Why Do Dogs Lick Their Paws?
July 23, 2019 | 3 min read
Updated July 23, 2019
By Clara Hallifax
Published: July 23, 2019
Updated: August 12, 2022
Summary: "My dog keeps licking his paws." Fear not, pet parent! In this blog, we ask "why do dogs lick their paws?". We'll learn all the different reasons behind dogs licking paws to help you deduce why your pup is doing it...
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 discomfort, as dog saliva has antibacterial properties that help wounds or cuts heal. Licking has also been proven as a way to reduce anxiousness 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 behavior carefully and see if there are other changes occurring! If you're thinking "my dog keeps licking his paws!", be mindful that their excessive licking may be just the first sign that something else could be wrong... So, why do dogs lick their paws?
Why Do Dogs Lick Their Paws?
Fleas And Ticks
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. So, if you're wondering "why do dogs lick their paws?", it could be that they want to groom themselves and clean off the dirt they picked up along their 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 signs such as sneezing and watery eyes. 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 behavior changes.
With food intolerances, other symptoms might include discolored 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 behavior is caused by food, vets can perform an allergy test to confirm what it is.
Why do dogs lick their paws? Sometimes the problem is lying underneath their fur and skin – they may be experiencing discomfort in their bones and joints and their licking is trying to soothe that discomfort.
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 discomfort can creep up on them. When dogs feel uncomfortable, 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 discomfort 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!
Anxiousness And/Or Boredom
Your dog may simply be showing signs of anxiousness or boredom if they're licking their paws. Licking may reduce the feeling of stress your dog feels, and both anxiousness and boredom can increase the levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, in dogs.
Stress 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 signs of anxiousness, such as urinating indoors, whimpering, or aggression, find out what might be causing that anxiousness. Vets and behaviorists will be able to help you and your dog overcome nervous feelings!
My Dog Keeps Licking His Paws!
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 behavior 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!
A lover of all animals, especially dogs! I love to learn about the way they think, and what we as pet owners can do to better their lives. So what better way, than to write fun, informative content?! When I’m not typing away, you can find me trying to cook a new recipe (and failing), or of course playing with the dog