by Tasha Phillips, M.S.
On today’s episode of “Why Is My Dog Doing This Weird Thing?”, we’re going to discuss the top reasons why your dog may be licking their feet (or other areas). There are some common reasons for licking and chewing, as well as one or two not-so-common reasons.
Our furry best friends are always surprising us with quirky behaviors and habits. However, some of those behaviors can be indicators to a more serious issue. So, let’s dive right in to the top 5 reasons your pet may be keeping you up at night.
1. Self Grooming
Grooming is a completely normal behavior for your pet - whether that is a cat or dog. Most animals prefer to be clean and dry, so self-grooming is very common. Many times, dogs will lick their paws, legs, and tail to remove debris and even soothe themselves.
This is a sign that your pet is content and feels perfectly safe to relax and take a bath! However, if you notice your dog licking their feet until they are red or chewing/licking throughout the night, it may be a good idea to take a closer look at your best friend’s fuzzy toes.
Just like us humans, our pets get seasonal allergies, too. Allergies are perhaps the most common reason that pets are seen for licking or chewing their feet.
Pet owners typically complain that their pet “kept them up all night.” This is especially common during early spring and autumn when plants are spreading pollen, leaves are falling, and there is a lot of “stuff” in the air.
Your pet may have red feet, an inflamed underbelly, and watery eyes - all indicating that allergies could be the culprit for their licking. Increased disruption from scratching, licking, or gnawing brings even more inflammation and, in some cases, infection or hotspots. (See our Ultimate Hotspot Guide for more on those nasty red spots, a.k.a. canine acute moist dermatitis.)
3. Bacterial or Yeast Infection
As skin becomes disrupted - whether by licking or injury - common skin microbes can set up shop and begin to grow a nasty infection (check out our Biofilms post to learn more about microbes and their environments).
This infection can be bacterial or fungal in nature, causing a mean itch that your pet can’t help but try to scratch, and without opposable thumbs, licking is often their only source of temporary relief. The more your pet disrupts the area and the more an infection takes hold, the worse that itch becomes.
Without intervening with a topical anti-inflammatory/anti-microbial product and/or antibiotics, the problem will only worsen, and the infection can become more difficult to eradicate. This is an area where Lavengel truly shines.
Its anti-inflammatory properties soothe the burn/itch within minutes while its anti-microbial properties fight off the microbes within the area. Not only can your pet feel better faster, but you can potentially avoid a trip to the dogtor’s office (get it? DOGtor’s office).
When we see pets in the clinic for excessively licking their feet, one of the first steps that we take is a thorough exam. This involves a visual inspection of your pet’s feet, including in-between their toes and paw pads.
Because allergies are a common culprit, we not only want to visualize how inflamed the area is, but also to inspect for any other sources. It is not uncommon to find splinters, broken toenails, small abrasions, wounds, and even punctures in these areas.
Your pet could be indicating that something is really hurting, and the only way they know to make it feel better is to lick it. If allergies and other wounds are ruled out, a secondary cause can be arthritis or other joint pain. This is common in older dogs or fast-growing puppies as their joints close and they adapt to the increase in weight.
The final reason in our top 5 list is anxiety. As 2020-2021 came to a close, veterinary professionals saw a substantial increase in canine separation anxiety.
Owners were working from home with their pets laying by their side for months on end. Then, all of a sudden, Mom/Dad are leaving for 7-9 hours a day again. What is there to do but freak out?!
Puppies and young dogs take some time to adjust to being left home alone. They become destructive, forget their potty habits, or - you guessed it – lick and chew themselves into a frenzy in an attempt to self-soothe.
If you think that anxiety may be the cause of your pet’s licking, try exercising your pet in the mornings and offering mentally stimulating toys. In some cases, you may need to talk to a veterinary professional about medications that may help.
Paws and Consider
Although there could be a long list of reasons why your dog may be licking and chewing their feet, there is almost always a simple and treatable cause to the behavior. If you notice your pet becoming uncomfortable or licking excessively, go ahead and take a look at their feet.
See if you notice any inflamed areas, redness, wounds, or missing hair. If you have it on-hand (and I recommend that you do), apply some Lavengel between toes and paw pads a couple of times per day, and distract your pup for a minute or two so that the gel can absorb and begin to work. If the problem persists or worsens, it’s a good time to visit the ‘dogtor.’
**Friendly Disclaimer: Please seek medical treatment for your pet if at any time you are concerned about an uncontrolled infection, injury, or medication. This blog does not substitute for medical advice from your veterinarian.
Tasha Nelson Phillips is a veterinary assistant and researcher. She began her work in veterinary medicine in 2014 at a small practice in East Tennessee. She has a B.S. in Biology as well as a Master’s degree in Microbiology from East Tennessee State University. Her undergraduate and graduate research focused on Lavengel®, exploring its efficacy and mechanism of action against common bacterial species.
Tasha’s interests focus on natural antimicrobial options and exploring novel compounds to combat antibiotic resistance. She continues to work in small animal emergency and critical care medicine. She spends her free time with her husband and three furry babies in their East Tennessee home.