At first, you may notice your dog licking his paw every once in a while. Then it seems every time you look at him, he’s got his tongue all over his foot pad. Suddenly, licking his paw has become your dog’s favorite pastime and you’re feeling left out. So what’s the appeal? Why do dogs lick their paws? Like most bizarre pet behavior, the logic behind the action spans the gamut.
1. They might be injured
Dogs love running amok in all kinds of conditions and on all types of terrain. According to the American Kennel Club, small scrapes, broken nails or torn pads require some focused nursing. Check your dog’s paws for obvious injuries if he begins licking obsessively out of nowhere.
2. They might be bored
In the middle of a long work meeting, or uh, a Flirty Dancing marathon, have you ever looked down and realized you’ve been subconsciously chipping away at your nail polish the whole time? The mentality can apply to dogs who absentmindedly lick or chew their paws. They’re bored! The solution might be some activity. The West Suburban Humane Society notes that even if dogs don’t whine to go out, it’s still possible they’re desperate for attention or exercise.
3. They might be anxious or in pain
Similarly, if a dog feels anxious about something (being alone, loud noises) or has a stomachache, he may take it out on his paws. Even if the paw isn’t the source of pain, this is a common coping mechanism. Try alleviating anxiety with supplements or a Thundershirt.
4. They might suffer from atopic dermatitis
Surprisingly, allergies account for tons of chronic paw licking. Justine A. Lee, D.V.M., of Pet Health Network, says atopic dermatitis, an irritating skin condition caused by an allergic reaction, is typically a culprit—and hard to spot. Skin won’t necessarily look swollen or red (although it might). More often than not, all you’ll see is your dog licking one place over and over.
- Environmental allergies: Take note of when your dog begins his paw-licking habit. If it routinely starts up at the same time every year, environmental allergies could be the reason.
- Food allergies: On the other hand, if your pup licks nonstop, without regardless of season, chances are he’s allergic to something in his food.
5. They might have a bacterial infection
Unfortunately, one cause often leads to another. If your dog initially starts going to town on his paws because of an injury or behavioral issue, the excess saliva lodged between his toes and pads will likely become a breeding ground for bacteria. This only encourages more licking and a nasty cycle of infection.
6. They might have a fungal infection
Same story for fungus: An underlying ailment could be behind all the licking. For instance, ringworm is a fungal infection that could cause swollen toes. Yeast infections are also common. If it starts to bother your dog, he won’t hesitate to soothe it by licking. If you suspect bacteria or fungus based on your dog’s licking behavior (and rough, red skin on the paws or toes), head to a vet for diagnosis and treatment.
7. They might have burns
If you live in a super hot or super cold climate, walking your pup outdoors could result in burned paw pads. Hot asphalt and salted sidewalks both cause burn damage to paw pads. Look for blisters or swollen, red pads, and be sure to toss some booties on your dog when heading out in extreme conditions. Burns should receive veterinary treatment ASAP.
8. They might have ticks
Brett Levitzke, D.V.M., medical director of the Veterinary Emergency and Referral Group (VERG) in Brooklyn, New York, told PetMD that ticks have been known to wriggle their way in between a dog’s toes. All that licking could simply be an effort to extract the little bugger. Do your dog a favor by reading up on Lyme disease and the many things you can do to keep your pup safe (including what to do if you find a tick on him).
9. They might have mites
Unlike ticks, which can be picked up after an outdoor excursion, mites hang out on your dog’s skin all the time. Don’t freak out! A few mites here and there are healthy—they keep the skin in good condition. A few species, however, cause inflammation and irritation. Too many of these and your pup will try to lick them away.
Pay attention to how frequently your dog licks his paws, and if he favors the same spot day in and day out. Chances are it’s an underlying condition that a vet can help soothe.