When Paw Licking May Be a Sign of Illness

Analysis by Dr. Karen Shaw Becker

dog licking paw

Story at-a-glance -

  • If you’ve noticed that your dog licks her paws seasonally, such as primarily during spring and summer, environmental allergies are a likely cause; regular footbaths can remove the allergens and relieve the itching
  • Food allergies and food intolerances can also cause itchy paws, with your dog licking them excessively for relief
  • Paw licking can be a pain signal for dogs, even if the pain occurs in another part of the body
  • If your dog is bored, frustrated or anxious, licking her paws could be one manifestation of this; separation anxiety, stress and canine-compulsive disorder may also cause incessant licking
  • If your dog licks her paws enough for you to take notice, a visit to your integrative veterinarian can help you figure out the underlying problem

While it’s normal for dogs to lick their paws on occasion, if you dog licks her paws excessively it’s a sign that something is wrong. A trip to your integrative veterinarian is warranted for constant licking of any area of your pet’s body, but in the case of paws you should inspect the area for signs of injury.

If you’ve recently taken your dog for a walk, hot pavement can cause burns and road salt can cause irritations, for instance, or she could have stepped on something sharp, like a nail or a thorn. Check in between your dog’s toes and pads for any signs of irritation, burn or puncture. Fleas, ticks and other parasites can also irritate paws and cause itching, so check for signs of parasites as well.

Assuming an injury or parasite isn’t to blame for your dog’s licking, there’s likely a more systemic cause, which would need to be addressed at the foundational level to stop the licking.

It’s important, by the way, to resolve excessive licking, because it can lead to painful hot spots or a lick granuloma. Plus, if your dog is licking her paws often, it’s probably because they’re painful, itchy or irritated, which can leave your dog feeling miserable if not taken care of.

Top Reason for Seasonal Licking

If you’ve noticed that your dog licks her paws seasonally, such as primarily during spring and summer, environmental allergies are a likely cause. This is especially true if your dog licks all of her paws, between her toes and perhaps also her inner thighs and rear end.

When your dog walks outdoors, her paws are like dust mops, attracting grasses, dust mites, pollen, mold and other allergens, along with chemicals like fertilizers and pesticides. If your dog is allergic to or irritated by any of these substances, the more they collect on her paws, the itchier she’ll be — and the more licking that is likely to occur.

While you can’t prevent your pet from picking up seasonal allergens on her paws, you can drastically reduce them by giving her a foot soak. I recommend using a tub with just enough water to cover your dog’s feet, then add a bit of povidone iodine (brand name Betadine) until the water turns the color of iced tea.

You can also use a solution of half water and half white vinegar. Ideally, keep your dog’s paws submerged for two to five minutes, then simply pat dry. If this doesn’t improve the licking, there could be another cause.

Other Common Causes for Paw Licking

Similar to environmental allergies, food allergies and food intolerances can also cause itchy paws, with your dog licking them excessively for relief. Dogs with food intolerances typically suffer not only from itchy skin, but often skin and ear infections, and sometimes, vomiting and diarrhea.

A NutriScan saliva test can be very helpful in identifying food sensitivities, and I also suggest finding an integrative or holistic veterinarian who will work with you to identify a customized healing protocol. A yeast infection is also a common cause of intense itching in dogs.

You'll be able to tell if your dog has a yeast infection by the way she smells, because yeast has a very characteristic odor. Some people think it smells like moldy bread; others liken the odor to cheese popcorn or corn chips, describing their smell as “Frito feet.”

Definitive diagnosis of a yeast infection must be made by your veterinarian and is accomplished by cytology (looking at a skin swab under a microscope). Aside from allergies or a yeast infection, your dog may also be licking her paws due to:1

Pain — Paw licking can be a pain signal for dogs, even if the pain occurs in another part of the body. Trauma (i.e., fracture), post-surgical discomfort, a foreign body, insect bite, arthritis, nail bed infection, nerve damage or cancer can all trigger pain and related excessive licking.

Behavioral and psychological issues — If your dog is bored, frustrated or anxious, licking her paws could be one manifestation of this. Separation anxiety, stress and canine-compulsive disorder may also cause incessant licking and acral lick granulomas, in part because it can release endorphins that your dog associates with a pleasant feeling, reinforcing the habit. As noted by a dog trainer with the West Suburban Humane Society:2

“I have seen dogs that have licked their paws until the fur is gone and hotspots have developed with no medical cause for it. We created training plans for the dogs that focused on giving them a job that would give them a sense of purpose each day, so when they lay down at night their brains were calm enough that licking wasn’t needed.

If you catch this problem early it is much easier to address than after it has been occurring for years and turns into a serious issue.”

Demodectic and sarcoptic mange — Demodectic mites and skin lesions are a sign of demodectic mange, a noncontagious condition that causes significant itching, typically only on one paw. Demodectic mange is often the result of a weakened immune system and may occur along with other conditions like Cushing's disease, hypothyroidism, heartworm disease, cancer, or immune deficiency.

Sarcoptic mange is caused by sarcoptes scabei mites and is a contagious condition that should be treated promptly to avoid spreading. This condition also causes intense itching that could cause excessive licking of the paws along with sores and secondary infections.

Advertisement
Click here to learn moreClick here to learn more

Getting to the Bottom of Excessive Licking

While dogs do lick their paws sometimes, they don’t lick to groom themselves the way cats do. So if your dog licks her paws enough for you to take notice, a visit to your integrative veterinarian can help you get to the bottom of it.

I’m not a fan of using bad-tasting spray deterrents, I’m a fan of getting to the root cause of why your dog is licking. In many cases, seasonal allergies may be to blame, but it’s important to rule out the other potential causes to get your pet some much-needed relief.

 

Click Here and be the first to comment on this article
Post your comment