More often than not, dogs like to lick their paws as part of their grooming regime. They’re just washing, right? Well, if it's excessive and persistent, it might actually be a symptom of something else!
Licking is a common way for dogs to soothe and comfort themselves, reminding them of when their mother would lick and wash them as puppies. As well as a grooming comfort, dogs will also lick if they are in pain, as dog saliva has antibacterial properties that help wounds or cuts heal. Licking has also been proven as a way to reduce anxiety in dogs, a bit like how we humans play with our hair or fidget with our hands.
The only way to know what’s going on with your dog is by watching their behaviour carefully and see if there are other changes occurring! Excessive licking may be just the first sign that something else could be wrong, including...
Exploring the outdoors is exciting for your pup, but it can also pose threats to their health. As much as you try, it’s impossible to protect your pet from all the little pests that infest the woodlands, but there are some measures you can take to prevent or combat them.
Ticks and fleas are tiny insects that feed on the blood of animals. They attach themselves to the skin, which makes them hard to spot under the fur of particularly hairy dogs. Once they attach themselves, the tick or flea bites the skin, which causes an itching sensation.
As humans, we’re told not to scratch and itch, but your dog won’t know that scratching makes it worse. So, they could be licking their paws to treat that irritation and reach their wound-healing saliva to the bite!
Checking regularly for ticks and fleas on your dog's skin is essential for their comfort. If you find one, use tweezers to gently remove it from your dog’s skin. And make sure you use an insect repellent when you go on walks, especially if you live in a wooded area!
This is for everyone, despite the landscape of where you live. You may notice that your dog excessively licks their paws straight after a walk. It could be that they want to groom themselves and clean off the dirt they picked up along the walk – but, it might not be a hygiene issue that’s causing the excessive licking!
Your pup could be allergic to something in the outdoors, such as grass, particular plants, or pesticides, and they are licking to try and soothe the irritation. So, to test if it is something from outside, try washing your dog’s paws as soon as you get back to the house, and see if that reduces their impulse to lick. Watch out for other symptoms such as sneezing and watery eyes. If you find that your dog is allergic to something in the wild, you can buy antihistamines, which reduce the symptoms of allergies. You should also keep your own lawn mown and avoid overgrown walking routes.
But of course, allergies also include foods, cleaning products and ingredients. The most common foods that dogs can be allergic to, or have an intolerance to, are beef, chicken, dairy, and grains. If your dog does have a food intolerance, they could be licking their paws to soothe themselves. They could also be allergic to the floor cleaner you use! The best way to figure out what it could be is by trying an elimination diet – just cut out one ingredient at a time and see if your dog’s behaviour changes.
With food intolerances, other symptoms might include discoloured stools or a different texture of poop. Your pup might seem more tired than normal or vomiting after meals. If you’re not sure whether your dog’s behaviour is caused by food, vets can perform an allergy test to confirm what it is.
Atopic dermatitis in dogs is a nasty condition that makes skin feel itchy and appear red. It is very sore and can spread from one concentrated area, over to other parts of your dog’s body. If your poor pup does develop dermatitis, they’ll lick themselves to soothe the pain!
There are a few things that could cause it, the first being allergies to grass and fauna. The constant irritation from an allergy, especially of something they touch frequently, can damage the skin.
Another is over-grooming. We know that some pet parents like to keep their dogs nice and clean, and its common with designer breeds particularly, but it’s actually possible to bathe them too much! Why is that? Well, it strips their skin and fur of the natural oils that the body produces, which are good for conditioning their hair and balancing the pH of their skin. Check your bottle labels for harsh chemicals too, because they’ll damage your dog’s skin even more. Try and stick to natural shampoos in the future.
Sometimes the pain lies under the fur and skin – it can be in the bones. Osteoarthritis affects up to 50% of all dogs in the USA, being worse in larger dogs. As your dog ages, their bones become weaker under the strain of their weight and years of fast movements.
But the pain can creep up on them, so much so that it becomes extremely uncomfortable for them to move. When dogs feel pain, they’ll try to soothe that pain by licking themselves (imagine falling over and hurting your knee, the first thing we want to do is hold and rub the area). As joint pain is often in their legs, their paws are the place they choose to lick.
It’s difficult to prevent your dog from developing arthritis and other joint-related conditions, but there are ways you can ease the discomfort for your pal. You can buy ramps for them to walk up rather than jump up into your car or onto the couch, and discourage them from jumping from tall heights.
Dog’s bodies are sensitive to hormone imbalances, especially thyroid hormonal changes. You see, they can produce too much (hyperthyroidism) or too little (hypothyroidism), which can result in hair thinning, shedding, or patches of hair loss.
Once they lose hair in a particular spot, they’re more likely to lick exposed skin when trying to soothe themselves. This can cause lick granulomas, which occur when they lick one area too much. Even though dog saliva contains antibacterial properties, over licking can worsen existing wounds or create new sores.
This can create a cycle of licking the pained area, making it worse, and then wanting to lick it more. If you notice a lick granuloma or a vulnerable exposed bit of skin on your dog, take them to your veterinarian!
Your dog may simply be showing signs of anxiety or boredom if they’re excessively licking their paws. Licking may reduce the feeling of stress your dog feels, and both anxiety and boredom can increase the levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, in dogs.
Anxiety can be triggered by fear, such as loud noises or detachment from their owners, or it can be the result of growing older. If you notice your dog is licking their paws along with other symptoms of anxiety, such as urinating indoors, whimpering, or aggression, find out what might be causing that anxiety. Vets and behaviourists will be able to help you and your dog overcome the nervous feelings!
It can be hard to know when a habit is just a habit, and when it’s actually got meaning behind it. But you know your dog better than anyone else in the world, so noticing a new behaviour that becomes excessive is likely to be your pup trying to tell you something!
Dogs can’t tell you when they’re not feeling well, so it’s up to you to observe them and take care of it. Although it could just be that they like to groom themselves, don’t underestimate the chances that there could be an underlying problem that affects their health and happiness!