Why Do Dogs Lick Their Paws?

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To a certain extent, it is normal for dogs to lick their paws. They do this as part of their self-grooming and cleaning the same way that they lick other parts of their body. However, some dogs can lick their paws much more than normal. They can chew on their paws, make them red, and even rub the hair off their paws and cause infections.

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Excessive paw licking and chewing happens for several reasons.

Allergies. In some cases a dog will lick and chew on his paws because he has allergies. The dog can have different kinds of allergies but one of the places that itches is the paws. It’s not uncommon for a dog with allergies to lick and chew at his paws until he has rubbed the hair away and made his paws red and raw. If your dog has allergies of some kind, he will probably have other hairless patches on his body and other lesions. If you suspect that your dog has allergies, you should take him to a vet so you can get a diagnosis.

Parasites. Dogs can also lick and chew on their paws if they have some kinds of parasites. Fleas and some of the mites that cause mange, for example, could cause your dog to lick and chew his paws excessively.

Hypothyroidism. Dogs who have low thyroid can have a loss of hair and dry coat, among other symptoms. Some dogs may lick and chew on their skin, including their paws.

Hot spots. Hot spots, or acute moist dermatitis, are irritated lesions that can appear in different places on a dog’s body – the head, hip, or chest. However, they are often found on the lower legs and paws. When a dog licks at these hot spots, a small spot can grow into a huge, red, wet sore overnight. The more your dog licks at it, the bigger it gets. Any dog can get a hot spot but they often show up on dogs with a weaker immune system. They also appear on dogs susceptible to stress. If you notice a hot spot on your dog, see your vet right away before it gets too large.

Psychological reasons. Some dogs can lick and chew on their paws for psychological reasons. It becomes a bad habit. Dogs can develop obsessive-compulsive disorders that involve licking and chewing on their paws. Once this kind of chronic behavior starts, it can be hard to stop it. You may need to work with your vet and a canine behaviorist to help your dog.

One of the additional problems with a dog that licks and chews on his paws excessively is the risk of infections. After your dog has rubbed off the hair on his paws and damaged the skin, the skin can become infected. If your dog’s paws have sores and look like they are becoming infected, they need attention from your veterinarian to help them heal.

Dogs can lick their paws for lots of different reasons. Most of the time it is perfectly normal and nothing to worry about. However, if your dog appears to be licking or chewing his paws excessively or developing sores on his paws, it’s time to visit the vet.

Carlotta Cooper

Carlotta is a long-time contributing editor for the weekly dog show magazine Dog News. She's also the author of The Dog Adoption Bible, the Dog Writers Association of America Adoptashelter.com Award winner for 2013. In addition, she's written Canine Cuisine: 101 Natural Dog Food & Treat Recipes to Make Your Dog Healthy and Happy.

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