For anyone who’s ever owned a dog, they can attest to the many ritualistic behaviors that are part of their pet’s daily routine. For example, it’s not unusual to see a dog grooming himself, which may include a full-body shake after getting wet, rolling around in the grass to ‘comb’ his fur, and of course licking his coat and paws to remove dirt, debris and other impurities. However, when you find your dog chewing his paws incessantly, it may indicate a problem. So, the question remains among many dog owners – how much chewing is considered “too much”? This article will explore the various reasons why dogs may be chewing or licking their paws profusely, how to identify abnormal behavior, when to see the vet, and preventative measures owners can take to ease problematic self-grooming and chewing.
Excessive Paw Licking and Chewing: Identifying Causes & Symptoms
Once a dog shows symptoms of over-grooming – which may include compulsive chewing on the paws, licking at the toes and/or pads of his feet, or other similar behavior – it should be cause for concern. Additional warning signs include redness, soreness, a foul odor, bleeding at the “overly-licked” region or swollen dog paws, as well as the dog limping when he walks. If any of these indicators are observed, contact a veterinarian immediately. Below, some of the most common reasons why dogs chew at their paws excessively:
- Canine Dermatitis (Dry Skin): One of the most common reasons why a dog may be over-licking himself is due to canine dermatitis – or more simply put, dry skin. Just like humans, dogs also suffer from the effects of the weather and humidity levels, whether it’s very cold outside or the climate (or humidity level in the house) is extremely arid. On the other hand, dogs have a distinct disadvantage: unlike their human counterparts, they don’t have the option of slathering on moisturizing creams and lotions when their coats feel flaky and itchy; hence, the urge to lick often becomes the temporary fix for dry paw pads.
Although dogs are capable of grooming themselves, it does help when humans brush and bathe their dogs often– however, dog owners can also over-groom and bathe, so be sure not to overdo it with pets, especially in the case of designer breeds who often require more upkeep at the groomer. Too much shampooing and blow-drying will strip a pup’s skin of his natural oils, while harsh chemicals and soaps will dry out his skin and coat. Therefore, read labels carefully and speak with a vet or groomer regarding dry skin/coat issues if a problem is suspected.
Another reason for canine dermatitis is a deficiency of fatty acids in his diet – in order for a dog’s skin and coat to remain healthy and resilient, he needs to get the proper allotment of essential nutrients found in certain foods for dogs. Fish oil, coconut oil, and avocado oil are all excellent sources of fatty acids and can be added to a dog’s food – a vet can recommend the exact amount if there’s any uncertainty. Similarly, the vet’s office or a dog groomer may also recommend natural skin balms especially formulated for animals for severe cases of dog dermatitis.
Canine dermatitis symptoms may include:
- Red, irritated or bumpy skin
- Noticeable flakes of skin observed through dog’s coat or when he is scratching himself
- Excessive licking
- Canine Allergies: Another unfortunate affliction dogs share with humans: allergies. Similar to people, dogs may be allergic to a variety of things, whether it’s environmental, food-related, or chemically-based. Among the things that cause canine allergies include cleaning products (such as shampoos, laundry detergent and even household cleaners), pesticides (such as those used to treat lawns and gardens), and various plants (both indoor and outdoor). Excessive licking and chewing of the paws that hasn’t been linked to any other condition may indicate some type of allergy or a canine food intolerance.
Much like their owners, dogs can also develop seasonal allergies to mold and pollen, or they may suddenly become allergic to certain chemicals or cleaning products in the home. However, one of the most occurring canine allergies are food allergies, which frequently lead to skin irritations that affect different parts of the body. The most common food allergies observed in dogs are protein-based – primarily beef, chicken and dairy; however, it’s also possible for dogs to have grain allergies (e.g., gluten allergies or sensitivity).
While veterinarians can run allergy tests to determine a dog’s triggers, pet owners can attempt an elimination diet at home to figure out what he’s allergic to. Although it may be difficult to identify the ‘offending’ ingredient, remember that in order for a dog to develop the allergy in the first place, he must have had prior exposure to the ingredient in question – therefore, it’s probably one of the dog food ingredients that the animal has been fed up until that point. The elimination diet will essentially consist of taking away one food at a time to establish whether or not his symptoms improve once the suspected food ‘culprit’ has been removed from his diet. In the event that a dog is showing signs of skin irritation and/or excessive paw chewing or licking, pet parents should speak with their vet regarding nutritional adjustments and changes to his daily routine to address and treat the condition(s).
Canine dermatitis symptoms may include:
- Excessively licking paws immediately following walks – may indicate environmental allergies (e.g., grass, plants or pesticides found outdoors)
- Itching, scratching, rubbing and licking, especially around the face, paws and underarms
- Thickening and redness of the skin
- Raised bumps on skin surface
- Dandruff/dry skin
- Crusts and wounds
- Dull coat
- Sneezing; watery/red eyes
- Injury: In the event that a dog has been hurt or injured, he may be nursing a wound. Whether it’s an abrasion or puncture to the toe pads, or a fractured toe or claw, contacting a vet for a professional examination is advised – particularly if the cause or severity of injury is undetermined. Excessive licking and nibbling at the site of an injury sometimes take place, as the dog may be trying to dislodge a foreign object in the paw, such as a thorn, splinter, burr or piece of glass. In other instances, he may be suffering from an insect sting. These sort of injuries are especially common for dogs who are very active or have recently been exploring a new area off-leash.
Dog owners should always check the paw area if an injury in that region is suspected – check the pads and feel in between for any foreign objects, cuts, tears, lacerations or open wounds; also examine the animal carefully for any other visible signs of pain/injury, including sprains, fractures or breaks. In the event that the dog is limping when he walks or resting more than he normally would, contact a vet right away – he or she can advise the next steps.
Indications of injury include:
- Acute paw licking
- Open wounds, lacerations or skin punctures at the site of the paw area
- Visible insect stings
- Signs of sprains, tears, fractures or breaks (paw licking can indicate pain further up the leg)
- Limping or resting more than usual
- Parasites: Dogs can suffer a great deal at the mercy of canine parasites – fleas, ticks and mites cause a tremendous amount of itching when canines are infested with these nuisance insects. While ticks are relatively easy to spot, fleas can be difficult to find unless a dog has an acute infestation. Mites, on the other hand, are barely visible and may require some detective-work to determine if they are present on the animal. As a result, pups may try to ease their itchy skin when infested with parasites by licking or chewing the affected area. For dog owners unsure about parasite prevention, recognition, treatment or general care, speak with a trusted vet for a thorough examination, diagnosis and care regimen. If a dog displays any of the signs or symptoms as seen below, contact a vet immediately.
The following includes a general overview of canine signs & symptoms for each parasite as reviewed:
Symptoms of Mites:
- Visible skin irritation/redness