Dogs groom themselves multiple times throughout the day. So while paw licking can be annoying, it’s generally nothing to worry about. However, if your dog’s licking paws until the skin is red and inflamed, it’s probably a sign that something else is wrong.
So, what makes a dog lick paws until they’re raw? And what can you do to stop it?
Why Is My Dog Licking Its Paws?
Here are the four most common reasons that dogs lick their paws more than usual:
Dry Skin or Allergies
Hyperkeratosis is a common skin condition in dogs that results in thickened skin on dog paws. (It usually comes on in the first few years of your dog’s life.) All the excess keratin makes the paw pads extremely thick and dry to the point that even walking can be painful.
Weather and the elements can also put a beating on your dog’s paws. Without treatment, burnt or dry paw pads can crack or bleed over time. And when your dog licks itself, the injury could become infected.
When it comes to allergies, most anything is fair game. Food, chemicals in the yard, mold, pollen, certain types of carpet — you name it. When exposed, a dog’s skin can become red and extremely itchy. (According to BMC Veterinary Research, beef is the number-one allergen for dogs.)
And don’t forget fleas and ticks. Both can cause extremely itchy sores, especially if your dog is allergic.
Yeast dermatitis is a common skin condition in dogs that causes the skin to overproduce oil and become extremely itchy. Then, when your dog scratches and starts licking paws, the yeast spreads. It’s a vicious cycle that often requires antifungal medication to control.
Besides itchiness and inflammation, one of the key symptoms of a yeast infection is rancid, rotten-smelling skin. (It smells really bad.) Dogs with a lot of skin folds, like Bulldogs and Pugs, are predisposed for this type of infection.
Pain and Arthritis
Dogs have a strong instinct to lick and clean their wounds. Even if the pain is somewhere other than their paws, they may lick them as a comforting mechanism. If you notice your dog is also reluctant to play, losing weight, or generally more grumpy than normal, take a trip to the vet.
If your dog is anxious or stressed, it might lick itself similar to the way humans bite nails when they’re nervous; it gives them relief. Take note if your pup starts licking at its paws around the same time every single day, like right before a nap or going to bed. That’s a big sign that the licking is behavioral. As long as there are no signs of injury (redness, swelling, hair loss, etc.), anxious licking isn’t a major cause for concern.
Consider your own stress level too — you might be the problem. A study from 2019 confirmed what most dog owners always knew to be true: Dogs can read non-verbal cues and empathize with owners’ anxiety.
How to Stop Your Dog From Constantly Licking Its Paws
Before you can truly help your dog, it’s important to figure out what’s causing all the licking. Here are a few steps that will help you identify the underlying problem and determine if you should consult with your vet.
Check for injuries, debris, and bites
The first thing you should do is to inspect your dog’s paws. Do you see any glass or debris? Is a burr stuck between its toes? If the paw pad is cut or bleeding, then your dog is probably licking to clean the wound. If the paw pad is cracked or inflamed, it’s likely your pup is suffering from either dry skin, allergies, or a flea bite.
Treat symptoms with an all-natural balm or soaking bath
Chewing on irritated paws can make the problem worse, so it’s important to help your dog manage the symptoms while you investigate the root issue.
A soothing balm is one of the best ways to reduce itchiness and start the healing process. Once applied, try brushing or distracting your pup for about five to 10 minutes so that most of the balm soaks into the skin. Remember: Make sure to choose an all-natural balm that’s safe to consume when your dog’s licking paws.
A 15-minute soaking bath is another great option. Here are three all-natural recipes to try:
- Colloidal oatmeal. Yep, the same thing you bathed in as a kid with chicken pox works well for dogs too. We recommend using an oatmeal shampoo that’s hypoallergenic or labeled for dogs with sensitive skin. Very few shampoos are all natural, but those usually have the least amount of lower quality ingredients, like formaldehyde.
- Epsom salt. Salts can raise your dog’s natural pH level, which can help to kill bacteria that causes inflammation. Follow the directions on the product to determine the appropriate amount of salt and soaking time.
- Baking soda. Like salt, baking soda can impact skin pH and acts as an anti-inflammatory to soothe the skin. Plus, it’ll help freshen your dog’s coat as well!
Consult your veterinarian
If the paw licking hasn’t improved after a week or so, consult with your veterinarian. Some conditions, like allergies or hyperkeratosis, can be easily managed with good habits, soothing balms, and a limited ingredient. But others, like arthritis or GI diseases, require more intensive care and can be far more uncomfortable for your canine friend.