While it’s perfectly natural for dogs to lick their paws in the normal course of grooming, you should take notice if they begin to lick their paws too much. Dogs lick their paws excessively for many reasons, and it can become an issue if the skin of the paw is licked enough to become an open sore. It’s important to keep this from happening. Any new and obsessive behavior that your dog starts to adopt may be a sign of something more serious.
The first step in stopping a dog from licking their paws is to try to determine what is causing the behavior. You can then address this root cause to solve the problem.
But even if you cannot find the cause of their paw licking, you should still make efforts to stop the behavior to avoid the undesired consequences of open sores.
What Is Causing My Dog To Lick Its Paws Excessively?
Dogs clean themselves by licking. They will lie down and lick their legs and body to remove dirt and residue from their coat and skin. Dogs saliva actually contains bacteria-killing enzymes that can keep a wound free from infection.
Because their paws touch the floor, dogs will naturally clean their paws often. This keeps any bacteria living in surface debris from multiplying and causing skin infection.
Dogs’ tongues are more textured than human tongues. This makes them effective at cleaning dirt from the crevices in their paws.
If you know that your dog has stepped in something nasty, it’s wise to clean their paws before they begin doing it themselves. It is easier than letting them ingest the foreign matter, which could potentially upset their stomach.
A skin allergy known as dermatitis, in which the skin becomes irritated due to a new particle that it comes into contact with, may be the cause of your dog’s paw licking.
Dogs’ skin can react to certain chemicals and particles, just like humans. If your pet is having a skin reaction to something that has touched their paw, they will lick it as a form of scratching it. Because it is difficult for a dog to scratch their paws with their other paws, their tongue is their most effective tool.
It is important to monitor what foreign substances your dog has been around if they begin licking their paws obsessively. These can be natural, from plant foliage, etc., or man-made, such as chemicals used on lawns.
Allergic reactions can become serious if left untreated for a long time. Allergies will also cause stress in the dog’s body as the immune response causes stress hormones to be released.
If your pet has injured their paw, they will lick it to address the pain and to stop the injury from becoming infected. It is important to find the injury and keep track of it to make sure it doesn’t get worse. If the licking starts very suddenly, your dog may have stepped on something sharp or burned their paw pads.
Your dog may also have been bitten or stung by a bee or other insect. Just as with insect bites and stings on humans, physical reactions can vary. While most insect bites only cause temporary mild discomfort, many dogs can be allergic to bee stings or spider bites and have serious reactions, including fatal ones. If you observe other symptoms in addition to paw licking, such as swelling, labored breathing, nausea etc., contact your vet immediately for guidance
If your dog’s paw hurts, they will lick it. General pain can be caused by arthritis or other joint issues. Even if the pain is not directly in the paw, your dog may lick their paw as a nervous reaction to dull pain.
Arthritis is fairly common in certain breeds of dogs such as Labradors and German Shepherds. The disease causes the cartilage in between bones to wear away causing pain as the bones make contact with each other. Over time the bones can fuse and stop being able to move.
Talk to your vet if you suspect your dog has arthritis, or they are a breed that is known to be susceptible to it. Many therapeutics exist, and diet can be modified to prevent pain and increase mobility.
Just like us, dogs can become stressed and develop health issues such as anxiety or nervousness. If your dog is worried about something, they may start licking their paws as a kind of nervous twitch or as a coping mechanism when stressed.
Boredom could also be an issue. If your dog is not stimulated enough to meet their needs, they may just start licking their paws as something to do. It is important to keep your dog stimulated. As animals, they are meant to exercise and complete tasks in order to be happy and healthy.
If your dog is left at home for long hours, maybe get someone to take them out for a walk or visit with them during the day. If a dog has separation anxiety — a common mental problem that causes severe stress when the dog is left alone — they may exhibit the residual stress later by paw licking.
Paw licking can also become a behavior pattern of its own. Regardless of the initial cause, when a dog starts licking its paws constantly for a significant period of time, it can become a compulsive habit that doesn’t go away even after the underlying cause is removed. As we all know, bad habits (think fingernail biting by humans) can be terribly hard to break once they are established.
How To Stop a Dog from Licking Its Paws
Whether or not you are able to identify the cause of the licking, it’s important to stop them from doin g it. If the root cause remains a mystery, you can still deter them physically from licking their paws or train them not to do it.
Socks or Dog Boots as Paw Coverings
Putting certain clothing items over your dog’s paw will stop them from licking. By simply covering up the paw, it will block the dog from being able to lick the area. Try using a sock or another small piece of clothing to wrap around the paw and cover it up. You can secure it with heavy tape or velcro strips.
There are also dog boots made specifically for canines. By putting a dog boot on the paw(s) in question, you can limit the licking. Of course, if the irritation is strong enough, the dog may chew through the boot, so be sure to monitor the dog while wearing them until you’re confident the dog won’t do this.
When first introducing a sock or bootie to your dog, it may feel unnatural to them. Give your dog treats when first putting them on to give a positive association with the foreign object, and keep the dog distracted with play or other interesting activities while they get used to it. They will soon relax and readily accept them.
Dog Boots can also be effective for stopping injuries from happening in the first place as well as preventing licking.
If your dog is licking one particular paw, they might start licking another once you cover the original one. For this reason, it may be useful to have multiple boots or socks available.
The Elizabethan collar, or cone collar, is a more extreme approach but probably the most effective. You may already have one as they are commonly provided to dogs after a spay, neutering, or other surgery to keep them from picking at their stitches.
Most dogs do not enjoy being in one of these collars and will often accidentally run into furniture with the cone. However, despite it being uncomfortable for the dog, it prevents them from licking any area of their body.
Your dog will likely act despondent while wearing the cone collar, but will soon get more comfortable.
Citrus and Bitter Apple
The juice from citrus fruits can be used to stop a dog from licking areas of its body. Simply apply a few drops to the paw. Dogs do not like the taste of citrus fruit and will be deterred from licking the paw again.
Juice extracted from lemons, oranges, limes, and grapefruit can all work to stop your dog licking. They are often put off by the strong smell even before their tongue comes out. If you apply the juice often enough, your dog might even learn to never lick their paws.
Bitter Apple works in a similar way to citrus to discourage a dog from chewing and licking. It, too, tastes unpleasant to most dogs. It is available commercially, sold in a spray bottle which can be easily applied and stored.
You can also apply these fruit extracts to the socks, bandages, or other coverings you might put on the paw to keep the dog from chewing on them.
Training Your Dog to Stop Licking Their Paws
It’s certainly possible to train a dog to stop licking their paws without using coverings, collars, or topical treatments. It does require a lot of supervision of the dog which may make it difficult for many people because of work schedules, etc.
To break the paw licking habit, first try to keep the dog as occupied with other activities as much as possible. A busy dog usually won’t lick its paws. Provide chew toys and other time-consuming distractions that might be more desirable for them than licking their paws.
When the dog does begin to lick its paws, make a distinctive sound like “eh!” to get their attention and temporarily stop them from licking. Praise them for stopping. If they start again, repeat the noise and praise if they stop. Soon, the dog will learn that you don’t want them to perform the licking behavior.
Once the dog knows that the behavior is unwanted, you can easily interrupt them should they start and then, after waiting a short time, redirect their attention by providing them a chew toy or other distraction. You don’t want the dog to learn that licking its paws results in a reward.
Over time with persistent monitoring, you should be able to minimize the amount of licking, especially if it has become solely a habit rather than a result of an underlying cause.
A Trip To The Vet
If none of the above tactics are working, and your dog still obsessively licks their paws, then a trip to the vet might be a good idea. A dog licking their paws is a fairly common behavior but should not be ignored if they start doing it excessively.
A vet will be able to investigate the paw in much more detail and discover if anything is bothering the skin of the foot, or if there might be joint pain that is causing a nervous response.
If your dog starts obsessively licking their paws, you should not ignore it. Paw licking can be a sign of more serious issues or could be the start of an issue itself. Although dogs do clean themselves with their tongue, any licking that breaks the skin should be monitored and stopped.
Try some of the techniques listed above and see if your dog stops their licking. A happy dog will not have any frantic or obsessive behavior.