- Dogs naturally lick their paws, but unusually excessive licking may have an underlying cause.
- If your dog frequently licks the same paw, they could be in pain or have an injury or infection.
- When you can’t find a clear reason for your dog’s constant paw licking, it’s best to call your vet.
- Visit Insider’s Health Reference library for more advice.
Lately, it seems every time you look at your beloved pooch, they’re licking their paws.
Should you be worried? Well, it depends. Excessive paw licking can happen for many reasons, including pain, injury, and, in some cases, behavioral issues — though some dogs may be more prone to nervous grooming than others.
Reading: My dog licks his paws
Whatever the cause, identifying the issue before complications arise is key, Dr. Emily Wilson, a verified veterinarian with Fuzzy, said.
Because pets can’t explain what’s wrong, paying attention to new and unusual behaviors like excessive paw licking can help you take steps to address those concerns promptly.
If your dog is licking their paws, it could be a sign that they have an ache somewhere on their body. Paw licking is a kind of “coping mechanism for discomfort,” Wilson said.
Causes for pain-related licking vary, but they may include:
- Pain elsewhere in the body, such as lower-neck pain.
- Cysts or other growths.
Conditions like arthritis and cancer are especially common in older dogs.
Once you have a diagnosis from a veterinarian, you can limit licking by helping manage your dog’s pain — often with prescription medication, but the remedy will vary depending on the underlying cause.
You may also have to add soft runner rugs over slippery wood floors for dogs who have trouble getting around because of arthritis or other conditions that cause chronic pain, Wilson said.
2. Paw injury
Your dog might lick the site of the injury if they have a cut or scrape, or if a thorn, burr, or other foreign material has become stuck in their paw.
A cut or scrape is likely if your dog is licking one particular spot. But it’s not always easy to spot embedded objects. Foxtails, for example, are barbed plants that can get between the toes and cause incessant licking and chewing, Wilson said.
If you spot any foreign material in the wound, contact your veterinarian right away instead of trying to treat the injury at home.
You can take a few steps to help your pup get relief from a minor wound:
- Flush the area with water to remove any dirt or debris.
- Clean the cut or scrape it using mild soap and water.
- Dab antibiotic ointment on the injured paw with a cotton swab.
- Cover the site of injury with a sock or put a cone on your dog to keep them from licking the wound, which could lead to infection.
3. Skin conditions and infections
Some skin conditions, like dermatitis, can trigger continual licking. They can also contribute to secondary problems, like infection, which can then lead to licking.
Also Read: Redbone coonhound german shepherd mix
Bacterial or fungal infections are more likely to crop up in dogs with hairier feet, particularly in wet weather, Wilson said. You can help prevent these infections by:
- Wiping paws dry after taking your dog out on a rainy day.
- Using dog booties to keep your pup’s paws protected from things like ice and winter salt.
Note: Wilson also tells pet owners to avoid trying to wrap the paw in question. Wrapping too tightly can cut off circulation and cause irreparable damage to your dog’s paw. Covering the area may not even stop the licking. Frequently, they’ll just pick another spot to lick, Wilson said.
Best dog boots
We test and recommend the best dog boots. Find our recommendations below:
4. Boredom or anxiety
Some dogs may lick their paws to self-soothe.
Behavioral reasons for constant licking include:
- Separation anxiety.
- Phobias, including fear of strangers or loud noises like thunder.
- Compulsive disorders, including acral lick dermatitis and canine compulsive disorder.
- Moving to a new environment.
“Most breeds will get destructive before they start overgrooming,” Ali Smith, a dog trainer, said. Destructive behavior can include chewing furniture, excessive barking, or shredding pillows and toilet paper .
Sometimes, you might be able to link the licking behavior to a recent change in your dog’s life.
“If you know for a fact that you’ve just moved house, and your dog tends to be a little bit of an anxious one, then yeah, it’s likely that that’s had an impact,” Smith said.
But a vet visit can help you rule out other causes before you bring on a behavioral expert.
“It’s very much a group effort. Behavioral things can be really frustrating for some pet parents, and it can be hard to explain to your care provider,” Wilson said.
In the meantime, enrichment items can help distract your pet from licking. Things like toys filled with yummy treats, for example, will cause most pups to forget about their paw, at least temporarily.
Smith said giving dogs a fulfilling life and boosting their enjoyment of daily activities would make anxiety less likely to take hold.
5. Allergic reaction
Dogs might also lick paws that itch, and frequent itching could relate to an allergic reaction.
While it can be tough to narrow down the cause of your dog’s allergies, culprits include:
- Grass (particularly if it’s been chemically treated).
Also Read: Chicken coop plans for 20 chickens
According to the American Kennel Club, other symptoms of allergies include:
- Redness and inflammation.
- Ear itching.
One way to minimize allergic reactions to outdoor environmental triggers like grass is to wipe your dog’s paws after a romp outside, Wilson said.
If you suspect a food allergy is at play, ask your veterinarian about trying an elimination diet.
Another common cause of constant paw licking is a flea infestation. Many flea bites lead to itchiness and irritation that can trigger licking.
In some cases, you may be able to see the fleas, but some dogs with a flea allergy may experience a reaction from a single bite.
“They can get one bite when they’re out on a walk and kind of go through this itch cascade,” Wilson said.
Ideally, you want to take steps to prevent flea infestations from happening in the first place by:
- Asking your veterinarian about flea-control products for all pets in your home.
- Checking for fleas, especially during the warmer months, if your dog spends time outside.
- Treating your home for fleas.
- Keeping your dog from interacting with wild or stray animals.
Still, if you discover your dog’s coat is crawling with fleas, you do have options for treatment.
When to contact your vet
Because excessive paw licking has several causes, reaching out to your vet is generally a good next step.
Not sure the problem is worth a vet visit? Wilson recommends contacting a telehealth service like Fuzzy, adding that veterinary telehealth services can offer pet parents more insight on the options available and prepare them before a full-service vet visit.
Keep in mind that a dog licking one spot or paw more than the other may be in pain, so it’s best to connect with your vet right away if you notice this type of licking.
Pinpointing the reason for your dog’s constant paw licking can take some time and careful attention.
Since dogs can’t talk, Wilson said, they’re left relying on humans to help decipher the problem. While you can identify and address some causes of excessive paw licking at home, in some cases, your dog may need prompt veterinary care.
If there’s any chance your dog could be injured or in pain, reach out to your veterinarian right away to confirm a diagnosis and get the right treatment.
Also Read: At what age can puppies go outside