You’ve noticed that your pooch has a new habit.
They’re now licking their paws constantly.
To the point that they’re soaking wet and stained.
What makes them do it?
Keep reading to know:
- What does it mean if dogs lick their paws.
- 5 dangers to watch out for if they keep on doing it.
- Useful tips on how to keep their mouth away from their feet.
- The answers to “Why do dogs lick their paws at night?” and “Why do dogs lick their paws after they eat?”
- And many more…
Table of contents
- Why do dogs lick their paws?
- Why do dogs lick their paws before bed?
- 23 reasons why dogs lick their paws (excessively)
- #1: They’re calming themselves
- #2: They have separation problems
- #3: They’re stressed or frustrated
- #4: Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
- #5: They’re bored
- #6: Dry paws
- #7: Canine atopic dermatitis
- #8: Food allergies
- #9: Fleas allergy dermatitis (FAD)
- #10: Ticks
- #11: Mites
- #12: Ringworm
- #13: Insect bites
- #14: Cuts or scrapes
- #15: Paw pad burns
- #16: Deicing salts and cold weather
- #17: Toenail issues
- #18: Foreign body
- #19: Toe tumors
- #20: Sprains and strains
- #21: Joint pains
- #22: Hormonal imbalance
- #23: Gastrointestinal issues
- Should I stop my dog from licking his paws? 5 dangers
- How do I stop my dog from licking his paws? 5 tips
- People also ask:
Why do dogs lick their paws?
Dogs lick their paws because of anxiety, stress, frustration, boredom, or OCD. But they may also do it due to poor paw condition and grooming, injuries, parasites, or insect bites. They might have medical conditions such as allergies, growths, joint pains, hormonal imbalance, and stomach problems.
Why do dogs lick their paws before bed?
Dogs lick their paws before bed because they’re self-grooming, calming themselves, or easing their pain. Some canines may have formed a routine when they were young. The action can be soothing. So they do it when they’re anxious or in discomfort due to itchiness, injuries, or an illness.
23 reasons why dogs lick their paws (excessively)
#1: They’re calming themselves
Like thumb sucking, licking of paws can also be a soothing method in dogs.
There’s no specific study about this on canines. But, there’s one on rats.
According to research…
Newborn rodents that were licked by their mothers grew up less scared than those who are not. Plus, they became more social too.
Like them, puppies are also groomed by their moms. And the sensation might be reminding them of those memories.
This could be the reason why they find it so calming. So dogs do it to themselves in times of insecurity and fear.
Some common causes of anxiety in dogs are:
- Unfamiliar people.
- Change in routine.
- New environment.
- Loud noises (from fireworks, for example).
- The addition of another pet or family member.
Note: Senior Fidos may also be experiencing memory loss. So they might do this as well because they’re anxious about their surroundings.
#2: They have separation problems
Some dogs can also be more anxious whenever their humans are out of sight.
So what would they do?
To cope with anxiety, they lick their paws. And they might do it to the extent of harming and injuring themselves.
And ASPCA says that this could be a result of:
- Having a new parent.
- Over-attachment to their human.
#3: They’re stressed or frustrated
Licking of paws can also be a displacement behavior.
“Wait, what is it?”
It’s the action that animals do when they’re stressed or in conflict. They really want to do something, but they can’t.
For example, a dog wants to play with their toy. But they couldn’t find it or drop it somewhere.
They’ll be frustrated and this causes them to do other things instead.
#4: Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
This stands for obsessive-compulsive disorder. And it’s more likely if a dog is licking intensely with no obvious motive.
Dogs who are often stressed are said to be prone to this.
PetMD explains that this might have started as a coping behavior. Until it becomes worse and reinforced.
Since licking has a calming effect, it can give your dog satisfaction. And this could be rewarding for them.
As a result, they’ll keep on doing it, even if there’s no reason for them to do so.
#5: They’re bored
How much exercise does your dog get in a day?
If they’re not getting at least 30 minutes of it on a daily basis, they might not be satisfied.
So, they do other things instead. And find an outlet to release their pent-up energy.
One of the many things they can do to kill time is licking their paws.
Also, like I said earlier, the action itself is calming. So if they have nothing better to do, what other choice do they have?
Don’t forget to check out: Why Does My Dog Lick My Legs? 7 Reasons + 7 Tips
#6: Dry paws
Check your dog’s feet.
Do you see some flakes or cracks on them?
If so, they’re not self-grooming.
They’re probably trying to soothe the itch of their dry paws. And their pads might also appear discolored.
“But what may have caused this?”
Experts say that if there’s something wrong with their body, it can show on their paws first.
Some of the possible reasons are:
- Liver problem.
- Nutrient deficiency.
- Autoimmune issues.
- Hormonal imbalance.
Did you know?
Like in dogs, our hands can also tell a lot about our health.
Doctors say that by simply looking at them, they can have a grasp of one’s current condition.
For example, purple lumps on the fingertips are a sign of ‘endocarditis’ – a heart valve infection.
While a finger pops or gets stuck when you bend it can be an indicator of an illness. Like diabetes, arthritis, or thyroid disease.
#7: Canine atopic dermatitis
According to Dr. Jangi Bajwa, grooming themselves many times a day isn’t a canine thing. So they may only do it due to itchiness from allergies.
One of them is ‘atopy’ or inhalant allergy. And it’s caused by allergens found in the environment like:
- Dust mites.
- Mold spores.
Based on Merck Vets, apart from the feet, itchy skin can also be found in the:
- Front legs.
Licking is also often combined with chewing, rubbing their face, and scratching. But others may also sneeze and have runny eyes and noses.
“Is this curable?”
It’s a lifelong condition. However, it can be managed by prevention, medications, and regular checkups.
#8: Food allergies
Studies in 96 dogs with food allergies found that 23% also have atopic dermatitis. So their diet could also be the cause of their itchy paws.
“What are the common culprits of this?”
They said that the reported cases are usually due to…
- Beef, dairy products, and wheat – 65%
- Chicken, eggs, lamb, and soy – 25%
Did you notice that these are the usual ingredients in a canine’s diet?
So yes, it’s possible that they’re allergic to a food that they’ve been consuming for years.
This is because it was also found that it may take 2 or more years before signs of allergies appear.
#9: Fleas allergy dermatitis (FAD)
This is one of the most common reasons why dogs lick their paws excessively.
And specialists say that it’s observed in many Fidos in the US.
“So how can this happen?”
Canines aren’t allergic to fleas themselves.
However, they could be sensitive to their saliva. And it’s because it has compounds that can trigger their immune system.
Although itchy skin is mainly found in the back end…
A dog who has this might also lick their paws to ease the itchiness in other areas.
Check out also: Why does my dog keep licking their base of tail?
Have you inspected the spaces between your dog’s toes?
If not, do so, as there might be some ticks buried in there.
These are blood-sucking parasites that’ll attach themselves to their host for days. And they love hiding in places where they can’t be easily noticed.
Unlike fleas, ticks can’t jump, so they only crawl.
Since a dog’s paws are in direct contact with the ground, they’re the perfect place to climb on.
Also, the skin in between their toes is thin. Plus, it’s filled with nerve endings.
So although ticks’ saliva acts as a pain-killer when they bite…
Dogs may still feel discomfort having something in their paws – which explains the licking.
These are tiny creatures that burrow into dogs’ skin. Due to this, you’ll notice:
- Hair loss.
Based on vets, canines aren’t the only ones who could be infected by this. Because it can also be transferred to humans and other animals.
“Oh no! What are its other signs?”
First, dogs who are infested by mites will experience itchiness.
Next, small bumps in the skin will appear. And if popped, these will result in crusted sores.
Symptoms may first show in the chest, ears, elbows, and legs. But as it progresses, it can spread to the whole body.
Tip: The common treatment for this is a vet-prescribed anti-parasitic wash. But your dog may also be given an oral or spot medication depending on their case.
Another condition that can make dogs extremely itchy is ringworm.
Unlike what the name suggests, this isn’t caused by a worm.
It’s due to fungi that feed on the skin which form a ring-like shape. Hence the name.
According to experts, other signs to watch out for are:
- Hair loss.
- Inflamed skin.
- Poor hair coat.
“Where can they get this?”
Dogs may have this by direct contact with someone who has ringworm. Or after touching an infected object.
Warning: This is highly contagious. So if you have many pets and one of your dogs has this, isolate them at once. Then see a vet for topical treatment.
#13: Insect bites
If this happens all of a sudden, it’s possible that your pooch has been bitten by an insect.
They might have encountered bees, wasps, or mosquitoes outside. Or stepped on an anthill.
Like fleas, some dogs can have an allergic reaction to it as well. Which makes them lick their paws to soothe the itch.
Other canines may also experience:
- Difficulty breathing.
- Swelling of the ears, eyes, or mouth.
What to do?
As first aid, VCA says that:
If you suspect a bee sting, look for the stinger left in their skin.
Remove it by flicking off a credit card or a sturdy flat object. Avoid using tweezers as it can make the stinger release more venom.
For bites: Apply a thick mixture of baking soda and water. Or colloidal oatmeal if you have one at home (This is different from Quaker oats!).
For swelling: Put an ice pack on the bite for 10 minutes. But if there’s plenty of them, a chilled towel will do.
Note: If the condition is more severe, call your vet immediately for instructions. Then bring your dog to the clinic.
#14: Cuts or scrapes
One more possible reason for this paw licking is injuries.
There might be small cuts on your dog’s feet. And it’ll be painful when dirt or water seeps into them.
Because of this, they may limp or cry during walks aside from constant licking.
#15: Paw pad burns
Dogs don’t wear shoes like we do. So their paws are always in direct contact with the ground.
Although those are tougher than our feet, they’re still prone to burns and scraping.
Especially if the surface is too hot, flat, or has harsh chemicals.
#16: Deicing salts and cold weather
Summer days aren’t the only ones you should be wary of as a dog parent. Because canines may also hurt their paws during winter.
It’s because of ice balls and deicing salts.
The first one can form in a dog’s toes. And those might cause bleeding, hair loss, and cracks.
While the latter can burn your Fido’s paw pads. As there could still be some salt left on the road which was used to melt snow.
#17: Toenail issues
Dogs’ nails are also at risk of injuries.
These can be broken, torn, or infected. And even one minor tear could make a canine weep.
The nails are protruding from their paws. So if they’re too long, they’ll easily get caught in the carpet, fibers of the cloth, or grassroots.
Some may also overgrow and curl down to their pads. And this will make them uncomfortable then lick their paws.
Interesting fact: Have you heard of ‘dewclaw’? This is an extra toe found in each dogs’ front feet. But Great Pyrenees have not 1 but 2 of these in their rear paw.
Experts say that this is a sign of evolution. Before wolves, a tree-climbing creature called miacis is believed to be ancestors of canids.
They had 5 toes for good grip. But as canines became hunters, their toes were also adjusted for better speed and agility.
#18: Foreign body
Apart from injuries, there might also be something that’s stuck in their toes.
For example, a tiny stone, thorn, grass seed, or a bit of glass shard. These can all squeeze into the gaps of their paw pads or under the fur.
Due to this, dogs will lick their paws. Attempting to remove whatever it is that’s causing the pain.
#19: Toe tumors
Dogs’ paws aren’t an exception to developing growths.
A study reveals that ‘squamous cell carcinoma’ is one of the most common tumors in canines. And it’s responsible for 53.5% of toe injuries.
“What are those?”
They’re a dangerous type of cancer that keeps on appearing even after removing them. But, these grow slowly.
So with early treatment, you can avoid it from spreading in the body.
- Swollen foot.
- Difficulty in walking.
- Bleeding ulcer on toe.
- Raised mass of skin on the foot.
“What about its causes?”
It was said to be unknown but research found that it can be genetic.
This is because it’s mainly observed in large dogs with dark furs, such as:
- Giant Schnauzers.
- Standard Poodles.
#20: Sprains and strains
Your dog yelped. Then started licking their paws.
If they do this after exercise or playtime, it could be due to sprain or strain.
These two can be quite confusing, so to simply differentiate them…
Sprain: Ligaments or tissues that connect their bones are damaged. This can happen due to a bad landing after a jump.
Strain: Tendons or tissues linking the muscles to the bones are injured. And this could be a result of overexertion, stretching, falls, and slips.
For further reading: Why does my dog cry when picked up?
#21: Joint pains
Older dogs may also lick their paws due to arthritis.
Although there are no joints affected in the paws…
They could still do it because of its soothing effect. And also, if they can’t reach the part that’s aching – like on their back.
Other canine joint problems are:
- Luxating patella.
- Ankle and joint fracture.
- Elbow and hip dysplasia.
- Legg-calvé-perthes disease.
#22: Hormonal imbalance
Licking can also be a sign that something’s off inside their body. And the hormones could be the root of this.
When the body creates either too much or little of something, it may cause:
- Hair loss.
- Brittle fur.
- Red spots.
- Low energy.
- Weight gain.
And the two most common illnesses are:
- Cushing’s disease – increased cortisol.
- Hypothyroidism – decreased thyroid hormone.
#23: Gastrointestinal issues
Lastly, licking can also be a hint of a GI problem.
What is GI?
It’s short for gastrointestinal. Or the organs that make up the digestive system.
One study shows that 74% of 19 dogs with licking habits have these ailments:
- Chronic pancreatitis.
- Gastric foreign body.
- Infiltration of the GI tract.
- Irritable bowel syndrome.
- Delayed gastric emptying.
Should I stop my dog from licking his paws? 5 dangers
#1: Acral lick granulomas
Excessive licking and chewing of their paw can lead to self-injury.
One possible result of this is called ‘acral lick granuloma.’
This may start as a simple soreness in one area. And as the dog continues to lick it, it’ll get bigger and bigger.
Then the site will be severely irritated and wounded.
“But what causes this?
Experts believe that it can be due to psychological reasons, like:
- Compulsive behavior.
However, this may also begin as an insect bite. Or due to health issues, such as:
- Joint pains.
#2: Hot spots
This is one of the most common skin problems in dogs.
Hot spots also begin as small sore spots like granulomas. But when severe, these will be redder, swollen, and moist.
According to PetMD, this can be hereditary. English Bulldogs, German Shepherds, and Golden Retrievers are prone to this.
But, too much licking may also be caused by:
- Ear infections.
- Poor grooming.
- Anal gland inflammation.
- Excess moisture due to swimming.
#3: Interdigital cysts
These are large red bumps in between your dog’s toes. And they’re mostly found in their front feet.
Cysts are filled with pus or blood. This is why they’re extremely painful when touched.
So your pooch may have trouble walking. And chew their paws as well due to the discomfort.
According to researchers, the causes of this are:
- Foreign body.
- Bacterial infection.
- Genetics (e.g., English Bulldogs, Retrievers).
#4: Bacterial infection
Excess moisture will also be an ideal place for bacteria to thrive.
And once their skin is open, it’ll be easy for them to infect the area.
Based on specialists, the common skin infections in canines are:
- ‘Staph infection’ – most common, contagious.
- Ear infection – appears with allergies, yeast infection.
- Actinomycosis and nocardiosis – usually found in the soil.
#5: Yeast infection
All dogs have these fungi in their skin. But only in little amounts.
However, if there’s too much moisture in their paws, the yeast can grow and multiply.
As well as if they have a condition that weakens the immune system. Like allergies and hormonal problems.
“What are its signs?”
This is usually found between or under paw pads, ears, or any moist part of their skin.
And one of its common symptoms is a stinky ‘yeasty-smell.’ Or most people say that it’s similar to the smell of corn chips or Fritos.
But its other signs are:
- Hair loss.
- Brown discharge in nail beds.
How do I stop my dog from licking his paws? 5 tips
#1: Manage their anxiety
If your dog has a clean bill of health, the only reasons for this behavior are fear, anxiety, and OCD.
But how can you treat it?
Find out its triggers
If you can prevent them, do so. But if it’s something you can’t control (e.g., noises, strangers), desensitize your dog.
Check this short video how:
Note: This method also applies to other fears as well. Like fireworks, vacuums, or sirens. Just search for audios on Youtube of the specific sounds they’re afraid of. Then play it during training.
Designate a ‘safe place’
Do they have a special hiding place?
If so, let them stay there whenever. But if not, provide one. This can be a quiet room, a soft doggy bed, or a crate.
Work on their separation anxiety
You might have read articles that say that you shouldn’t interact with your dog before and after going out. Especially if they have separation issues.
However, one research tells the opposite.
It says that dogs who were petted before departure are calmer than those who didn’t receive any.
“So which one is correct?”
Both are true. This is because every canine is different.
Ignoring may work for some. While others might only need reassurance before their human disappears.
So find out which method works best on your dog. Then slowly prepare them for the real thing.
- In your free time, put your dog in a room.
- Then calmly say goodbye to them (or not!).
- Get out and gently close the door.
- Wait for at least 3 seconds.
- Now before they whine, open the door again.
- Reassure them that everything’s fine.
Note: Repeat this for 10-15 minutes per day. As you go on, leave them longer and always reward them if they’re calm.
#2: Relieve their stress and boredom
It isn’t ideal to leave a dog for long periods of time.
But if you really need to go, prevent them from being bored in the house. Or hire someone who can take them out while you’re gone.
- Give your dog puzzle toys to keep them occupied.
- Before going, walk and play with them for at least 30 minutes.
- Leave them with kong toys that are filled with treats. (This will also work for those with separation anxiety).
#3: Always check and take care of their paws
A dog licking their paw might also be telling you that there’s something wrong in there.
So, inspect their feet and do the appropriate action.
For wounds: If there’s fur in the area, trim it a bit. Wash the wound with warm tap water. Then dry it with a clean towel.
Put antiseptic (e.g., Chlorhexidine) and do this at least 2 times a day. Then apply dog antibiotic ointment until it’s cured.
Bandage the area to avoid licking. But do this loosely and replace it regularly.
For burns: Quickly submerge their paws in cool water or saline (water and salt solution). Then apply dog antibiotic cream on the burns. Put a bandage over the affected area.
Then bring your pooch to the vet for medications.
For cuts/bleeding: Apply pressure on it using a cloth or an ice pack.
For foreign body: If you can remove it, do it gently. But if not, you’ll need an expert to do this.
For ticks: Pull it using tweezers (don’t do this to a bee stinger). Clean the area with cotton balls soaked in iodine or rubbing alcohol. Then check their paws and body regularly.
For overgrown nails: Keep them trimmed every month.
For dry paws: Softly rub a dog-safe vitamin E cream on their paws. Ensure that it’s absorbed well to avoid your dog from licking it.
Note: Monitor their condition. If the area is still bleeding after 15 minutes or it’s swelling more, bring them to the clinic right away.
#4: Have them checked by an expert
There are many possible medical conditions that your dog may have. And one way to confirm this is by consulting a vet.
Also, the dangers mentioned above are linked to psychological reasons.
So to prevent those from happening…
It would be best to get some guidance from a dog behaviorist. Or a trainer who practices positive reinforcement.
Especially if your pooch has severe anxiety, OCD, or phobia.
#5: Keep them away from allergens
Whether your dog has atopic dermatitis or not…
Make it a habit to always wash their feet after going outside.
I clean my dog, Lissa, by putting her over the sink.
Then I quickly wash her paws and dry them with a clean towel. (You can use dog grooming wipes if you’re in a hurry.)
But if you have a bigger Fido, MudBuster can help you with the job.
- Just add water to the container.
- Put one of your dog’s paws inside.
- Throw the water and replace it.
- Then repeat these for the other paws.
Also, in the meantime, avoid walking on grass or lawns. Because these may have pollen or chemicals that trigger your Fido’s skin allergies.
If you suspect food allergies, a checkup will be needed. Your vet will advise you on what kind of diet will work on your dog.
#BONUS: Put an Elizabethan collar on them
Lastly, don’t wait until your pooch has hot spots and raw skin.
Licking only makes things worse. So for this, make your pooch wear an Elizabethan collar or cone for dogs to prevent them from doing it.
And make them wear it until their wound or condition is cured.
People also ask:
Why do dogs lick their paws after they eat?
Dogs lick their paws after they eat because they’re self-grooming or allergic to food. So this isn’t an act due to hunger or finding crumbs stuck on their feet.
Some canines may develop this habit during puppyhood. And there’s nothing wrong if they only do this a few times.
However, dogs with food allergies might also experience vomiting. So they’ll lick after eating due to nausea.
Why is my dog licking its paws and panting?
Your dog is licking its paws and panting because of anxiety, extreme itchiness, insect bite, or allergies. This can also be due to hormonal imbalances – like Cushing’s disease and hypothyroidism.
One common sign of anxiety is panting all of a sudden. So your pooch may be scared of a certain noise, people, or object.
But canines could also do this if they have allergies, aching joints, or injuries. Also, being bitten by an insect may restrict their breathing. Especially if it’s on their nose or mouth.
So as a result, they’ll gasp for air and pant.
Check out also: Why Does My Dog Suddenly Pant? 19 Dangers + 5 Tips
Why do dogs lick their paws at night?
Dogs lick their paws at night because it’s soothing, they have OCD, or they’re in discomfort. If they’re old, it can also be due to aching joints.
Canines who do this before sleeping might be a way to make themselves comfortable. But if the licking is intense, they could be itchy or in pain.
This can be due to an injury, allergy, skin irritation, joint problems, or stomach issues.
However, when this also happens out of nowhere, it may be a compulsive behavior.
Why do dogs lick their paws after walks?
Dogs lick their paws after walks because they’re grooming or relieving itch and pain. Some canines like their feet clean. But in most cases, this might be due to atopy or injury.
Atopy or inhalant allergies are caused by allergens in the surroundings. So if your pooch is allergic to grass pollen, it’ll make them feel itchy all over.
Dry paw pads and injuries are also possible such as:
- Foreign body stuck in the toes.
Why do dogs lick their paws after scratching their ears?
Dogs lick their paws after scratching their ears because of infection or atopic dermatitis. Being infested or bitten by parasites like mites, ticks, or fleas are also possible.
All of these cause itchiness and discomfort on canines that’s why they lick. And they also scratch their ears for the same reason.
Ear mites are more common in puppies than adults. And an infection will produce a foul smell.