Dog Licking Paws? A Common Canine Behavior Problem

When pets experience stress or discomfort, they let off steam in certain patterned ways. If you notice your dog licking his paws, this is likely the scenario. Like other nervous tics and behaviors, dogs that are under some internal or environmental stress may lick and chew their paws. While this behavior may at first appear benign, it often leads to painful sores and serious side effects. Keep reading for more information about why dogs lick their paws, and how to stop this behavior.

What Causes Dog Paw Licking?

Dogs will begin to lick their paws for a variety of reasons. Psychological stress, allergic reactions, parasites, underlying medical conditions and other factors can all conspire to cause your dog to lick his paws. As the paws themselves become sore, they might become infected. This might lead to more aggressive licking and chewing.

Some veterinarians consider paw licking to be a nervous habit that some dogs will develop in order to keep themselves occupied, and to keep their minds off of stressful or painful situations.

The Cycle of Canine Paw Licking

In most cases, dogs lick their paws according to a relatively inflexible cycle. Initially, some sort of environmental or internal catalyst begins the cycle, prompting the dog to begin to lick his paws.

As the pet’s owner notices the damaged or infected paws, he attempts to treat the condition with drugs, chew toys or muzzles. While these treatments work in some cases, determined dogs will find ways around these obstacles and continue to lick and chew. This causes frustration for the owner and an increase in environmental tension.

This added tension can contribute to the dog’s overall stress, which will in turn cause the dog to continue licking and chewing his paws. Over time, this can lead to chronically injured or tender paws, which make it difficult for your dog to walk, run or play.

Dogs that lick and chew their paws persistently can develop a type of addiction to the behavior. A dog that has been licking his paws for many years might have a very difficult time discontinuing the behavior. This may be because repeated actions build up a tolerance for the behavior, and also because endorphins are released as the dog “rewards” himself with licking and chewing. In extreme cases, serious medical complications can develop.

Treating Persistent Paw Licking

Most dogs do not lick their paws obsessively. The most important thing for an owner to keep in mind is persistence in treatment. Your dog might not react to one treatment method, but he will stop the behavior altogether for another. Consult with a veterinarian for different ideas on how to distract your pet, treat his compulsive behavior and restore his paw health.

Another important consideration is the potential causes of the behavior in the first place. Evaluate potential stresses in your dog’s life, and work to eliminate them from his environment as best as possible. This will help to ensure that when he discontinues his behavior, he has no reason to start up once again.