Why Is My Dog Licking Its Paws So Much ?

 

You can read an article on other lick-related skin problems here.

You can see how our paws are going to look if we keep licking so much here .

If you are considering giving your pet steroids or Atopica to deal with this problem, please go here first.

Ron Hines DVM PhD..........Nothing seems to be helping ? Consider a home cooked diet....................

Lots of my articles are plagiarized and altered on the web to market products and services. There are never ads running or anything for sale with my real articles. Try to stay with the ones with http://www.2ndchance.info/ in the URL box or find all my articles at ACC.htm.

The treatment and causes of hair loss, itching and dermatitis in dogs and cats are not identical. I do not write my articles simultaneously; so you might find information in the cat article that I have neglected to put in this one. You can read that one here.

Why Does My Dog Do That ?

That is one of the most common question that pet owners ask their veterinarian. Licking and fretting over their paws is part of a normal dog’s grooming behavior. It is part and parcel of their subconscious body language - just like tapping your feet or playing with your hair. It only becomes a problem when your pet does it in excess or carries it to the extreme.

When your pet licks and nibbles its front paws and forearms excessively, it is either do to paw irritation or it has become a way for your pet to deal with boredom and stress. In some dogs, both factors combine to cause the problem. A few cases are quite easy to solve - but most are complicated and exasperating issues without easy solutions.

Some cases are a prelude to a generalized itchy skin problem; others never progress beyond their toes.

To Answer That Question We Need To Sort Out The Clues :

Your Dog’s Breed and Temperament

Certain breeds seem to suffer from paw problems a bit more than others. Among those breeds are Labrador retrievers, terriers of all kinds, poodles, Chihuahuas and Maltese. White and blond-haired breeds may not be more prone to paw licking but when they do have the problem, their saliva discolors their paw fur and makes it more apparent. Compulsiveness is often linked to your pet's individual genetics . (ref)

Highly alert working breeds are more likely to relieve stress through overgrooming and paw licking – breeds like greyhounds, dalmatians, and cattle dogs. Although any dog can have a paw-licking problem, I see more of it in purebred or two-way crosses than in the general mutt population.

When Did The Problem Begin ?

Paw licking problems run in families. If your pet’s parents or siblings share the problem, it more likely to be a family trait. Dogs in this group often begin to lick their paws in their second year. They cannot be entirely cured – but many things can be done to make the behavior less of a problem.

Dogs that begin later in life are more likely to respond to environmental, life style and dietary adjustments.

The Context Of The Licking And Chewing – When Does Your Pet Do It ?

If your dogs worries its paws only in one or two situations – say when it is left alone, during certain times of the day or after visiting the groomers – you have a better chance of modifying that behavior.

Just One Paw, Two or Four ?

When only one paw of your dog is being licked, the problem is almost always in that paw. It could be a broken toenail or one worn too short or left so long that it curls. It could be a thorn or splinter in the pad or a burr lodged between the toes or a footpad cut by some sharp object. It could be a bone in the foot that had been fractured or arthritis affecting a single joint. In older dogs, it might be a skin tumor. It could be that an interdigital (between the toes) abscess has formed on that foot. (Considerably rarer, it is occasionally due to a lack of normal feeling in the foot subsequent to nerve damage or heredity (ref).)

Occasionally a dog will develop a lick granuloma (raw area) on the upper surface of the paw. You can read more about that problem and how to deal with it here.

A Clean Bill Of Health ?

It is always wise to be sure that a paw-licking problem in your pet is not part of a larger health issue. Ear infections, hair loss, musty odor (seborrheic dermatitis) , discharge from the eyes, sneezing and rashes can indicate that more than paws are involved. They can be signs that your dog is itchy – something often related to allergies, fleas or contact sensitivities. So your veterinarian might suggest a general health screen that includes blood tests and microscopic skin scraping examinations to rule out a larger problem. That is particularly true when simple methods of control have failed or the problem reoccurs multiple times.

Are There Triggers That Start My Dog’s Licking Cycle ?

Keep a diary and record things that appear to make the problem worse. Is this a seasonal problem ? Does the dog worry its paws mostly when you are away ? Does it usually occur after the dog has been groomed ? Did the problem begin suddenly and, if so, what events preceded it ? Does the problem appear worse after the pet has been out in the yard ? Does it get better when you and your pet are visiting a different location? Has your pet recently gained or lost substantial weight ? Has its general activity level changed ? Does it limp or appear stiff ? If the problem occurs during your absence, does destructive or bizarre behavior also occur during those times ?

What Tests Can My Veterinarian Run To Determine The Cause ?

Veterinarians have a myriad of sophisticated tests available to them in 2012 that make it considerably easier than it once was to diagnose pet medical problems. But when it comes to paw licking, the oldest of them all, a careful physical examination of your dog and a good account of your pet’s history, is still the most important of all. That is because in over 80% of paw-licking dogs, those sophisticated tests will be normal. Never-the-less, blood tests, microscopic skin scrapings and perhaps even x-rays need to be included in many workups because the 20% or so of the cases in which they reveal something are the 20% that are often the most easy to cure. Those are dogs with sluggish thyroid glands , those with certain immune disorders , those with mange , fungal infections or bacterial infections. Besides, all of the most common causes, fleas, allergies, boredom and compulsive behaviors are made on the basis of those test being normal.

Tests I do not suggest, are blood-based allergy testing. You can read why here.

What Are The Most Common Causes ?

Allergies – Canine Atopy

I suspect that allergies top the list of reasons why dogs lick their paws excessively. The most common of those allergies are the ones to things that you dog inhales – probably the same ones that would cause hay fever in you. Grass pollen is high on the list, as are mold spores, weed and tree pollen.

Just like in humans, things found indoors, like dust mites, cockroaches and cat dander can be the culprits too. It is quite unusual for a dog to only lick its paws due to allergies. When allergies are the root cause of the problem, with time, the dog’s whole body, particularly its flanks also become itchy and other problems, like musty odor, hair loss, excessive shedding, ear infections and matter at the inner corners of the eye are likely to occur as well. Although the problem often begins seasonally, it usually progresses to a year round problem. You can read more about allergy problems in dogs here.

Contact Allergies and Irritants

When you suspect that the cause of paw licking is allergic and the problem never progresses to a general body itchiness, explore the possibility that your pet might be allergic to substances that end up on its paws. Is the problem worse when it returns from the yard or a walk? Does the problem go away while the dog is away from your home for extended periods? Does a foot rinse basin alleviate the problem? Did the problem begin when you started using some cleaning or odor control product or moved to a new home?
Toy breeds seem particularly prone to this problem.

Persistently wet paws, either from a damp environment or from excessive sweating, will eventually cause paw infections and inflammation.

Food Allergies - Often Discussed, But Rarely The Cause

Food allergies are rarely the cause of paw licking. They are not nearly as common in dogs as some believe. They reason they are so often discussed, and hoped for is that a food allergy can be treated without drugs or time-consuming procedures and because so many veterinarians have them (hypoallergenic diets) for sale. That said, a sixty-to-ninety day trial on one of these products is always worth the try because it would be so nice if it did truly work - just don’t get your hopes up too high.

The fact that a blood test determined that your pet was “sensitive” to some meat protein or grain product does not make these hypoallergenic products much more likely to be helpful. Read more about that here. My first choice is always to prepare an all meat test diet at home – provided it is adequately supplemented with minerals and vitamins. (ref or ref)

Fleas

The second most common cause of excessive paw licking are fleas, although some veterinarians might consider them to be at the very top of the list.

A common cause of paw licking is the generalized itchiness and staph infections that go along with a flea problem – fleas themselves are rare on the paws. The fact that no fleas or flea dirt are found on your pet is no guarantee that fleas are not the cause or a contribution to the paw-licking problem. That is because the itching resulting from a fleabite, or even the presence of a flea that did not bite, go on for a long time after the flea has left. Even if fleas are not the cause of your pet’s licking, they may well make a low level problem much worse. So no matter what the final diagnosis, they are something you need to combat or prevent. It can be the flea’s mere presence that stimulates licking and itching, or your pet may have a true allergy to flea saliva.

You can read an article of mine on fleas and what to do about them here, and two by the most knowledgeable people on the subject of fleas here and here.

Boredom And Individual Temperament

Self-grooming is the natural way that dogs pass the time when they are not concentrating on other matters. Their ancestors spent most of their time searching for food, interacting with their pack and cleansing their bodies after the hunt. Your dog has much more time on its hands than its not-so-ancient ancestors ever did. You will need to fill that extra time with non-destructive activities if you want your pet to remain healthy. One way is to make mealtime more challenging with puzzle feeders, multiple small meals or feeders that dispense only small portions at a time. A whole science has sprung up that concentrates on ways to relieve the boredom that domestic and confined wildlife face. It is called environmental enrichment. You can read a bit about it here.

All environmental enrichment relies on distraction, complicating the simple repetitive activities of daily life, playing games, interacting with other family members and pets and positive reinforcement techniques.

Your pet’s individual temperament and frustration level can also be quite important when a paw-licking problem exists. High strung, active breeds just require more stimulating activities during the day than more laid back individuals or breeds. But the opposite can also be true. Dogs that are inactive for any reason spend more time grooming themselves. Mobility issues that occur as the result of arthritis, obesity or the lower activity and metabolism levels of hypothyroidism can also lead to paw licking.

Psychological Causes - Obsessive Compulsive Behavior , Anxiety And Stress

Dogs and people can be compulsive. I obviously share the problem since I write these articles when I should be doing other things. . Quirky behavior, idiosyncrasies and vices are common in dogs that lick their paws excessively. When your dog shows those behaviors, its psychological makeup is probably a major factor in its licking.

That does not mean that your dog has no allergies, boredom or stress issues - it only means that it is prone to over react to those type of additional issues when they are there.

Some forms of stress are obvious, new family members, a new home and neighborhood, new pets next door. But many are much more subtle and all can cause a dog to over groom.

There is no cure for compulsiveness nor one for excessive anxiety - but licking and other unwanted behaviors associated with it can be minimized by diverting your dogs attention to other activities and doing your best to return its environment to the way it was before the problem began. Miraculous cures (as seen on the Animal Planet) are few, but improvements are many. You can read more about techniques that help dogs with other forms of this problem here.

Bacterial And Fungal Paw Infections

Dogs in good general health almost never get bacterial or fungal foot infections out of the blue. Generally, it is vice versa - their nibbling and licking and the persistent dampness that produces that causes the infection. It still needs to be treated by your veterinarian. It is always better to give needed antibiotics orally because anything applied to the paws will be quickly licked off. Abnormal odor, pain, redness, swelling and limping are the most common signs of these infections.

Bone Joint and Toenail Problems

Dogs that have difficulty getting around spend more time licking and grooming. So dogs that are overweight, and dogs that have joint and mobility problems are more likely to injure their skin and paws in the process. These are generally older pets. You can learn some of the steps you can take to help them here.

Some dogs are real stinkers about letting you clip their toenails to proper length. Many owners are fearful that they might clip a nail too short. That fear transfers to the pet as well, complicating the problem. However toenails that have overgrown begin to twist the joints of the toes, resulting in joint damage and pain. That pain is occasionally the cause of paw licking. Over grown toenails are also more likely to snag and break. Nails can actually spiral back into the paw causing a very painful, infected lesion that the dog will continuously lick.

Combination Cases

It is quite common for a combination of the causes I mentioned to all be in play in the same pet.

Treatments :

1. Begin by making lifestyle adjustments for your pet, based on the causes you decide are most likely. Since flea exposure is so common with this problem, always include a monthly topical flea preventative. If your pet visits doggy parks or kennels, mist them with a quick knock-down product on the way home. If the problem began after a lifestyle change, try to return things as much as possible to as they were.

2. Exercise your pet more.

3. Change your pet’s diet. Decrease the amount per feeding but increase the number of feedings. Feed your pet in interesting, novel and challenging ways. Consider a home cooked diet made from the same ingredients you eat. (ref)

4.Try behavior modification techniques. There are dog trainers that specialize in that type of behavior modification. You will find oodles of suggestions in books and on the Internet. Some may be helpful, some probably won’t be and some are downright silly. Those that involve the purchase of a nutritional product or supplement are all worthless.

5. If that was not sufficient, consider specialty dog socks – some similar to these. They must “breath” and be changed frequently so your pet’s paws do not stay damp or contaminated. If your dog will not keep them on, don’t feel guilty about using a comfortable, well-fitting plastic muzzle when your dog is left alone. One like this. In the long run, physical methods like these, used primarily during flare-ups , are much more humane than methods that rely on punishment or powerful medications.

6. If your pet has developed paw infections, they need to be treated with antibiotics or antiseptics and socks or gloves need to be used to allow the pet’s feet to heal. Because those infections are the result of licking – not the cause of licking, they will return if the underlying urge to lick is not solved. Giving antibiotics for more than 14 days or repeating them frequently is not a good idea.

7. If advanced age has slowed your pet down, consider a weight loss program for overweight dogs and one of the newer dog-specific NSAIDs to combat the pain of arthritis, if x-rays confirm that problem. You can read more about the nt of older dogs with this problem here and here

8. Antihistamines like Benadryl or cyproheptadine
are generally ineffective in discouraging paw licking. When they do have a positive effect, it is probably due to the general sedation (sleepiness) that they produce. Ask your veterinarian for the appropriate dose and frequency. Tranquilizers and sedatives such as acepromazine will also sedate your dog, make it lick less and sleep more. But with time, medications of that type tend to become less effective.

Probably more effective than antihistamines is a footbath containing baking soda. Track your dog through it when you come in from a walk to removed pollen and irritants. Then pat their feet dry.

9. Veterinarians dispense various human antidepressants and some approved for dogs in an attempt to reduce obsessive compulsive behaviors. The most common ones used are clomipramine (Clomicalm®) and Fluoxetine (Prozac, Reconcile).

10. Medicated shampoos can be helpful if the problem is itch related. If it is no more than a habit or vice, they are unlikely to be of much help. Topical sprays and ointments that contain poorly-absorbed corticosteroids (beclomethasone etc. ) can also be helpful. But these products must be thoroughly massaged into the pets skin or covered with a sock or bandage – if not, products left to dry on the skin are quickly licked off and swallowed. Swallowing those medications (or hydrocortisone-containing creams) can lead to steroid side effects (Cushing’s symptoms).

The Dangers Of Steroid Overuse

When paw licking is due to itchy paws, your veterinarian can stop the problem abruptly with corticosteroids given by injection or in pill form. That is rarely if ever a good idea. Corticosteroids, given in that way, affect the whole body. With time, they will cause serious side effects.

The same goes for products, like Atopica, that suppress your pet’s immune system.

Things That Don’t Work :

Remedies sold without a prescription on Internet Websites – Particularly with testimonials
Bitters sprays
Alcohol containing products
Hot sauce
Nutritional supplements
Elizabethan collars
Punishment or a scolding voice
Shock collars