It’s normal for dogs to lick their paws occasionally as part of their grooming routine. But when the behaviour becomes obsessive, it can be frustrating for owners. Persistent licking can often signal an underlying health problem. But because there are many reasons your dog could be licking their paws, it can be difficult to diagnose.
When incessant paw licking occurs over a long period, the fur often becomes stained a rusty colour. But not only that, persistent licking can cause inflammation, soreness, swelling and even bleeding. Which is why it’s best to see your vet quickly so they can diagnose and treat the problem.
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Why dogs lick their paws obsessively
A little light preening every now and then is perfectly normal. You may notice your dog licks their paws after being outside in the rain, after a meal, or while settling down for a nap. Licking is your dog’s way of keeping themselves clean and is often a daily habit for some pups.
The licking is abnormal and can be a cause for concern when it happens for prolonged periods and multiple times in the day. When it’s all your dog does during their waking hours, the licking isn’t just a case of harmless grooming.
Just like humans, dogs can have allergic reactions to various substances in the environment. Our pooches can develop allergies to certain foods, grass, floor cleaning products, garden chemicals and more. This can cause irritation to the paws, leading to itchiness, inflammation, swelling and an unhappy pup.
Since the possible allergens are endless, identifying the cause can be a long and drawn out process. But it’s important to do the investigation work to put a stop to your dog’s painful symptoms.
Treatment: Your first step is to have a chat with your vet. They will likely suggest carrying out blood tests to uncover the substance your dog is allergic to. Because when you identify the cause, you can take steps to avoid the problem or manage their exposure around it.
But in the meantime, there are measures you can take to help relieve your dog’s itchiness. Wipe your dog’s paws with a wet wipe after going for a walk to help keep the area free from possible allergens. Your vet may also prescribe antihistamines as a temporary measure to control your dog’s symptoms.
Yeast infections are a result of an overgrowth of fungus on your dog’s skin. The yeast thrives in moist areas that rarely see sunlight. Which is why paws and ears are the most common areas infection occurs. Especially during the winter months when paws are often left damp.
Yeast infections usually cause skin irritation, a musty odour and an oily or sticky discharge. It’s important to note, yeast infections are often a secondary infection to an underlying problem. An overgrowth of yeast is often caused by dietary deficiencies, a compromised immune system or an allergy. All dogs need a balanced diet to build a healthy immune system. This means they can fight off an infection before it has a chance to take hold.
Treatment: Your vet may suggest changes to your dog’s diet. Either as a way to boost your dog’s nutrient intake, or to help rule out a potential food allergy. If the problem is severe or persistent, they may also suggest running blood tests to help uncover the cause.
As some breeds like West Highland Terriers, Cocker Spaniels and Shih Tzu’s are more predisposed to developing yeast infections, your vet may also recommend a specific anti-fungal or anti-bacterial diet. These special diets essentially reduce the amount of sugars and carbohydrates which the fungus needs to thrive.
Your vet may also suggest washing your dog’s paws with an anti-bacterial and anti-fungal shampoo every couple of days to help fight the infection.
It’s a good idea to check your dog’s paws regularly for anything that may be lodged in the pads or between the toes. Grass seed is a common culprit for paw irritation during the summer months. The seed can find its way into the skin and cause a painful abscess. Splinters, thorns and glass can also pose a risk to paws on walks. So if your dog suddenly starts licking obsessively, checking for anything stuck in the paws should be your first port of call.
Treatment: You may be able to remove the foreign body yourself. If after removal there’s no open wound, clean the area and keep an eye on it. If the area is bleeding, it’s inflamed or you can’t see anything obvious, always seek help from your vet.
Impacted anal glands
All dogs have two anal glands that are designed to release a unique scent when they poop. These glands should naturally release every time your pooch goes to the toilet. But if your dog often has soft, loose stool, they can fail to empty. When that happens, this stinky fluid builds up inside the anal gland and becomes impacted. This can be uncomfortable for dogs. And while some dogs try to relieve the discomfort by licking the area or scooting their butt along the floor, paw licking can be another symptom.
Treatment: The best treatment is to have your dog’s anal glands emptied by a professional. Either your groomer or vet will be able to do this for you. If this is in fact the cause of your dog’s paw licking, you should see symptoms ease in the next day or so.
Most dogs were bred for specific jobs to work alongside their fellow man. But with many dogs left home alone all day, our pooches can become frustrated and bored. When this happens, it can lead to destructive behaviours and outlets like paw licking or chewing.
In this case the problem is behavioural and has developed into an obsessive habit. Dogs thrive best when they’re given both mental and physical stimulation every day. And the best treatment is to use distraction by filling their day with other activities.
Treatment: Give your dog an outlet for their boredom. Ensure they’re regularly exercised for at least 30 minutes a day. Don’t leave your dog home alone or locked in a crate for long periods. Provide mental stimulation in the form of brain games, training sessions and meeting new dogs and people.
Anxious paw licking is another behavioural issue dogs can develop. For anxious dogs, paw licking can become a coping mechanism. It can become a self-soothing habit and a way for them to relax in certain situations. Anxiety can be caused by numerous factors, including separation anxiety, moving home, meeting new people or a new baby.
If your dog’s anxious licking isn’t accompanied by redness, inflammation or swelling, this is usually nothing to worry about. But if it becomes compulsive, the licking can be harmful to their skin, creating painful hotspots on the paws.
Treatment: The first step is to find out what’s causing your dog’s anxiety, and a behaviourist can help with this. They will analyse your dog’s behaviour to uncover your dog’s specific ‘triggers.’ From there the behaviourist will suggest ways to help relax your dog, and may also suggest ways to help your pooch cope around the trigger through counter conditioning.
Fleas and ticks
Fleas and ticks can cause itchiness and irritation to your dog’s skin. And if your dog is allergic to these pesky parasites, the reaction can be even more severe.
Treatment: The best method is prevention. Keep your dog up-to-date with their flea and tick medication to keep the critters at bay. There are plenty of over-the-counter medications you can buy from your local pet store, but medications bought through your vet are usually more effective.
There are also natural alternatives you can use if you’re worried about the chemicals in these products. Your best bet is to speak with your vet about your options.
When getting rid of fleas, it’s also important to treat your home in the process. Vacuum your carpets and upholstery regularly and take the bag outside to prevent reinfection occurring. Wash all your bedding and dog’s bedding. There are also chemical treatments you can buy. But be sure to stay safe and keep all pets away when treating the area.
Bone or joint conditions
In some cases, the pain could be going on at a deeper level. A fracture, torn ligament or joint problems like arthritis can all cause paw licking. If the incessant paw licking is accompanied by limping, it’s time to see a vet.
Treatment: Your vet will likely conduct a physical exam to assess where the pain is coming from. They may also perform an X-ray to help identify if there are any fractures or broken bones in the legs or paws.
The winter weather brings all sorts of challenges for our pups. Salted roads and walkways can be a major irritant leading to chemical burns on your dog’s paw pads. Snow balls compacted around the paws can also cause skin irritations. This is especially troublesome for dogs with long fur. The snow can clump around and in between the toes, causing cracking and bleeding. All of which drives obsessive paw licking.
Treatment: If your dog will tolerate it, use booties to protect your dog’s paws from de-icing chemicals and snow build up. A paw balm like Musher’s Secret can go some way towards protecting and soothing your dog’s paws. Just be sure to wipe it off after you return from your walk.
To prevent snowballs from forming between toes and pads, keep the hair trimmed short. And be sure to wipe your pup’s paws down after walks so they don’t ingest any toxic salts. Keep a bowl of warm water by the door and a towel so you can wipe them down immediately.
What experiences have you had with your dog’s paw licking. Let us know in the comments below…
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