Why Do Dogs Lick Their Paws?

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7 min read
7 min read

Updated - Oct 15th, 2022

Chances are you don’t go around licking your own hands (except maybe after scarfing down Doritos), so it can be pretty baffling when your dog licks their paws constantly. Can they possibly taste that good? As it stands, dogs lick their paws not because they taste like peanut butter, but for a variety of other reasons.

“Other than immediately after a wet walk, repetitive paw licking is always abnormal,” veterinarian Dr. Joanna Woodnutt tells us. “I’d always recommend that a pet parent takes their dog to a vet if they notice repetitive licking so that the underlying cause can be found and treated. Getting to the root of the problem is the best way to stop your dog from excessive paw licking. Too much licking can cause skin damage and can even become a habit.”

Dogs Lick Their Paws to Groom

The most common reason a dog will lick its paws is simply to freshen up. If your furbaby just came in from outside and got a little dirty, they may just be doing their darndest to make themselves presentable and clean.

Dogs Lick Their Paws If They’re Injured

If your pup isn’t just doing regular grooming, but is hyper-focused on licking one specific paw repeatedly, check to see if your dog is trying to clean an injury. “Dogs can lick their paw as an act of self-healing,” Dr. Claudine Sievert says. “Their saliva is rich in antibodies that can help heal the wounded areas.” That said, the most common reason other than grooming is pain so it’s best to check your dog for the following:

  • Common paw injuries often stem from your dog accidentally stepping on something sharp. Dr. Sievert explains, “They may have some injuries in that area. It is very common for a dog to step on a nail, glass, a pointy grass, or even some insect like a bee. Many times owners don’t see the actual accident, but they notice that they lick their paws intensively.”
  • Walking on super-hot sidewalks and streets can cause paw pain or injuries.
  • Walking on salted roads and sidewalks in the winter can do a number on your pooch’s paws. Plus, they can pick up some foreign objects.
  • Check your furbaby’s paws for cuts, broken nails, or dry skin on the paw pads.
  • They may also suffer from blisters, bee stings, or insect bites—just like us!

What should you do if your furbaby has a boo-boo? “The first thing the owner should do is to inspect the paw carefully and then take the dog to the vet,” Dr. Sievert says. “The vet will trim down the hair to look for an insect bite or the signs of any injury. Then if they find the issue, the vet will disinfect the area and maybe apply some local antibiotics.”

Dogs Lick Their Paws to Soothe Their Anxiety 

“Some dogs may do it because they feel stressed and self-grooming is proven to reduce stress in all mammals,” Dr. Sievert points out. “Triggers for the obsessive-compulsive disorder and related behavioral issues can be a new addition to the family; owners are missing, or if you’ve recently moved into a new house—or if you just took your dog home for the first time recently.”

Compulsive behaviors may require an extensive diagnostic workup by your veterinarian to rule out underlying medical problems for the dog behavior.

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Dogs Lick Their Paws If They’re Itchy

Constant licking can also just be a sign their paws are itchy, which can have a variety of causes; most often it’s allergies. “If there is no wound on your dog’s paw, the vet usually suspects itchiness is allergies,” Dr. Sievert told us. “It can be a reaction to the surface they are walking on. Some dogs can have a problem with certain plants, or even with some chemical that the owners use when washing the floors. On the other hand, some dog breeds experience food allergies that also can manifest as itchy skin and licking of the paws (including French bulldogs and West Highland terriers).”

  • Itchy paws are often caused by dermatitis and skin allergies. Any dog can have allergies, though some breeds and mixes are more susceptible to skin allergies than others. Some allergies can be from contact with allergens like grass or pollen, while others can be caused by food. You’ll want to check with your veterinarian to determine the cause of your dog’s environmental allergies.
  • Bacterial infection and parasites can also make your pooch’s paws itchy. Your veterinarian can help you identify this common cause and treat any underlying conditions with medication like an antifungal.

You’ll want to talk to your veterinarian to narrow down the cause of your pet’s dermatitis. “If there is no visible injury, the vet may suggest a diet change to rule out any food allergy,” Dr. Sievert advised. “If the vet suspects the seasonal grass allergy, he may prescribe some antihistamines or steroids to reduce the inflammation.”

To help treat an allergic reaction, keep water and a clean washcloth by your door to gently wipe your dog’s paws when they come in from outside to help soothe them and remove any surface allergens they may have tracked inside.

If Your Dog Is Constantly Licking Their Paws, It May Have Arthritis

If your dog doesn’t have any visible injuries and no detected allergies, your pet may be suffering from arthritis in their paws. Schedule a check-up with your veterinarian to determine a diagnosis and treatment plan to soothe your dog’s paw licking and joint pain.

Is It Dangerous for Dogs to Lick Their Paws?

When should you be concerned if your dog licks their paws? Dr. Leslie Brooks, DVM, notes, “If a dog is licking their paw so much that it is causing the paw to get red and inflamed, lose fur, bleed, or get infected, the owner should take the dog in to their vet to find out what could be the underlying cause, so that they can get a treatment plan going.”

What Should I Do If My Dog Keeps Licking Their Paws?

If licking becomes a common behavior, try to inspect your dog’s paw. If they don’t let you, chances are they’re actually in pain, per Dr. Sievert. That said, if you’re wondering if your dog licking paws is problematic, fret not. “First, schedule a visit with the dog’s vet to find out what the cause may be and get a treatment plan in place. Sometimes, an Elizabethan collar (also known as the cone of shame) can be put on the dog to prevent them from licking,” Dr. Brooks said. “Sometimes you can put bitter apple or bitter orange spray on the paw because it will taste bad to the dog to deter them from licking.”

One thing to avoid: Bandaging your own dog. “Unless a veterinarian applies a bandage, I do not advise owners to but bandages on their dog’s paws because I have seen too many cases where a bandage is either applied too tightly or incorrectly and it cuts off circulation to the paw, causing the skin to slough and even requiring an amputation in some cases,” Dr. Brooks said. “Also, the bandage will sometimes cause dogs to lick more, and then they are at risk of hurting themselves more by trying aggressively to get the bandage off and even swallowing the bandage material, leading to an intestinal obstruction.”

Easy alternatives? Dr. Woodnutt recommends socks or boots to deter licking if your dog will cooperate with wearing them, but advises, “Take care they don’t eat them and make sure they’re changed regularly.”

While we hope your furbaby just has something yummy on their paws, we know that’s probably unlikely. If your dog is licking their paws nonstop, it’s a good idea to seek medical attention for them, if only just to rule out any underlying conditions. Pumpkin Insurance covers diagnostics for eligible sick visits, so you won’t have to worry about your pooch’s wet paws breaking your wallet.

Pumpkin Team

Pumpkin Team

Passionate Pet Experts & Parents
We are a team of writers, designers & product developers who all double as passionate (ok, obsessive) nerds of the pet world.
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