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Why is my dog licking or chewing its paws?

Occasional licking is typical dog behavior. Normal grooming is no cause for concern, but when pet parents notice their pup obsessively lapping and chewing at his paws, it’s time to investigate the underlying cause. Several conditions can contribute to your dog becoming fixated on his feet. Here are a few of the most common:

Behavioral issues

In much the same way that cats purr to self-soothe, adult dogs associate licking with maternal bonding during puppyhood. In times of stress, separation anxiety, or even boredom, your pup may take his worry out on his paws.

Fortunately, excessive licking or chewing linked to behavioral issues can often be relieved by addressing the cause of your dog’s stress or restlessness. Daily exercise and interactive toys can help your pup stay occupied and at ease while home alone.

Allergies

Allergies can cause all-over itchiness in dogs, but their feet may be particularly vulnerable to reactions to grass, pollen, mold, or dust mites. Dermatitis that flares up during a particular time of year or when your dog rolls on a freshly cut lawn is likely due to an environmental allergy.

Common Environmental Allergies in Dogs

Here are a few indoor and outdoor allergens that can make your furry friend itchy:

  • Pollen
  • Grass
  • Mold
  • Dust and dust mites
  • Weeds
  • Animal dander

Common Food Allergies in Dogs

It is also possible that your pup is chewing or licking to relieve itchiness caused by a food allergy. Some of the more common food allergies found in dogs include:

  • Wheat
  • Dairy
  • Eggs
  • Beef
  • Chicken

If food sensitivities are suspected, your vet may suggest an elimination diet to pinpoint the cause.

Parasites

Dogs struggling with fleas, ticks, or mites will often chew, scratch, and lick until they lose hair or injure their skin. If your pup has attended playdates or been kenneled with dogs who are infested, you may notice that they groom until their paws are red and irritated. The mites that cause mange and scabies can lead to full-body itching and hair loss, so parasitic infections should be addressed quickly. 

Finally, bacterial, fungal, and yeast infections that thrive between your pup’s toes can cause burning, itching, and irritation that may encourage obsessive licking. Your veterinarian can recommend treatments and medicated shampoos to banish any unwanted guests.

Pain

If you notice your pup gnawing at just one of his paws, an injury may be to blame. A dog who has stepped on something sharp or been stung by an insect will often lick and chew in response to pain. Examine your dog’s paws for cuts, swelling, or foreign objects that may have gotten trapped between their toes. 

If your furbaby is a senior, excessive grooming could be a sign of arthritis. Keep an eye out for other signs of discomfort with movement. 

Watch out for hot sidewalks

During the hot summer months, asphalt and cement can get hot enough to burn the pads of your pup’s feet. If your dog is licking his paws after a walk on a sweltering day, they may be injured. Check surface temperatures to keep your pet safe by placing your bare hand on the sidewalk and leaving it there for a few moments. If it is too hot to touch comfortably, it can burn your furbaby’s feet. 

Excessive or obsessive licking and chewing isn’t normal dog behavior, and pet parents who notice it should seek help to determine its cause and the best course of treatment. Contact your vet to schedule an exam.