Perhaps you've already seen your furry friend licking or chewing his paws? This behavior is normal in most cases. However, some dogs do lick themselves frantically, especially on their front paws. So when should you be concerned? What causes this behavior? We'll explain why your dog licks its paws so often.
Why do dogs lick themselves?
Licking is a completely natural and normal behaviour for dogs. It is even a way for them to communicate with the people around them. Dogs can also lick themselves, for example to groom themselves. Licking is also a way for our four-legged friends to soothe themselves. A dog may lick itself when it is itchy or in pain in an attempt to relieve itself. Indeed, dogs do not always have the possibility of scratching the place where they itch.
While licking is a normal behaviour, it can sometimes become excessive. In this case, the licking often involves the front legs. If you notice that your furry friend is systematically licking its paws, something is wrong. You should therefore pay attention.
Why does a dog lick its paws?
If your dog licks his paws excessively, the first thing to do is to examine the paw in question in order to understand why your dog is acting this way.
There can be many causes of excessive licking:
- Itching: licking and nipping are ways for the dog to soothe the itch. It may be localized only on the paws, or it may occur all over the body. The cause of the itching (also called "pruritus") may be an infestation by parasites (ticks, fleas), a fungal infection (mycosis) or an allergic dermatitis (including a food allergy).
- Pain: as with itching, licking is a way for the dog to seek relief from pain. It may be due to a wound (whether slight or deep), an insect bite, the presence of a foreign body (a spikelet for example), a joint problem (link to article https://hellojack.eu/blogs/journal/article-19) or a muscle problem, or even the presence of a cyst or a tumour.
- a psychological problem: if there is no visible cause, it may be a psychological problem. The licking may be an OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) caused by stress. Boredom or separation anxiety are major sources of stress for our furry friends.
In an older dog, compulsive licking can also be caused by cognitive dysfunction syndrome.
In order to identify the exact cause of the licking, we recommend that you consult your vet as soon as possible. The problem should not be allowed to fester over time, as this can have repercussions.
Excessive and repeated licking of the same area can lead to what is known as licking dermatitis (or licking granuloma) over time. The area in question is then seen to be hairless, with redness indicating that the skin is raw.
A secondary infection is likely to occur because dogs' saliva contains many bacteria. Without proper treatment, the problem can only get worse.
How do you treat a dog that often licks its paws?
The vet will examine your dog and his paws to determine the cause of the problem. If your dog has licking dermatitis, the first thing to do will be to treat it to prevent further infection. Treatment is usually in the form of antipruritic or anti-inflammatory gels and lotions. It is preferable that the dog wears a collar to prevent licking during treatment.
In case of allergic dermatitis, the veterinarian will prescribe an antihistamine treatment.
If your dog is licking and biting because of an external parasite infestation, then an antiparasitic treatment is required.
Finally, if the excessive licking is caused by stress, your vet will talk to you about the cause of your dog's anxiety. To solve the problem, you will probably have to change your habits a little. If the stress is caused by boredom, you'll need to give your dog more walks and playtime. More frequent interaction with other dogs will also help.
In the case of separation anxiety, a dog behaviourist should be called in to help with detachment. A dog suffering from separation anxiety is a dog that is unwell, so it is important to act!
Now you know why your dog licks his paws too often, and how to remedy the problem. Don't delay in talking to your vet, especially if you can't identify the cause of the behaviour. This is because the problem cannot be solved on its own and can lead to other problems for your furry friend.