Baxter has licked his paws on numerous occasions. He’s very into appearances, so usually he was just grooming himself, but he also licks his paws when he gets those evil little burdocks stuck between them and a couple other times when he did this, you didn’t know the exact cause. You’ve heard from other dog lovers that paw licking could be a result of a bad diet or allergies. You do get a little hayfever once in a while, so maybe Baxter does too, but how would that relate to paws? His paw licking doesn’t really bother you but could it ever be a concern? You think you might want to delve a little deeper into this interesting topic.
The Root of the Behavior
Dogs do like to groom themselves by licking, and their paws are the parts of their body that are in the most constant contact with dirt, so it does make sense that they would lick them in order to get them clean. Sometimes dogs get bored and lick themselves as well, and this is sort of equivalent to men scratching themselves. But it is also true that Baxter’s diet could actually affect his paw licking. A bad quality of food could cause an imbalance of yeast in the immune system. This imbalance in your dog’s gut tract can spread to a dog's skin and cause intense itching. It also is possible that Baxter licks his paws sometimes because he has seasonal allergies. Dogs do get these too, and a common symptom of allergies is itchy skin. Dogs don’t have fingers like humans, so licking irritated skin provides them with some relief. Another common reason Baxter would lick his paws is if something gets lodged in between his toes. Those nasty burdocks are common culprits but so are small rocks and even sharp objects that get painfully stuck in your innocent pooch’s paw.
Excessive paw licking can also be attributed to obsessive-compulsive disorder. Some dogs with intense anxiety will choose a body part to lick over and over again until it is raw. It’s important that you observe if your dog is licking way more than usual and also seems a bit off with other behaviors: lethargic, agitated, not eating, etc. If this is the case, take your dog to the vet to get him checked out right away. A problem with the thyroid gland could also cause paw licking. The thyroid hormone helps keep skin moist, and if something is off with this hormone, the dog could have itchy skin and begin to lick for some well-needed relief. Problems with the thyroid are usually accompanied by weight gain, exhaustion, and sensitivity to temperatures. Parasites are another common culprit that might send poor Baxter licking away at his paws. Fleas, ticks, and mites all love the crevices in between dog paws and try to hide in that moist, dark place. Other causes also include burns from hot pavement to the more serious cysts and small tumors. If you suspect the paw licking is the result of something serious, get your furry friend checked out.
Encouraging the Behavior
If it is evident that Baxter is licking his paws because he is grooming himself, then this is not an issue. If it seems like he has a quick itch that he relieves by licking that paw, again, no big deal. But if Baxter is excessively licking and seems to also be favoring one of his paws, then this could be a cause for concern. Examine his paw and see if you can identify any foreign objects or parasites. If you are able to safely remove them, then go for it, and then keep an eye on him. If you see nothing in the paw, and the behavior continues, then take your dog to see your veterinarian in order to see what is causing the problem. The vet can analyze a piece of licked tap on your dog’s paw, take a culture, or in some rare cases even a biopsy to examine the problem. If your dog appears to be constantly licking his paws and there are no parasites or foreign objects, and he has never had a history of seasonal allergies, then think about what you feed him. Dogs are carnivores, so a good dog food will have chicken or beef as the first ingredient, but many foods on the market have the first ingredient of corn and are highly processed. A switch in food, which must be done gradually, so your dog can adjust to the new food, might be a solution as well.
Other Solutions and Considerations
If Baxter starts going a little crazy with licking his paws, he could actually cause some irritation to his skin. Excessive licking can lead to redness and soreness, which you want to try to prevent. You also want to pay close attention if your dog exhibits any sudden OCD type changes in behaviors. For example, he constantly licks one part of his paw but there seem to be no reasons why he is doing this. Common solutions for easing the paw’s irritated skin include antifungal cream and sprays. If caused by fleas or ticks, it is important that you provide your dog with monthly treatments, such as using TriFexis or other flea and tick removers. Depending on the cause, antibiotics or steroids may also be prescribed. Also, make sure to bathe your dog with quality shampoo, such as oatmeal shampoo, which will help prevent dry skin. And don’t forget to provide Baxter with plenty of physical and mental activity, so he doesn’t get bored and just wants to lick himself.