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Published: Jan 31, 2024 8 min read

Dogs have many behaviors that can tell us things about their health. One of those behaviors is excessive paw licking. While some paw licking is normal, persistent licking can mean something is wrong.

The guide below covers the common reasons dogs lick their paws and when you should see a veterinarian for treatment.

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Reasons dogs lick their paws

There are many reasons your dog may lick their paws, ranging from normal habits to medical issues or behavioral triggers.

Some paw licking isn’t a cause for concern — your dog may just be cleaning their feet. However, the behavior can also indicate medical issues. For instance, your dog may be trying to tell you they are uncomfortable or in pain.

On top of that, when done excessively, paw licking can cause additional health problems, such as bacterial infections.

Here are some reasons your dog may lick their paws and what to watch for.

Self-grooming

An ordinary reason dogs lick their paws is to clean themselves. You may notice your dog occasionally licking or gently chewing their legs and paws. They may also rub their paws on their face. This is typically normal and healthy behavior unless the licking becomes excessive or you notice something wrong.

Allergies or irritation

Allergies and dermatitis can be itchy and cause your dog to lick their paws to try to relieve the discomfort and dry skin.

Two common categories of skin allergies are the following:

  • Environmental allergies: Allergens your dog can come into contact with outside or in your home that they may be allergic to (e.g., plants, dust mites, pollen and more)
  • Food allergies: Ingredients in your dog’s food that they may be allergic to (e.g., grain, soy, dairy and more)

Your pooch may have other allergy symptoms like a runny nose, sneezing, discomfort around their eyes and itchy skin. If your dog has food allergies, you may notice them licking their paws more often after they eat.

Allergies can also cause interdigital cysts — red or purple bumps — to form between your dog's toes. These can be painful, so it’s important to take your dog to the vet right when you notice them.

Pain

Excessive paw licking can also indicate that your dog is in pain. There could be many causes for the pain, including something stuck between your dog's toes or an injury to their toes, toenails, paw pads or feet. Licking like this could even be provoked by pain elsewhere in their body (such as arthritis).

Parasites

Scratching and itching could mean your dog has flea bites or other parasitical issues, such as mange. When fleas bite, their saliva can cause intense itching. Examine your dog’s skin and look for small, red bumps.

Fortunately, your dog’s veterinarian can develop a treatment plan to relieve their itchy paws and get rid of the fleas or other mites and the diseases they cause.

Anxiety and other behavioral reasons

If you don’t see any irritation or injuries, your dog’s paw licking could be a behavioral issue. Some dogs lick their feet when they are bored, stressed or anxious.

Your vet may recommend an animal behaviorist or dog trainer, depending on the issue. The vet could also prescribe anxiety medication or recommend other things to try, such as exercise, alternative therapies and more.

Secondary infection

Your dog’s uncurbed paw licking caused by one issue in the first place can also lead to other problems, such as yeast infections. Moisture from their licking can cause a buildup of bacteria, which can be uncomfortable and itchy. You may notice redness and hot spots or blisters around your dog’s toes.

It may be hard to pinpoint the root cause, so it’s best to visit your dog’s veterinarian. They can treat the original cause of the licking as well as the secondary infection.

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Should I take my dog to the vet if they're licking their paws?

In many cases, taking your dog to the vet for excessive paw licking is beneficial. The only reason your pet may not need a veterinarian is if the behavior is part of their normal self-grooming routine.

Dr. Shannon Cabell, DVM, medical lead for petcare dermatology at Zoetis, says, “If you have any uncertainty about your dog’s paw-licking behavior, check in with your veterinarian. Vets are there to help you understand what’s going on with your dog, discuss treatment options with you, and create the best treatment plan for your dog and your family’s lifestyle.”

Dr. Cabell suggests taking your dog to the vet if you notice the following behaviors:

  • Your dog is frequently licking their paws
  • Your dog’s skin has changed (i.e., you notice something out of the ordinary, such as dryness or blisters)
  • Your dog is so focused on licking their paws that it interferes with normal routines or behaviors

She notes that you should visit the vet even if your dog’s skin looks normal because there could still be an issue that you can’t notice.

Treatment for paw licking

Fortunately, there are various treatments available to relieve your dog of their discomfort.

Treatment may include the following things, according to Dr. Cabell:

  • Diagnostic tests, such as skin cytology with a microscope
  • Procedures to remove foreign objects or solve other problems
  • Medications to relieve their itchiness, pain, infection, anxiety, antifungal and more

“You’ll want to schedule an appointment with the veterinarian to get to the bottom of things quickly. Putting off the vet visit can prolong medical conditions, delay proper treatment and keep your dog from getting the relief it needs,” says Dr. Cabell.

If you have pet insurance, you may be covered for your pet’s vet visit and treatment. The best pet insurance companies cover treatment for accidents and illnesses, which may include allergic reactions, wounds, infections, behavioral issues and more unless the cause is a pre-existing condition.

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Why dogs lick their paws FAQs

How can I get my dog to stop licking?

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The best way to get your dog to stop licking their paws depends on the cause of the behavior. If your dog experiences skin irritation, injury, allergies, anxiety or other medical reasons for the licking, take your dog to the vet. Your veterinarian can create the best treatment plan to relieve the problem.

If your dog licks their paws because they’re bored, try adding activities to their daily routine, such as walks and exercise, playtime and mental enrichment toys.

Should I be worried if my dog keeps licking his paws?

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Dogs occasionally licking their paws is normal and not usually a cause for concern. However, if you notice the behavior is constant or see any changes to your dog’s skin (such as growths or red spots), you may want to bring your dog to the vet for evaluation because there could be an underlying issue to their paw licking. Additionally, too much licking can lead to bacterial or yeast infections.

How do I know if my dog is licking his paws too much?

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How do I know if my dog is licking his paws too much? If you’re worried that your dog may be licking their paws too much, try to check the skin around their toes and feet. Irritation or redness can signify a skin issue. If you suspect something is out of the ordinary, it’s best to visit your vet to get it checked out.

Summary of Money’s guide to why dogs lick their paws

While some paw licking is normal, persistent licking and chewing could indicate an issue. Some common causes of why dogs lick their paws include self-grooming, allergies, infections, pain, parasites and anxiety. Constant licking can also lead to secondary infections.

Paying attention to your dog’s behavior is important because it can signify an issue. If you suspect the behavior isn’t normal, it’s best to visit your dog’s veterinarian for a diagnosis. They can treat the underlying cause and any secondary issues that develop.