Black and white Jack Russell Terrier lies on pink blanket licking front paw

Understanding Dog Paw Licking: Causes, Concerns, and Solutions

For an more in-depth look at different issues that plague dog paws, see our page Top Reasons that Dogs Lick and Chew Their Paws.

by Michelle Wachs

If you're anything like me, you probably spend a good amount of time with your furry pals, and you notice every little quirk they have. One behavior that often catches our attention is when our pups start licking their paws. While it's usually harmless, excessive paw licking can be a sign that something's not quite right.

In this guide, let's dive into why our canine companions lick their paws: when it's cause for concern, potential side effects, and some solutions to help them feel better – including how Lavengel can come to the rescue.

Black french bulldog lying on couch licks front left paw

Why Do Dogs Lick Their Paws?

Our pups have their reasons for everything. Generally speaking, dogs lick themselves to clean or soothe an area. Without opposable thumbs, it's one of the few ways they can reach an itch or irritation.

While it seems they choose odd times to do so, licking is not necessarily a behavior that we should be quick to dismiss or dissuade. When it becomes excessive, we need to take notice and consider that there may be an underlying issue(s).

Skin Allergies

Just like us, dogs can have allergies to things like pollen, grass, or certain foods, leading to itchy paws. Allergies are arguably the most frequent reason that dogs "go to town" on their feet.

Changes in season, a dog's environment, or their food can bring about skin reactions. Sometimes, it may be a combination of these. Excessive licking and chewing at an allergic itch can often lead to a paw infection.

Paw Infections

Bacteria, fungi, or yeast love dark, warm environments and naturally make a home on dog paws in between toes and pads, yet they don't become a problem until there is a break in the skin or an unchecked overgrowth. Since dogs' paws naturally absorb so much contact and force, wounds and scrapes are bound to happen, giving these opportunistic "bugs" a chance to invade.

Once the skin barrier is damaged, these microbes get into the skin and set up shop, creating a nasty itch. From there, bacterial (pyoderma) or yeast (Malassezia) infections can establish and spread, causing discomfort and prompting some self-soothing paw licking. Unfortunately, this licking, chewing, and agitation only makes the infection worse.

Hands spreading paw pads of a black dog revealing pink irritated skin and infection

Paw Injury, Interdigital Debris, or Pain

Imagine getting a splinter stuck in your foot – ouch! Any injury or pain in paw, such as cuts, abrasions, splinters, or any kind of object lodged between their paw pads will cause irritation and prompt licking and chewing. Older dogs may even lick their feet due to arthritis or joint pain. 

Anxiety or Stress

Sometimes our furry friends lick their paws as a coping mechanism in response to feeling anxious, stressed, or bored - similar to humans biting their fingernails or pulling at hair.

Parasites

Fleas, ticks, or mites can be real pests, and they can make our pups' paws itch like crazy. Certain ticks can even carry disease, and specific mites can carry mange - a serious skin disease.

When Is Paw Licking a Concern?

While a bit of paw "tasting" here and there is normal, here's when we should start paying closer attention:

Persistent Paw Licking

If our pups can't seem to stop licking their paws, it might be time to investigate. Each dog is different, but you should be able to recognize the difference between what is usual and what is excessive.

Red paw with fur loss of Australian Shepherd dog suffering from skin allergies

Visible Redness or Irritation

Redness, swelling, rash or dermatitis, or any signs of injury on those precious paw pads are definitely cause for concern. A general redness of the paws and area between pads is a common symptom of an allergic reaction - possibly from environmental factors or food sensitivity.

Hair Loss and Leathery Skin on Paws

Losing fur on their paws? That's a sure sign something's up. If you also notice that the skin seems tough and almost scaly with dark spots (hyperpigmentation), severe allergies, parasites, an immune disorder, or a yeast infection may be at work.

Bacterial or Yeast (Fungal) Infection 

Paws that are constantly licked are more prone to infections, and paws that are already infected can become worse. Keep an eye out for red sores, discharge (pus), pustules, or scabs, and keep a nose out for a strong, musty or foul odor - trademark signs of a bacterial or yeast infection.

Side Effects of Excessive Paw Licking:

As with nearly everything in life, too much of a good thing can lead to some not-so-great outcomes:

Skin Irritation

Non-stop licking can irritate the skin, leading to redness, dermatitis, inflammation, and even open sores.

Exacerbating Paw Infections

As we mentioned, bacteria or fungi love moist, warm environments, and a breach in the skin coupled with a dog's saliva makes for a prime microbial incubator. Bacteria can become established very quickly and form a barrier called a biofilm that makes the infection tougher to penetrate and eliminate.

Not only that, other bacteria and yeast can live in the biofilm and set up their own colonies, creating a compound infection. It is even believed among the microbiology community that the most common bacterial culprit for canine skin infections - Staphylococcus pseudintermedius - can share a symbiotic relationship with other bacteria and yeast (Malassezia pachydermatitis).

Hair Loss

Excessive licking can cause fur to thin out or even fall out completely.

Hind leg and paw of Golden Retriever dog with hair loss and leathery pink skin

Behavioral Issues

Chronic paw licking might be a sign that our pups are feeling anxious or stressed, which could lead to other behavioral problems. What begins with the paws may extend to the couch cushions!

Effective Solutions to Non-stop Canine Paw Licking

So, what's a dog parent to do? Here are some solutions to consider:

Veterinary Examination

We always recommend this first. A trip to the vet can help us get to the bottom of what's bothering our furry barking buddies. They might prescribe medications like corticosteroids or antihistamines to tackle allergies or antibiotics for infections.

Allergy Management

On top of a prescribed antihistamine, making some changes to our pups' diet or environment can help manage allergies and reduce paw licking. Allergies can be tricky to solve since they involve testing and (especially with food allergies) a trial and error process, but they are crucial to getting things under control.

Parasite Control

Regular flea and tick prevention is a must to keep those pesky critters at bay. You can find a list of vet-recommended and well-reviewed flea and tick prevention products in our Dog Tick Tips and Prevention post.

Anxiety Relief

Ensuring that your dog gets enough exercise and has a safe, calming environment are vital to keeping anxiety down. Giving them calming chews, treats, or drops can be helpful before or during a potentially stressful period, too.

Topical Treatments

Application of natural skin care products like Lavengel are a great way to relieve our dogs and help heal their irritations.

Closeup of French bulldog looking up at tube of Lavengel

How Lavengel Can Help Paw Irritations

Lavengel is a science-backed, natural skin gel that's packed with some of nature’s greatest antioxidants, including a special form of Vitamin E called TPGS. This unique antioxidant is water-soluble and encompasses the other ingredients, helping all of the ingredients absorb at a faster and more complete level.

It soothes irritated skin with natural lavender, promotes healing with zinc and Vitamins C and E, and forms a protective barrier against further irritation.

It also helps our pups resist the urge to lick and chew, which also helps the natural healing process start quicker. As a nice little bonus, it also smells amazing and so relaxing – like a field of lavender on a warm summer day!

Closeup of a hand holding paw of a brown dog with long fur and black paw pads

One Foot in Front of the Other

As dog parents, it's our job to keep an eye out for our pups' well-being. By understanding why they lick their paws, knowing when it's a cause for concern, and exploring effective solutions like Lavengel, we can ensure our furry friends stay happy, healthy, and ready for more adventures by our side.

For more information on paw licking and many other canine skin issues, check out our Skin Issues Resource Center.

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