
He added that certain hormonal imbalances like hypothyroidism and Cushing’s disease can also cause dogs to lick their paws — which means a trip the vet is definitely in order to sort out your pup's health!
Finally, sensitive dogs can also display anxiety by licking their paws, in the same way some people bite their nails as a sign of nervousness. If you think this is the case, it might be a good idea to figure out why your dog is feeling anxious and find ways to help her feel better.
So while paw licking is generally normal for most dogs, if you worry it’s becoming obsessive, and you can’t figure out an obvious cause, it’s a good idea to check with your vet to make sure your dog doesn’t need extra care.