Paw Licking: Why Do Dogs Do This?

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Why Do Dogs Lick Their Paws
By LITTLE PUPPY PAWS | January 5, 2024
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Dogs are known for their quirky behaviors, and one common behavior that many dog owners have observed is paw licking. If you’ve ever wondered why your furry friend spends so much time licking their paws, you’re not alone.

Dogs may lick their paws due to allergies, irritation, pain, anxiety, boredom, or as a normal grooming behavior. Excessive licking can indicate underlying issues, so it’s essential to monitor and address it accordingly with veterinary guidance.

Is Paw Licking Normal Behavior?

Before delving into the potential reasons for excessive paw licking, it’s important to recognize that some level of paw licking is entirely normal for dogs. Dogs use their mouths as a primary means of exploring their environment, similar to how humans use their hands. This natural curiosity can lead them to lick their paws from time to time as a way of investigating new scents or tastes they may have encountered.

Normal paw licking behavior may also be linked to grooming. Just like cats, dogs are known for their self-grooming habits. They use their tongues to clean various parts of their bodies, including their paws. While dogs aren’t as meticulous about grooming as cats, they still engage in this behavior to keep themselves clean.

Additionally, dogs may lick their paws as a form of self-soothing or relaxation. This behavior can be particularly evident when a dog is feeling anxious or stressed. The act of licking their paws may provide a comforting sensation, much like a child sucking their thumb or twirling their hair when they are anxious.

What are the Common Reasons for Excessive Paw Licking?

While some paw licking is normal, excessive or compulsive paw licking can be a cause for concern. When a dog starts licking their paws obsessively or to the point of causing injury, it’s important to investigate the underlying reasons. Here are some of the most common explanations for excessive paw licking in dogs:


Allergies, whether they are food allergies or environmental allergies, are a frequent cause of excessive paw licking in dogs. When a dog is exposed to allergens such as pollen, dust mites, or certain foods, their immune system may overreact, leading to itching and discomfort. In response, dogs may lick their paws to alleviate the itchiness and soothe the affected areas.

Food allergies can be particularly challenging to diagnose because they require eliminating potential allergens from the dog’s diet and reintroducing them one by one to pinpoint the culprit. Environmental allergies may require medication or changes in the dog’s environment to minimize exposure to allergens.

Skin Irritation or Infection

Skin irritations, infections, or injuries on a dog’s paws can be a significant source of discomfort, leading to excessive licking. Conditions such as dermatitis, hot spots, fungal infections, or foreign objects stuck between the paw pads can all trigger paw licking behavior.

To determine if a skin issue is the cause of your dog’s paw licking, it’s essential to inspect their paws carefully. Look for signs of redness, swelling, discharge, or any visible wounds. If you notice any of these symptoms, it’s best to consult with a veterinarian for a proper diagnosis and treatment plan.

Pain or Discomfort

Dogs may lick their paws as a way of self-soothing when they are experiencing pain or discomfort. This pain could be related to a wide range of issues, including arthritis, injuries, or even splinters or thorns lodged in the paw pads. Dogs may lick a specific paw if it’s the one causing them pain.

If your dog suddenly starts excessively licking one paw or favoring one leg, it’s crucial to have them examined by a veterinarian to rule out any underlying health problems. Pain management and treatment can greatly improve your dog’s quality of life.

Anxiety and Stress

Just as humans engage in self-soothing behaviors when anxious or stressed, dogs may lick their paws for comfort. Excessive paw licking can be a sign of underlying anxiety or stressors in a dog’s life. Common stressors for dogs include changes in routine, loud noises, separation anxiety, or the presence of unfamiliar people or animals.

It’s essential to address the root causes of anxiety and stress in your dog’s life to help them feel more secure and reduce excessive paw licking. This may involve behavior modification techniques, training, or the use of calming aids recommended by your veterinarian.

Boredom or Habitual Behavior

Some dogs may develop a habit of licking their paws out of sheer boredom. Dogs are intelligent animals that thrive on mental and physical stimulation. When they lack adequate exercise, playtime, or mental engagement, they may resort to repetitive behaviors like paw licking as a way to pass the time.

To combat boredom-related paw licking, it’s essential to ensure your dog receives sufficient exercise and mental stimulation. Providing toys, puzzles, and interactive games can help keep your dog’s mind engaged and reduce the urge to engage in repetitive behaviors.

Allergic Dermatitis

Allergic dermatitis is a specific type of skin condition caused by allergens that come into contact with a dog’s skin. This condition can lead to itching, redness, and inflammation, prompting dogs to lick and chew on their paws as a way of relieving the discomfort.

Identifying the specific allergen responsible for allergic dermatitis can be challenging, but a veterinarian can perform tests to help pinpoint the cause. Treatment may involve allergen avoidance, medication, or other interventions to manage the symptoms.

When to Consult a Veterinarian About Your Dog’s Paw Licking?

While some instances of paw licking can be attributed to normal behavior or temporary discomfort, it’s crucial to know when to seek professional help from a veterinarian. If your dog exhibits any of the following signs, it’s time to schedule an appointment with your vet:

  • Persistent or worsening paw licking: If your dog’s paw licking persists for an extended period or intensifies in frequency and duration, it may indicate an underlying issue that requires attention.
  • Visible signs of injury or infection: If you notice redness, swelling, discharge, or open wounds on your dog’s paws, these are clear signs of a problem that should be examined by a vet.
  • Limping or favoring a paw: When your dog begins to limp or favor one paw over the others, it suggests pain or discomfort that needs to be addressed.
  • Hair loss or changes in the paw’s appearance: Significant hair loss, changes in color or texture, or any unusual growths on the paw pads should be examined by a veterinarian.
  • Changes in behavior: If your dog’s excessive paw licking is accompanied by changes in behavior, such as increased aggression, withdrawal, or reluctance to walk or play, it may indicate an underlying issue.
  • Persistent itching or scratching: If your dog is constantly scratching their paws, ears, or other areas of their body, it may be a sign of allergies or skin issues that require treatment.
  • Discharge or odor: If you notice any discharge or foul odor coming from your dog’s paws, it may indicate an infection that needs prompt attention.

Your veterinarian will perform a thorough physical examination and may recommend additional tests, such as skin scrapings, blood tests, or allergy testing, to determine the underlying cause of your dog’s excessive paw licking.

How to Treat Excessive Paw Licking?

The treatment for excessive paw licking in dogs depends on the underlying cause. Once your veterinarian identifies the issue, they will recommend an appropriate treatment plan. Here are some common treatments for the various causes of paw licking:

  • Allergies: For allergies, your veterinarian may recommend dietary changes to rule out food allergies. They may also prescribe antihistamines, steroids, or immunosuppressive drugs to manage the symptoms of environmental allergies. In some cases, allergen-specific immunotherapy (allergy shots) may be considered for long-term management.
  • Skin Irritations or Infections: Treatment for skin irritations or infections may include topical or oral antibiotics, antifungal medications, or medicated shampoos. It’s essential to follow your veterinarian’s instructions for cleaning and caring for your dog’s paws during the treatment process.
  • Pain or Discomfort: For pain-related paw licking, your veterinarian may recommend pain management medications, physical therapy, or other interventions to address the underlying issue causing discomfort. Joint supplements or dietary changes may also be beneficial for dogs with arthritis.
  • Anxiety and Stress: Behavioral modification techniques, such as desensitization and counterconditioning, may be employed to address anxiety and stress-related paw licking. In some cases, medications or natural supplements designed to reduce anxiety may be recommended.
  • Boredom or Habitual Behavior: To combat boredom-related paw licking, it’s crucial to provide your dog with mental and physical stimulation. Interactive toys, puzzle feeders, and regular exercise can help keep your dog engaged and reduce repetitive behaviors.
  • Allergic Dermatitis: Treatment for allergic dermatitis may involve identifying and avoiding the specific allergen responsible for the condition. Your veterinarian may also prescribe medications to manage itching and inflammation.

Preventing Excessive Paw Licking

While some causes of excessive paw licking are beyond your control, there are steps you can take to help prevent this behavior and ensure your dog’s overall well-being:

  • Regular grooming: Keeping your dog’s coat clean and well-groomed can help reduce the likelihood of skin irritations and allergies.
  • Environmental control: If your dog has environmental allergies, consider making changes to their environment to minimize exposure to allergens, such as using air purifiers or keeping windows closed during high pollen seasons.
  • High-quality diet: Feeding your dog a balanced and high-quality diet can support their overall health and reduce the risk of food allergies.
  • Stress management: Provide your dog with a safe and secure environment, and avoid situations that may cause them undue stress or anxiety.
  • Regular exercise: Ensure your dog receives adequate physical exercise to prevent boredom and promote mental and physical well-being.
  • Regular veterinary check-ups: Schedule regular check-ups with your veterinarian to detect and address any potential health issues early.

Paw licking is a common behavior in dogs, and while some level of licking is normal, excessive or compulsive paw licking can signal underlying health issues or discomfort. It’s essential for dog owners to pay attention to the context, frequency, and specific paw being licked to determine whether the behavior is cause for concern.

If you notice persistent or worsening paw licking, visible signs of injury or infection, changes in behavior, or any other concerning symptoms, consult with your veterinarian promptly. Identifying the underlying cause of excessive paw licking is crucial to ensure your dog’s comfort and overall well-being.


By understanding the reasons behind your dog’s paw licking behavior and seeking appropriate veterinary care when needed, you can help ensure that your beloved canine companion leads a happy, healthy, and comfortable life.