Many dog owners question themselves why do dogs lick their paws and there are many reasons behind this behavior. It can range from something simple that dog owners don’t need to worry about to a health issue that requires medical attention. When dogs occasionally lick their paws, it’s usually nothing to worry about. But if you see your dog is licking its paws frequently and aggressively, there might be something wrong.

When this happens, take some time to examine your dog’s paws and see if you can identify anything different that might be causing this behavior.

1. Self-grooming

Licking their paws is part of a dog’s normal self-grooming process. Although dogs may not be the first animals that come to your mind when you think of pets that enjoy self-grooming, they do want to stay clean as much as possible.During their self-grooming process dogs will lick their paws to remove any debris that may be stuck to their fur or in between their toes. However, if it seems like your dog is constantly licking its paws, it may be time to take a closer look and help by grooming them yourself.

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2. Injuries or pain

When a dog licks its paws due to an injury or some kind of pain, you’ll notice that suddenly, the licking will focus mainly on one paw. When they’re hurting, dogs lick their paws to try to manage the pain.

When this happens and, if your dog allows it, it’s time to examine the paw to check what is going on. Look closely at your dog’s nails, between the toes and pads, and at the tops of the feet. If your dog doesn’t allow you to come close to the paw, it’s time to go to the vet to have it safely checked.

Every now and then it’s possible that your dog steps on something sharp or anything else that may open a cut in your dog’s paw. Most of the time it’s something that can be easily relieved at home with some first aid treatment but will almost always require some attention.

Dogs can also start to lick their paws due to overgrown nails as these can cause discomfort when your dog walks. In extreme cases, overgrown nails can curl back towards the dog’s paw pads and puncture them. To prevent this from happening, you should regularly trim your dog’s nails.

Another common cause of pain in a dog’s paw, especially during hot weather, is having their paw pads burned due to walking on hot surfaces. A dog’s paws can also be burned by any undiluted chemicals that are used in common household cleaning products.

Finally, if you have a senior dog that is licking its paws excessively and when you examine it, you’re unable to see anything, the pain may be due to arthritis. Although this condition causes pain in several other areas of the body, dogs frequently lick one of their paws to cope with the pain.

3. Skin problems

If, at first sight, the paws appear to be normal, the excessive licking can be due to a skin problem such as an allergy, a parasite infection, or mites. These skin problems can cause a dog’s paws to become very itchy and licking can make it worse as it will keep the area moist. This creates the perfect environment for infections to develop and spread. Your vet will be able to correctly identify which type of skin problem is affecting your dog and recommend the most appropriate treatment that will relieve the itching and get rid of it altogether.

4. Cysts

Cysts are fluid-filled swellings that can be caused by puncture wounds and can contain foreign materials that end up causing infection and pus production. These can occur on the paws, especially between the toes, leading a dog to lick its paws.

These cysts can grow over time, causing increasing discomfort to the dog. To treat them, they need to be completely drained and if there’s anything inside of it, it needs to be removed. To prevent any further infections or injuries, you should contact a vet as there may also be a need to prescribe antibiotics to treat the infection.

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5. Anxiety or boredom

If, with the help of your vet, you ruled out all of the reasons above, it may be that your dog is licking its paws due to anxiety or boredom. These conditions are difficult to diagnose and you should contact a vet or a dog behaviorist to help you with this. Some dogs can develop compulsive behaviors, such as paw licking, to alleviate their anxiety or keep them entertained. First, you’ll need to identify what is the underlying cause of this compulsive behavior so you can work on the right strategy to treat it.

If your dog is licking its paws due to boredom, provide your dog with more opportunities to exercise. Take your dog out for more walks, runs, and provide more playtime with you or other dogs. You could even purchase a portable agility play kit or puzzle game to help your dog use up more mental and physical energy.

If your dog is licking its paws due to anxiety, try to identify what is causing it. It can be something like fear of noises or even separation anxiety. Anxiety is a delicate issue to treat in dogs and should always be worked on with the help of a behaviorist.

Making sense of it all

In most cases, dogs lick their paws as part of their self-grooming process. But whenever the licking becomes excessive, it’s time to take a closer look as it can be a red flag that something more serious may be going on. While it’s true that small injuries and cuts can be treated at home with a simple first aid treatment, don’t neglect if there’s something else going on or if you’re unsure about what is the reason behind the excessively licking.

There are some more serious reasons behind paw licking, however, they can only be correctly diagnosed with the help of a vet and treated by a professional.

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