Dogs have the ability to groom themselves and will take most opportunities to lick or bite areas of their body that may be causing them some discomfort. It is not uncommon for dogs to bite their paws, but if you notice a sudden increase in this behavior or it becomes obsessive, it is important to get to the source of what is driving him. If he goes to town on his toes, and you yell at him to stop and he ignores you, it is definitely a problem. The source of his struggle could be from allergies, a parasite, or other physical or emotional health issues. At its least, it can be annoying to you to listen to him bite away, at its worst he is harming himself. It is important to protect your pup’s paws to help him maintain a happy and healthy lifestyle. Once you target the source of his problem you can help him leaves his paws at peace.
The Root of the Behavior
There are multiple reasons why a dog will bite his paws. One of the most common is allergies. He could be dealing with allergies to fleas, certain foods, or even to elements in his environment or chemicals to which he is exposed. The saliva from a flea bite can cause a major reaction in dogs. Ticks and mites can also wreak havoc on your dog’s paws. Your dog can also have food allergies with the most common among dogs being wheat, soy, dairy, corn, and beef. Environmental allergens such as mold and mildew and chemical allergens including cleaning supplies and fertilizer from the grass, both of which your pup’s paws spend a lot of time touching, can cause his paws some distress.
Another reason your dog may be biting his paws is because there is pain in his paw he is trying to nip out. He could have a cut, thorn, splinter or rock stuck in his paw pad that he is trying to soothe or remove. He could also have a fractured toe or claw or even a corn, which is common in breeds such as Greyhounds. He may be simply biting in an attempt to stop what is ailing him.
Dogs will also bite their paws if they are bored. This problem needs to be dealt with before the habit takes on a life of its own. They could also be dealing with an emotional strain such as anxiety from separation or other fear triggering problems such as thunder. Canine Compulsive Disorder (CCD), while exceedingly rare and only affecting possibly less than 3% of dogs, can also manifest as biting his feet.
Finally, your dog may start biting his paws because of a minor annoyance or dry skin to make himself feel better. This can develop a secondary bacterial or yeast infection, or a behavioral habit, the leads them to keep licking non-stop and the problem snowballs. The frequent chewing leads to inflammation that is seemingly only alleviated by more biting, and the cycle continues.
Encouraging the Behavior
It is important to stop the paw biting as soon as you feel it has become an issue. Your first line of defense is to examine his paws. Check for lodged foreign objects, parasites or a rash. Your second consideration should be if he is biting his feet during certain situations such as when he is left alone, during loud storms, or when he has not had much time to play outside. While moderate paw biting is normal, it is always important to bring your dog to the vet if the chewing seems to be more than an annoyance to you and is getting out of hand. Your vet can help you determine what is the source of your dog’s distress and can assist you in eliminating allergens or treating parasites and skin infections. He can also give your pet medication such as antibiotics, steroids or anti-itch creams that can break the cycle of bite-inflamed-bite that your dog may be dealing with at the time.
If you find that alleviating the physical problem does not end the biting behavior, or that the cause is more behavioral and emotional, it is best to seek the assistance of a dog trainer. She can help you train your dog to chew on toys or bones rather than his feet to alleviate anxiety as well as on how to increase exercise to alleviate boredom. You can also use preventative bitter sprays, which may deter him from biting his paws and encourage him to turn to toys for relief.
Other Solutions and Considerations
There are ways to head off the paw-biting problem before it even starts with a few simple steps. Make sure to treat your pet for fleas and ticks per your veterinarian’s recommendation. Limit his exposure to chemicals by giving him a chemical-free area in your yard to roam and use a dog-friendly soap that can help his skin from becoming too dry. Feed him a well-balanced diet complete with fatty acids and limit table scraps that can trigger food sensitivities, as they are not always meant for canines. Finally, give him a lot of exercise, stimulation, socialization, and love; all of these things help stave off fear, anxiety, and boredom.
All dogs will bite their paws at one point or another. While it can be annoying, it is not always a problem. If it increases in severity and continues for a period of time, it is important to seek professional help through a veterinarian and an experienced dog trainer to identify the source of your pooch’s problem and set a course of action. Give him a healthy diet, limit exposure to possible allergens, and examine his paws often for foreign objects. Your pooch and his paws will thank you for it.