Tips for Dogs that Lick Their Paws Excessively
11 March, 2014
A dog’s day is filled with behaviors that are repetitive and routine, just as they are in humans. Your pup may bark, chew, spin or chase and never grow tired of doing so. We love when our dogs lick us hello or to clean themselves, but when the licking becomes compulsive, it can interfere with a dog’s daily life. It’s up to us owners to determine if licking has escalated into something more serious.
Below are some reasons why your dog may be licking their paws excessively.
Most of the time, repetitive paw licking is part of a dog’s typical grooming routine. A good rule of thumb is to first try to pinpoint everyday triggers for paw licking. For example, if your dog has just come in from outdoors and settles in to lick her paws for several minutes, she is most likely exhibiting completely normal grooming behaviors — cleaning her paws the way you might wipe your shoes on a doormat. It’s the dogs who lick endlessly without any external trigger or who lick to the point of self-injury that may need medical or behavioral interventions.
When dogs lick compulsively, it’s not unlike the nervous habits we humans’ exhibit regularly, including nail biting or knee bouncing. Licking releases endorphins: mood-altering brain chemicals that sooth your pup and make him feel happy or take the edge off of a stressful situation. For example, a dog rescued from a stressful living situation or whose home life has since improved may continue to demonstrate the same ticks that he developed as an earlier coping mechanism.
Conditions and Skin Irritations
Constant paw and feet licking can be a symptom of allergic reactions to airborne irritants or to something consumed orally. A condition from too much licking is called lick granuloma and is when the vicious cycle of a dog’s habitual licking causes irritation, often with exposed welts or raw skin where hair has been abrasively removed through licking. It is a neurological condition that is from stress, anxiety or even boredom. Lick granulomas can originate with an allergic reaction or injury that is later resolved or healed, but the licking behavior continues on, sometimes developing into a disorder mirroring obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Your dog’s excessive licking can be caused simply by boredom. Make sure that your dog has plenty of toys and when he or she tries to lick his paws, give him a chew to instead. Your dog also needs to get sufficient daily exercise and he or she will be tired enough not to start the licking. If the licking has already started, to avoid further irritation, make sure to gently wash your pooch’s paws in warm water after walking outside.
A variety of factors, including winter weather and fatty acid deficiencies, can cause dry skin in dogs. Your dog may respond to the discomfort by scratching or licking at her skin or fur.
If your dog’s body is not producing enough thyroid hormone or putting out too much cortisol, superficial skin infections can occur. You may notice small, red spots and your dog may scratch or lick as if bothered by allergies.
When trying to determine why your dog is licking or chewing excessively, be sure to consider the possibility that something is making him physically uncomfortable. For instance, if you notice your dog biting his paw repeatedly, he could have a thorn or sharp stone stuck in his foot pad. Compulsive chewing or licking can also be a response to orthopedic problems, including back pain and hip dysplasia.
As always, if the compulsive licking continues, make sure to consult your veterinarian to make sure it isn’t from a medical condition.
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