Vet Q&A: Why is my dog biting/licking their paws?

by PDSA Vets | 26 August #VetQ&As

You’d be surprised at how many cases we see of dogs biting or licking their paws – especially in summer and autumn. The problem is, there can be so many different reasons for it, ranging from allergies and insect bites, to boredom or anxiety.

The first thing you should do is contact your vet. Because so many things could be causing your dog to lick and bite their paws, a call to the vet should be first on your list to help rule out different reasons.

 

Allergies and parasites

One really common cause of biting paws is skin allergies which can cause a reaction even if your dog’s paws haven’t actually touched whatever they’re allergic to. Having said that, sometimes your dog will react to something their paws have come into contact with, so if your dog is nibbling excessively, it’s a good idea to make sure you rinse them in cool, plain water after every walk. Your vet will be able to give you lots of advice and help with allergies so call them as soon as possible. You can read more about skin problems on our Hub.

Parasites like harvest mites could be the problem if this is happening in late summer/autumn – the larva look like tiny red dots on the skin and are really irritating for your dog. Other mites like Sarcoptes (mange) or Demodex can also make your dog really itchy. We’ve got some more information on mange on our Hub.

Of course fleas are the most common cause of making dogs itch in general. Although they don’t often live on the feet, if your dog isn’t able to scratch the fleas they might start licking their paws instead as a distraction.

 

Soreness or boredom

If your vet has ruled out itchy feet, they might discuss that your dog is licking for other reasons. Sometimes dogs will lick their feet or joints because they are stiff and sore, just as we might rub a sore patch.

Boredom and stress can also cause your dog to lick and bite their front paws out of frustration which can then become habit. Keep a close eye on your dog to see if anything in particular is triggering the licking and biting. If they seem to be licking and biting at home out of the blue at only one or two feet (and your vet doesn’t think there could be another cause) it could be that a lack of anything interesting is causing it!

If it is boredom causing your dog’s licking, try making them an interactive toy, such as a destruction box. Puzzle feeders are also great for giving your dog something to keep their mind occupied. You might find they also prefer a few extra walks during the day, or more playtime in the garden. Read our free exercise guide to get a rough idea of how much your dog might need.

Some dogs may chew or lick their feet due to anxiety as it makes them feel better. In some cases, this may have started out because their paws were itchy and because it made them feel better they've continued to do it, even when the itch is gone. This can be a hard habit to break, so we'd advise seeking advice from your vet or a dog behaviourist who can assess your individual situation to decide what the best course of action will be. We recommend you look for a behaviourist with accreditation from the Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors (APBC) or the Animal Behaviour and Training Council (ABTC). Ask your vet for their recommendation.

 

The good news is, whatever is causing your dog’s paw nibbling habit getting help early will make it much easier to fix. Parasites can be treated by your vet or they can give you advice on managing allergies as well as providing appropriate medication. With behavioural licking and biting, your vet can discuss if they need medications to keep them comfortable, discuss how to change their behaviour and you can help your dog by making sure they get plenty of exercise and playtime so they never get bored.

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