What is Biting Her Feet?
It is not uncommon for perfectly healthy dogs to occasionally bite, chew, or lick their paws during grooming. However, sudden, excessive, or chronic biting of the feet may indicate a health or behavioral condition that you want to address; this is especially true if other symptoms accompany it. Additional symptoms to look for are redness, swelling, bleeding, limping, or a foul smell of the paws. Possible underlying causes of foot biting include:
- Lumbosacral syndrome
- Stress and anxiety
Book First Walk Free!
Why Biting Her Feet Occurs in Dogs
There are two types of foot biting if your dog is not just grooming her paws: sudden and chronic. The underlying causes of your dog’s excessive licking and chewing of her paws will fall into either category.
If you’ve never observed your dog biting at her feet in the past and she suddenly begins licking and chewing her paws, she has a cut, break, or a foreign object lodged in her foot. Your dog’s feet may be sensitive to the touch, or you might see a visible cut or scrape.
When it comes to chronic feet biting, allergies are the most common cause of itchy feet in dogs. Allergic reactions can be a response to the environment, just like hay fever in people, or be a response to a chemical allergen, such as pesticides, cleaning solutions, or fertilizer. Flea infestations are the most common source of allergies in dogs and cause a lot of skin discomfort that may lead to biting, chewing, and licking of the feet.
Chronic biting and chewing can lead to a secondary infection of your dog's feet. Bacteria, either from the environment or your dog's mouth, can invade an open wound or scratch and cause further discomfort. Malassezia, a type of yeast naturally found on your dog's skin, can be stimulated to overgrowth with excessive licking, chewing, or biting of the feet. Secondary infections on your dog's feet will cause her paws to be red and possibly swollen with a foul smell.
Pressure on the lumbosacral junction, though far less common, may cause incessant chewing of your dog's feet to the point of mutilation. The lumbosacral junction of the spinal column is where the lower lumbar meets the sacral bone and joins at the pelvis. A narrowing spinal column, infections of the discs, tumors, or trauma might cause pressure at this site and lead to biting of the limbs and feet.
Stress and Anxiety
Stress and anxiety may lead your dog to develop an obsessive compulsive paw licking and chewing behavior. Boredom can also lead your dog to bite her feet.
What to do if your Dog is Biting Her Feet
If you notice your dog is sudden biting her feet you should inspect them for her. It is possible your dog may have a foreign object, like a stick, stone, or burr lodged in per paw. Always consult your veterinarian when in doubt of the best way to remove objects from your dog's paw and if you find a scratch or an open wound, take caution to clean it and watch it for infection. Sometimes, the wound may be too large, or you may feel you do not have enough expertise to clean and dress your dog's wounds. In these cases, bring your dog to the veterinarian's office for assistance. Always bring your dog to the vet if you suspect she is developing an infection.
If your dog's foot biting is a chronic occurrence, you should seek medical assistance. Your veterinarian will determine the underlying cause of your dog's paw biting. Your vet will perform a complete physical examination and ask about your dog's medical history as well as when she first started chewing her feet.
Intradermal allergy testing may be ordered if your veterinarian suspects your dog is suffering from seasonal allergies. During this test, common allergens are injected in your dog just below the surface of her skin. Testing is usually conducted on the abdomen, and your dog's belly will be shaved for the test.
If food allergies are suspected, your dog will undergo food trials over the course of 6 to 12 weeks to determine possible allergies by adding and removing proteins and recording reactions. Saliva testing may also be used, but this type of test is usually designated for discovering sensitivities and intolerances, not allergic reactions.
Dermatitis due to a flea allergy is easy to diagnose because fleas accompany the condition. Your veterinarian will prescribe a flea medication, either an oral or topical treatment to rid your dog of her fleas and help relieve her itchy skin. You may also have to use a flea shampoo and comb to deal with live infestations as well as treat your home. It is crucial only to use flea medications designed for your dog on your companion. If you have other pets at home, like cats or small animals, you will need to treat them with a lower dose medication.
If your dog’s incessant biting of her feet is related to an obsessive compulsive behavior due to stress or anxiety, your veterinarian may suggest a dog behaviorist and additional training may be necessary to stop her from biting at her feet.
Prevention of Biting Her Feet
You may be unable to prevent your dog from getting objects, such as burr and stones, lodged in her paws but you can help her to remove them. Removing foreign objects and assisting your dog with regular grooming may help prevent her from excessively licking or biting her feet.
Providing a safe and secure home with access to food, water, and opportunities to eliminate waste are crucial for a dog’s well-being. If you are not meeting your dog’s basic life needs, she may develop stress and anxiety, which could lead to biting her feet. A healthy diet and regular exercise are also essential for maintaining a healthy weight. Extra weight on a dog can cause unwanted pressure on the spinal column and lead to lumbosacral syndrome and possible self-mutilating behaviors.
The only way to prevent an allergic reaction that may cause your dog to chew at her paws is to avoid allergens. Once you are aware of her allergies, you must do your best to remove anything that causes a reaction. This may mean changing food, removing a household plant from your dog’s reach, and avoiding certain plants outside as best you can. If you live in a humid climate where fleas thrive, you should consult with your veterinarian on the best flea prevention methods for your dog.
Cost of Biting Her Feet
The cost of treating foot biting depends on the underlying cause of your dog’s behavior. For example, it costs around $500 to treat a yeast infection whereas the expense for testing and treating food allergies can be around $1,500.