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Why do dogs lick their paws?

Dog licking his paw

Paw licking is a common behavior in our canine friends. Since our pups are lacking the dexterity to soothe their itches and aches, this leaves them with only one option: licking! So why do dogs lick their paws?

In this article we’ll dive into the most common reasons why dogs lick their paws to help you understand this common canine behavior. 

Why do dogs lick?

To understand the possible reasons why your dog is licking their paws, you should first understand the licking behavior itself. While many believe the licking action is a simply a way to taste the world around them, there is actually much more to it. 

Licking is a dog’s main way to self soothe. Whether it’s discomfort on their paw or a serious behavioral struggle, the licking action can offer comfort to our furry friends. 

Though licking may not always be effective in solving their problems, our pups think this behavior is a great solution. This belief is why we find our dogs licking their wounds, or any other discomfort on their body. The act of licking is so soothing for our furry friends that there are even products on the market (licking pads) that relieve canine stress by promoting the licking behavior. 

Now that you understand the motive behind the behavior, let’s dive into the top 6 reasons behind canine paw licking. 

The top 6 reasons dog lick their paws

If you ever catch your dog licking their paws, it’s safe to say that they are trying to relieve some type of discomfort. With a dog’s paws leading the way in each step throughout their life, they can come in contact with multiple factors that can lead to irritation. To help you get to the bottom of your dog's paw licking, let’s dive into the details!

1. Fleas

Fleas are one of the most common sources behind canine itchiness. Fleas can make their way into our dog’s paws, causing discomfort with each and every bite. Since flea bites can be extremely irritating to our furry friends, this can cause a dog to lick their paws in search of relief. If you see any crawling critters within your dog’s fur, they may be the reason behind your dog’s paw licking. 

2. Allergies

Our canine companions are at risk of multiple forms of allergies that can lead to paw licking. Dogs can experience food allergies, environmental allergies, and even serious reactions to allergens around them. While canine allergies can come in many forms, they each have one symptom in common: itchy skin. 

Skin irritation and redness are one of the most common signs of allergies in our furry friends.  Since so many potential allergens hide in grass and plants, it makes sense as to why a dog’s paws are one of the areas that are most affected. If your dog is constantly licking their paws and experiencing any other signs of skin irritation, allergies may be the culprit. 

3. Skin infections

Due to how easily our dogs can bite and lick their paws, this can result in a serious skin infection. The dark space between a dog’s toes is already a wonderful breeding ground for bacteria, and extra moisture from licking can take it up a notch. Since a dog’s first reaction to any discomfort on their paws is to lick, this can quickly spiral into an irritating skin infection. 

While a skin infection on the paw is often secondary to the action of licking, the two go hand in hand. If your dog is experiencing any redness, irritation, pain, swelling, or odor on their paw, he may be dealing with a skin infection. 

4. Paw injuries

Since the behavior of licking is a soothing action for our dogs, they can turn to this behavior when they are in pain. Paw injuries can be extremely uncomfortable for our pups, causing our dogs to lick and bite at the affected area. Not only can the initial injury be painful enough, but the brewing irritation from the constant licking can make it even worse. 

Our dogs can step on sharp objects, thorns, plants, and other foreign objects that can lead to a paw injury. If you notice any excessive paw licking and a potential injury on your dog’s paw, it’s best to contact your veterinarian. 

5. Grooming needs

A dog’s licking behavior may be a reminder to keep up with your furry friend’s grooming requirements. A dog’s nails are constantly growing, leading to discomfort if their regular nail trims are lagging. Not only can long nails lead to paw discomfort, but so can extra fur accumulating around their toes. If you have a canine friend that is behind on their normal grooming schedule, it may be the cause of their paw licking. 

6. Behavioral issues

Sometimes the paw licking behavior is not due to any of the common irritants that hide in a dog’s environment. Our furry friends can fall victim to anxiety and other behavioral struggles, causing our dogs to self soothe in search of relief. Since the act of licking can bring comfort to our pups, paw licking is a common reaction to stress or anxiety in dogs. 

If your dog is licking their paws in stressful situations, when they are relaxing, or even when they are left alone at home, they may have developed a habit of licking their paws. If you think your dog’s paw licking is a behavioral issue, you may need to get to the bottom of their daily stress. 

Final thoughts on paw licking

As you can see, there are many possible factors that can cause our dogs to lick their paws. Be sure to review the information we discussed above to better understand this behavior going forward!

The article was written by Amber LaRock, RVT on November 30, 2020.

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