Why Does My Dog Always Lick Their Paws?

LAST UPDATED 2 JANUARY 2024

This article is written by Pet Circle veterinarian, Dr Nicole du Plessis, BVSc (Hons) and updated by Dr Michelle Wong

Most pet owners have seen their dog licking their paws from time to time; it can be a completely normal expression of grooming behaviour. Excessive licking is another story. Constant, frequent licking of paws can be a frustrating problem for pets and owners alike. It is important to understand what influences may be contributing and why your dog just can't leave those feet alone!

Contents:

Possible causes of paw licking

  1. Allergies
  2. Infection
  3. Foreign Body
  4. Nail Problems
  5. Pain
  6. Insect Bite
  7. Lump
  8. Burns
  9. Parasites
  10. Behavioural

5 Easy Steps For Paw Health

Further Reading



Possible Causes Of Paw Licking

1. Allergies

Allergies are common in dogs of all different breeds, ages and sizes. If your dog is excessively licking their paws, it is possible allergies are to blame. There are many different kinds of allergies that can affect dogs, such as food allergies, environmental allergies or atopy, contact allergies and flea allergies.

Your dog can be exposed to allergens in any number of ways! Your dog may be exposed through their environment by breathing in airborne allergens; through allergens contacting their skin, through their diet or even from the saliva in flea bites.

Common symptoms:

  • Redness in paws
  • Stained fur from licking
  • Thickened skin
  • Swelling

Unfortunately, there is no one quick and easy test to diagnose the source of the allergy, rather it becomes a process of exclusion until the source is found.

If you suspect your dog has allergies, speak to your veterinarian about ways you can help your dog. Certain hydrolysed diets, medicated shampoos, allergy medications and allergy desensitisation may help manage the symptoms in your dog.

Products to help manage allergies

Malaseb

Malaseb Medicated Shampoo is an antibacterial, antifungal and antipruritic shampoo for dogs and cats. Ideal for dermatitis therapy.

Megaderm

Nutritional supplement with balanced Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids to support the health of the skin and manage inflammation.

Royal Canin

Specially formulated for dogs with food allergies, food intolerances, or food adverse reactions. Made from hydrolysed soy protein

Hills Prescription Diet

Veterinary grade food to help manage environmental and food allergies in dogs.

2. Infection

Bacterial or fungal (yeast, ringworm) infection can be another cause for licking. The infection can be the primary cause of the irritation and licking, or secondary to the initial cause of irritation to the feet. Secondary infections are commonly associated with underlying allergies which produce inflammation in the skin, weakening the barrier and allows infection to occur. You may notice sticky discharge (pus) with bacterial infections, and if there is a yeast infection, the paws are often malodorous along with greasy skin or crusting. Medicated shampoos like Malaseb can be used as an effective topical treatment aid for infected paws.

Infection can further exacerbate licking due to discomfort and irritation. It is very important to get the correct diagnosis and treatment for underlying infection. A veterinary consultation is recommended, particularly if you are seeing redness, discharge, discolouration, swelling and your dog is uncomfortable.

3. Foreign Body

Grass seeds are another culprit for excessive licking of feet. Wild oats, brome grass, spear grass and barley grass are often responsible for penetrating grass seed awns in dogs. These sharp awns can embed themselves into skin causing pain and often infection and will even occasionally migrate into organ tissue!

Keeping long haired coats short, daily inspection of skin and coat and regular grooming can assist with grass seed foreign bodies. You may notice a specific reddened area or even see the foreign material embedded in the paw. Infections may occur concurrently, and especially if this object has been stuck in the tissue for a period of time. If you ever suspect your dog has any kind of foreign body, it is important you seek veterinary attention without delay. Your veterinarian can help to remove this, often under general anaesthesia, and provide pain relief and antibiotics as required.

Shop All Grooming Products Now

4. Nail Problem

Nails require regular maintenance and trimming to avoid overgrowth, in particular the dew claws. As nails become too long, they can curl around to dig into the skin and eventually penetrate into the tissues. This causes pain and discomfort, and can lead to infection.

Active dogs who walk and run outside may naturally keep their own nails short through wear and tear. However, it is best to check their paws on a regular basis. Long nails are more likely to get caught on things in the environment and this could result in a torn nail which is extremely painful. You may notice bleeding from the split nail. If your pet has a torn nail, it is important to bring them in to see your vet as soon as possible.

Nail Clippers for Dogs

5. Pain

Pain is another reason your dog may be unable to leave those paws alone. This may be seen in just one foot or multiple areas. Senior dogs may experience arthritis and result in licking of that area.

As mentioned above, nail injuries such as a torn nail, or even overgrown nails, can become uncomfortable or painful and may be another reason your dog licks their feet.

In Australia, especially during summer months, thermal burns can happen when the ground is too hot for sensitive paw pads and can be another source of discomfort and licking.

6. Insect Bite

Insect bites can sting and cause your dog to hold up their paw and start limping. There may be a raised bump and redness at the site. Most insect bites are harmless and symptoms will improve within a day. Monitor your dog for any signs of a severe reaction such as extreme swelling, respiratory difficulty, vomiting, or collapse. If your dog shows any of these serious symptoms, or they have been bitten on their face or neck, do not delay in seeking veterinary attention for your pet.


7. Lump

Abnormal growths or cysts could be a reason for your dog to lick their paws. Any lump that develops on their body should be investigated, your vet may need to perform a fine needle aspiration to obtain cells from the lump for microscopic examination, which can help determine whether it is malignant or benign. This could also help detect infections which will likely be treated with a course of oral antibiotics.

8. Burns

Australia is well known for its bright weather and sunshine. However, the warm sun can cause heat stress and surfaces which may be too hot for your pet to walk on. Taking your dog out for a walk or run within the early hours of the morning or in the evening could help to prevent these situations. Shoes can provide some protection for their sensitive pads.

9. Parasites

Fleas, ticks and mites can cause irritation to various areas of your dog’s skin.

Fleas are a very common external parasite visible to the naked eye, which can cause irritation to the pet by biting and feeding on a blood meal. Dogs are frequently allergic to fleas which can further exacerbate the itch.

Ticks can bury themselves anywhere on the dog. Ticks have been found in the ear canal, mouth, bottom and in between the toes and paw pads! Licking or chewing the area can be an attempt at removing the irritating tick.

Sarcoptes mite is a microscopic parasite that buries underneath the skin and can cause intense irritation, infection and hair loss to the area. It can also be passed to humans.

Keeping up to date with regular parasite prevention, even if you haven't seen any parasites, is the best way to prevent infestation in your pet.

Recommended parasite prevention

Bravecto

Bravecto provides long-lasting protection against fleas, ticks, and mites (including sarcoptes, ear mites, and demodex).

Simparica

Simparica is a monthly treatment in the form of a liver flavoured chew which provides your dog with protection against fleas, ticks, mites and mange.

Nexgard

A tasty beef-flavoured chew which protects your dog from fleas, ticks and mites for one month.

Advocate

Advocate is an easy to use, monthly spot-on treatment against fleas, mites, lice, heartworm and intestinal worms.

Shop All Dog Flea And Tick Prevention Now

 

10. Behavioural

Anxiety and boredom can contribute to excessive licking. The repetitive licking can be a soothing mechanism for dog's, so they repeat the behaviour to help calm themselves. Unfortunately, the compulsive licking can cause skin lesions to develop such as acral lick granulomas, skin trauma and infection.

It is important to address the underlying cause for the anxiety. Never punish your dog for licking as this can create further anxiety issues. You can help your dog by engaging a positive reinforcement dog trainer and the help of your regular veterinarian. Calming aids and enrichment can also be useful in mild cases of anxiety.

Anxiety Relief

Adaptil

Adaptil releases dog appeasing pheromone into your dogs environment to help promote feelings of calm and well-being.

Zylkene

Zylkene is made from natural milk protein and helps to reduce anxiety in pets.

Royal Canin

Relax Care kibble is formulated to help reduce feelings of stress and anxiety in dogs.

Lickimat

Licking releases endorphins which help your pet feel calm. Lickimat also helps occupy bored pets and slows down those who eat too quickly.

Take home message

There are a number of different potential causes to your dog’s licking. Taking note of any different activities or changes to routine such as new foods, treats or even the same food but new bag or new places your dog has visited can all help your veterinarian get to the bottom of your dog’s excessive licking.

Your regular veterinarian may need to perform skin cytology, bacterial or fungal cultures, food elimination trials and occasionally radiographs to identify the cause of your dog’s itchy feet. In some cases, medication or referral to a dermatologist may be recommended. 

Feeding a premium-quality skin diet can improve skin barrier function. Topical therapies like medicated shampoos and conditioners can further assist with skin barrier health and can be helpful for ongoing management.

When to seek veterinary attention

If you ever notice excessive licking in your dog, especially alongside redness, hair loss, discharge, swelling or lameness, it is important not to delay treatment and seek the assistance of your regular veterinarian.



5 easy steps for paw health

Identifying any underlying medical causes for paw problems can be helpful in providing targeted ongoing support for your pet. If their paw licking is related to allergies, your vet may prescribe medication to help manage the itchiness and reduce symptoms.

For general maintenance and protection, there are several simple ways we can help keep our dog s paws healthy. Soothing balms can moisturise dry and cracked paws, daily inspection can allow early detection and removal of any foreign objects, and regular nail trimming to avoid overgrown nails.

1. Regular checks

Check their paws daily or after walks can help make sure there is nothing stuck in their pads or between the toes to cause irritation or pain. This allows for early intervention as you may notice issues sooner.

2. Moisturise their paws

Use a paw balm to prevent dry and cracked paws. Providing moisturisation can help with restoring and strengthening the skin barrier, making their paws less susceptible to external irritants.

3. Keep them clean

Give their paws a quick wipe after being outside to clean away any debris and plant material like prickly bindi. This can also help remove allergens from their skin and reduce symptoms of itching and inflammation.

4. Maintain nail care

Regular trimming of the nails every 1-2 months can prevent overgrown nails and potential injuries. Long nails are more likely to get caught and torn, which cause pain and bleeding while also exposing the sensitive quick to the environment. This can lead to infection if not treated.

5. Wear shoes

Put on some walking boots the next time you take your dog outside. Not only will they be a fashionable pooch but their paws will be protected from the hot concrete which can warm up quickly under the sun!


Recommended products for healthy paws

Absorb Plus

These handy wipes are pH balanced, hypoallergenic and dermatologically tested. Suitable for sensitive skin.

Amazonia

This nourishing balm is made with carnauba (Brazilian cacao) to soothe and restore cracked and dry skin.

Kazoo

Easy to use with specially shaped blades for safer clipping.

AFP Boots

These boots are designed to be extra-durable for outdoor walking and running, made with weather-resistant upper material.


Further Reading

Want to read more? Check out our other articles:

What is the Best Dog Food for Skin Allergies?

Dogs with Sensitive, Itchy Skin

Why is My Dog Getting Ear Infections?

Flea, Tick and Worming Guide for Dogs

How To Get Rid of Fleas in Dogs

Why Does My Dog Keep Pawing At Their Water Bowl?