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Understanding Dog Behavior: Why Do Dogs Lick Their Paws?

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Understanding dog behavior can be tough for the average pet owner. Seemingly unusual behaviors may actually be completely normal, and ordinary activities can sometimes have more worrisome underlying causes. This article will focus on one particularly ambiguous and poorly understood dog behavior: paw licking.

Is Paw Licking Normal?

When a pet owner sees his or her dog licking paws once in a while, it’s nothing to worry about. Pups that are fastidious self-groomers often lick their paws after meals or coming in from outside, before lying down for naps, and occasionally over the course of the day. As long as the dog isn’t chewing or licking excessively, there’s no reason to assume the habit indicates a health or behavioral issue.

All that said, paw licking can also be a sign of underlying problems. Pet owners should pay attention to patterns and identify when and how furry friends usually groom their paws. That way, it will be more obvious if something is amiss.

Paw Licking and Injuries

When dogs start engaging in excessive paw licking or focusing on a single pad after a walk or a vigorous play session, it should be considered a reason for concern. Check the pup’s pads, nail beds, and the areas between the toes for cuts, scrapes, blisters, and sores. Dogs sometimes sustain paw injuries due to:

  • Punctures from thorns and other pointy objects

Wood chips, pebbles, and other foreign objects lodged between toes

Burns from hot asphalt

Cuts from sharp objects

Stepping on bees

For minor injuries, clean the wound and apply antibiotics. For major ones, take the injured dog to a veterinarian for help.

Paw Licking and Health Issues

If a dog is engaging in excessive licking or chewing, and there’s are no abrasions, puncture wounds, cuts, scrapes, or blisters, an underlying health problem may be to blame. The most common culprits are food sensitivities and environmental allergies that cause itchiness and rashes. However, constant paw licking can also indicate parasitic, fungal, or bacterial infection.

What all of these health issues have in common, aside from causing dogs to lick their paws too much, is that they need to be diagnosed and treated by a veterinarian. In many cases, administering antibiotics, anti-fungal medications, or flea and tick meds can alleviate the itchiness and stop all that excessive licking.

Paw Licking and Behavioral Problems

Once dog owners rule out both injuries and health concerns, most excessive paw licking problems come down to behavioral issues. Some dogs lick their paws when they are bored. Others engage in this repetitive behavior when they’re experiencing stress or anxiety.

The problem is that once a dog has developed an excessive paw licking problem as a response to any negative emotion, that coping behavior becomes an ingrained habit, just as it would in a person. The best way to address paw licking as a behavioral problem is to deal with the underlying issue, whether that means taking bored dogs out for extra walks, giving them new toys, or heading to a trainer to tackle serious separation anxiety. Just remember not to scold an anxious dog for licking, as negative reinforcement can increase the animal’s anxiety and make the problem worse.

So, Is Paw Licking a Problem?

Some amount of paw licking is normal in healthy dogs. Excessive or seemingly compulsive paw licking is not normal, though, and it should be addressed by a veterinarian or a dog trainer.

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