Is there anything more worrying than watching your pooch licking and frantically chewing its paws? Well, yes, there is. No matter how bad paw licking and chewing may seem, things get worse if your dog starts limping on top of everything. Now it is even harder to determine the root cause of the problem. Is the same condition responsible for the paw licking responsible for the limping? Or perhaps, the excessive paw licking culminated into self-mutilation and triggered the lameness? “My dog is licking and chewing its paws” is one sentence veterinarians hear on a daily basis. These conditions are frustrating for both the dogs and their owners thus requiring quick and efficient solutions.
Why do Dogs Lick Their Paws?
Paw licking and chewing in dogs are behaviors that can easily get out of control. Whether it stems from pain or bad habits, a dog licking its paws is always a cause for concern. If you are one of those dog owners wondering why their dog is always licking or chewing on their paws, here are some of the most common reasons.
Just like in people, allergies are becoming a more frequent problem in pets too. While people usually exhibit allergies with sneezing, nose discharge and eye tearing, dogs usually manifest them with excessive body scratching, paw and feet licking.
Dog paw licking is most frequently caused by inhaled allergens. Namely the irritants that cause sneezing in people, cause paw licking and chewing in dogs. For example, your dog may be sensitive to grass pollen, tree pollen, weeds, mold spores, dust mites, or pet dander. If your dog is sensitive and comes into contact with one of these irritants, its entire body becomes itchy. However, the itchiness is primarily localized in the foot area – flanks, paws, and pads. Over time, as the condition progresses, your dog may experience additional issues like excessive shedding, hair loss, frequent ear infections, eye discharge, and an unusual musty odor.
If the paw licking and scratching are particularly intense after returning from a walk or playing in the yard, the problem can be contact allergy. Contact allergies can occur when the dog’s paws come into contact with something potentially irritating, like grass or the bedding material in their crate. Sometimes a new floor cleaning or odor control product can be the culprit.
Finally, food allergies are one of the less frequent causes of licking paws. This is because food allergies are not as common as owners imagine. However, in a dog with true food allergy paw licking is a common problem. Your vet can perform a blood test to determine whether your dog is allergic to certain foods.
Dogs were originally bred to perform certain tasks like hunting, herding, protecting. Today, we keep them indoors, limiting them from running around and doing those tasks. This is messing with their hyperactive nature and is often the cause of boredom induced issues.When dealing with boredom, some dogs engage in destructive behavior like furniture chewing or yard digging. Others are less destructive toward their environment and prefer paw licking as a form of entertainment. Before calling the veterinarian about the paw chewing condition, ask yourself – “Is my dog physically and mentally stimulated?” Today, relieving dog boredom is a field of particular interest. The science branch tackling this issue is called environmental enrichment.
Paw licking can be the canine equivalent of nail biting in people. Anxiety is a serious issue in dogs and can stem from separation or obsessive compulsive disorders. Dogs with anxiety find relaxation in repetitive behaviors. In these terms, paw licking is very soothing. In fact, some dogs can lick themselves to sleep. Simply put, licking paws is a coping mechanism for anxious dogs. If anxiety is the culprit for your dog’s behavior, finding the anxiety trigger is important. Once the trigger is identified you can easily minimize your dog’s exposure to the trigger. If not, you can alleviate the stress associated with the trigger by practicing desensitization or using calming meds and chews (for example, CBD infused cookies).
Paw licking in dogs can stem from excessive dryness in the skin. The moisture associated with the licking of the paws provides temporary relief. The reasons for dry skin fall into three categories – breed, weather and bathing.
Certain hairless dog breeds are more prone to skin issues as they lack the protection coat offers. This group of dogs includes the American Hairless Terrier, the Xoloitzcuintli, and the Chinese Crested.
Dogs living in cold and dry climates are more likely to develop dry skin issues. The paw pads are particularly prone to excessive drying and cracking. If your dog’s paw is overly dry, you can use special ointments that add moisture. Adding vitamins and oils to the food is also useful, especially if the dog’s paws are not the only body part affected.
Frequent bathing removes the natural oils from the skin leaving it more prone to drying and cracking. Harsh bathing shampoos and products can have the same effect.
Fleas can be listed as one of the most common reasons of paw licking in dogs. Their presence followed by scratching and infections may be caused by their saliva which is the primary allergen.
Generalized Itchiness and Secondary Infections
Flea infestations result in generalized itchiness and secondary infections. Although fleas rarely feed in the feet area, their mere presence is enough to cause a feeling of overall itchiness that spreads on every body part. Once the itchiness is generalized, so is the infection.
Another flea-related issue that may result in paw licking and chewing is flea allergy dermatitis. In some sensitive dogs even one flea bite can trigger an allergic reaction followed by scratching, swelling and irritation. Flea allergy dermatitis occurs in dogs that are actually sensitive to flea saliva. In this case, your pooch can be free from fleas or visible flea debris as the single flea that triggers the problem is long gone.
Few Things to Consider…
It should be noted that certain dog breeds are more prone to problems with their paws, including Poodles, Chihuahuas, Terriers, Labrador Retrievers, and Maltese dogs. Paw issues triggering licking and chewing are more apparent in white-coated breeds because in these dogs the licking results in discoloration of the paw fur.In working dog breeds, feet chewing and licking is usually a stress-related behavior. These breeds include cattle dogs, Dalmatians, and Greyhounds. They tend to over groom themselves when stressed. Finally, when the licking is focused on one leg, or better said, on one paw, the problem is almost definitely in that paw (a thorn or splinter in the paw pad, a small cut, an ingrown nail).
Causes of Dog Licking Paws and Limping
As mentioned, the only thing worse than a dog licking paws is a dog licking paws and limping. The dog’s paws and paw pads are constantly exposed to external factors and sustain damage on a daily basis. Therefore paw problems are reasonably common in pets. If your dog’s paw licking problem is accompanied with the occasional or ongoing limp these are the conditions worth consideration.
The dog’s paw pads are lined with thicker protective tissue. Although thicker the pad tissue can be affected by injury, including sharp objects (thorn, pebble, glass) and hot/cold or chemically treated surfaces.Toenail issues are also common in dogs. The two most common toenail injuries include – tearing and ingrowing. Fractures of the foot bones are another common yet underdiagnosed issue. Finally, paw injuries can occur if your dog steps on a bee or another stinging insect.In each of these scenarios, the paw injury is accompanied by swelling, different levels of inflammation, and pain. Consequently, the dog is licking the affected paw and limping.
Joint or Soft-Tissue Injuries
Reckless running and jumping in dogs can easily result in injuries to the ligaments, tendons, or joints. A soft tissue (ligament, tendon) or joint injury is a painful problem and often makes dogs lick their paws and limp.One of the more serious injuries is tearing of the cranial cruciate ligaments. The cranial cruciate ligament is the canine equivalent of the anterior cruciate ligament in people.The cranial or anterior cruciate ligament is responsible for keeping the kneecap in its place. If the ligament tears, the dog will limp and lick the affected limb in an effort to soothe the pain. Pages describing this condition are loaded with affiliate links to joint supplements. These products can be beneficial as they support the overall bone structure of the joint thus helping with the associated soft tissues.
Certain internal systemic infections like Lyme disease or Valley fever can result in limping and feet licking in dogs. These problems are associated with more complex clinical manifestations and infected dogs exhibit a wider range of symptoms.
Hot or Cold Paws
A broken bone can impair the circulation in the foot and make the paws cold. In such cases the limping results from the obvious lack of function and the licking from the pain associated with the bone fracture.
Debris in Paws
In some dog breeds, the coat between the paw pads can overgrow. If there is too much foot hair, debris can easily get stuck. Over time, as more and more dirt accumulates stepping on the paw can become painful.If the dog disregards the pain and keeps using the limb the debris can put too much pressure and start injuring the pads or area between the toes. The dog will excessively lick its paw in an attempt to remove the debris.The moisture from the paw licking combined with the debris is a good foundation for bacterial overgrowth. Once bacteria overgrow and an infection develops your dog’s paw will release the characteristic corn or Fritos like odor.
When to Go to the Vet
Dogs are not as obsessed with hygiene as cats, but they still engage in occasional grooming sessions. Paw licking can be a part of the normal grooming session. However, if your dog is licking its paws excessively or more frequently than usual, then there is definitely an underlying condition. A dog licking paws is concerning while a dog licking paws and limping requires close examination. There are several things you can do. First, you need to be able to read your dog’s body language, if there are no other obvious signs of distress, besides the paw licking and limping, check your dog’s paws. Pay attention to things that seem out of the ordinary – fur mats or debris accumulations, small or larger cuts, foreign bodies presence, cold paws, discoloration of the paw fur, or discharge. If you cannot determine what is causing the paw licking and limping in your dog, call the vet. If your is showing other signs like decreased appetite, lack of energy, weakness, or fever, skip the DIY part and go to the veterinarian immediately.
The paw Licking and Limping Dog at the Vet
The veterinarian will start with a basic physical exam and ask questions about like:
- When did the limping and licking first occurred
- How was their onset – sudden or gradual
- Is the lameness always constant or changes intensity
- What happened first, the limp or the paw licking
- Are there any changes in the environment or dog food you use?.
Then, the vet can order a blood test and urinalysis to evaluate the dog’s overall health status. In cases where limping is present, the vet is likely to perform an x-ray of the affected leg to rule out more severe injury, like bone fractures.
The treatment depends on the underlying cause and should be thoroughly discussed with your veterinarian.
Holistic Recovery Options
In the modern veterinary school, holistic veterinary branches are relatively new. However, when properly combined with conventional treatments they offer an array of benefits. When a dog exhibits a limp and licking of its paws, based on the underlying cause the use of CBD oil for pets can be more than helpful. These are some of the benefits CBD oil provides for the dog that limps and/or licks its paws:
- Better joint flexibility and mobility
- Promoted bone and joint health
- Enhanced connective tissue support
- Immune system boost
- Stronger inflammatory response
- Decreased stress and anxiety levels
- Overall physical and mental wellbeing.
Before adding CBD oil or any other supplement to your dog’s paw problem management strategy, talk to your trusted veterinarian. CBD products are available as oral tinctures, treats (cookies) or topicals (balms). Choose the type of product that is ideal for both you and your dog.
Our Final Thoughts
Dog licking paws and limping is rarely a reason to visit the emergency room. In most, cases scheduling with your trusted vet is completely reasonable. However, if there are accompanying signs, take your dog to the vet as soon as possible. The dog’s paws are more sensitive that owners usually believe and require special care. Luckily, many of the causes for excessive licking and chewing of the paws can be prevented. In the case of limping, prevention is not as achievable but following some general safety guidelines can minimize the risks for your dog.
Frequently Asked Questions
When should I take my dog to the vet for limping?
You should take your limping dog to the vet if the limping starts suddenly after a traumatic event, or if it develops more gradually but it is accompanied by something more serious like decreased appetite, panting, fever, lack of energy, or excessive licking of the paw pads.
Do dogs lick their paws when in pain?
Yes, pain is one reason why dogs engage in this behavior. However, not all dogs lick their paws because of pain. Some do it out of boredom or as a coping mechanism for anxiety.
What is your dog trying to warn about when they lick their paws?
A dog licking paws is always a red flag. Sometimes the underlying reason can be something simple while other times it requires prompt veterinary care. Anyway, as responsible dog owners, licking of the paws is not something you want to disregard.