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  • Molly Weinfurter

Why Do Dogs Lick Their Paws Excessively?

Updated: Jun 11

If you have a dog, you’ve probably noticed them excessively licking their paws at some point. When they do it, it always happens to be at the worst possible time, such as when you’re trying to sleep or watch TV. Paw licking is a normal dog behavior, but in some cases, it could be due to a health or behavior concern. So, why do dogs lick their paws so much? And when should you be concerned about it?


I wrote this article because my dog, Mabel, loves to lick her paws at night. I've always wondered the reason, and I learned that there are lots of explanations as to why dogs might lick their paws a lot. She seems to do it out of boredom or to clean her paws, but there are plenty of other reasons your dog could be doing it.


Why Do Dogs Constantly Lick Their Paws?

The cause for dogs licking paws can vary, but the following reasons might give you a better understanding. For an exact cause, talk to your vet.


Dog licking in bed

Boredom or Anxiety

Dogs can get bored just like humans can, but they can’t pick up a book or turn on the TV to relieve that boredom. So, many dogs resort to licking their paws. Dogs especially lick their paws at night because they don’t have much else to do and they already sleep a lot during the day. The repetitive motion is soothing for many dogs, making it a common habit for dogs with anxiety too.


Self-Grooming Habits

Sometimes licking is just part of your dog’s self-grooming habits. If they lick their paws after returning from a walk, they may be cleaning dirt off their paws. While self-grooming is good for your dog’s paws, it can be bad for their breath, so teeth brushing can help with that.


Allergies

If your dog has allergies, they may experience dry, itchy skin. As a result, your dog may bite and lick their paws more often in an attempt to soothe the irritation. Dust, plants, bugs, and food are some of the many allergens dogs could face. 


Examine your dog’s paws for signs of red, irritated skin or hair loss. Dogs with allergies may experience other symptoms too, such as runny nose, swollen eyes, or frequent sneezing. If you suspect your dog is licking due to allergies, talk to your vet to find out the cause and best remedy.


Injuries

If your dog’s licking is focused on one area of the foot, they could be licking to soothe an injury. They could have cuts, burns, hot spots, or broken toenails. Dry paw pads could also cause wounds. Look closely at your dog’s paws for signs of injury and consult a vet if you find anything concerning.


Infections

When your dog licks their paws frequently, moisture builds up on your dog’s paw pads, potentially resulting in a bacterial or yeast infection. Bacterial infections can also occur if the paw pads are injured without receiving proper treatment. Infections on the paws can make your dog want to lick that area even more.


Check your dog’s paws for redness, hair loss, or dry, flaky skin. A strong odor may also indicate an infection. (However, keep in mind that dog paws usually have an unusual smell that resembles Fritos. A concerning smell would be stronger or different than the norm.)


Aches and Pains

Pains inside your dog’s body can also make them lick because they don’t know how else to relieve their pain. Dogs with joint pain, fractures, or bony growths may lick their paws regularly. If your dog is reluctant to let you touch their paws, something could be hurting them. A veterinarian will need to look at the paw closely for an official diagnosis.


Parasites

Parasites like fleas, ticks, and mites can irritate your dog’s skin, causing them to lick more. The bites these critters leave behind could cause added discomfort. Dogs can also experience internal parasites like ringworm, which could lead to red skin and hair loss.


To protect your dog from parasites, you should always use a flea and tick preventative. If your dog already has parasites on them, talk to your vet to determine the best treatment plan.


Close up dog paws

When is Dog Paw Licking a Concern?

Paw licking is only a concern if it seems to be bothering your dog. If they only lick their paws once in a while, it’s likely just a sign of boredom or grooming. However, if they obsessively lick their paws, especially if they’re licking a specific spot, they could be in pain.


Examine your dog’s paws for unusual symptoms, such as redness, inflammation, hair loss, cuts, burns, and bumps. If your dog flinches when you touch their paws, they could have an internal injury.


Thus, you should be concerned about paw licking if there are other signs of pain and discomfort involved. If you suspect your dog is licking due to a medical concern, it’s best to visit the vet just to be safe.


How to Stop Dogs from Licking Their Paws

Dogs will lick their paws from time to time. It’s just how they are. However, if they’re licking excessively, determine why they might be doing that so you can try one of the following solutions.


Examine Their Paws

If you believe your dog is licking an excessive amount, the first step is to look at their paws. Something could be stuck in their paw or they could have an unhealed wound. Finding a concern and addressing it could reduce your dog’s licking.


Offer Puzzle Toys

If your dog licks their paws a lot but doesn’t have any signs of pain or illness, they’re likely bored or anxious. To help with that, find other activities to keep them busy. Puzzle toys, such as toys you hide treats in, are a great way to keep a dog busy enough that they won’t consider licking their paws as much.


Clean Their Paws

Wash your dog’s paws thoroughly after their walks. With clean paws, your dog will have less desire to lick their feet clean. Cleaning your dog’s paws can also eliminate allergens, reducing the risk of irritated skin.


Keep Their Nails Trimmed

Overgrown dog nails can be painful. So, make sure your dog’s nails get trimmed regularly. Most dogs need their nails trimmed at least once a month, but some dogs wear their nails down enough while walking. If you don’t feel comfortable trimming your dog’s nails yourself, ask a vet or dog groomer to do it.


Use Paw Balm

You can spread balm on your dog’s paw pads to reduce the risk of dry, itchy feet. Paw balm can be especially beneficial as your dog ages and their paws get worn down. You probably use hand lotion regularly, so your dog should get the same type of comfort on their feet.


Get Protective Boots

Dog boots might look silly, but they can protect your dog in extreme weather conditions. In the winter, boots can prevent sidewalk salt from burning their paw pads. In the summer, dog shoes can protect dog paws from hot pavements. However, most dogs aren’t fond of wearing boots, so you may need to try them on regularly inside the house and reward your dog for wearing them before they’ll be ready to walk in them.


Consider Supplements

In some situations, supplements could help dogs lick less. Allergy supplements could reduce the amount of itchiness and irritation in dog paws. Joint supplements could reduce aches and pains inside your dog’s body. Yet, before introducing a new supplement to your dog’s diet, talk to your vet to make sure it’s safe for your dog’s specific lifestyle.


Talk to Your Vet

If you’re unsure why your dog is licking their paws so much, you’ll have a hard time determining the best way to prevent it. When in doubt, talk to your vet to find out what they suggest for your dog’s excessive licking.


Dog licking lips

Frequently Asked Questions


Why Do Dogs Lick Their Paws at Night?

Dogs typically lick their paws at night to soothe themselves or relieve boredom. However, if they do it excessively, check their paws for signs of injuries and irritation.


Should I Be Concerned if My Dog Licks Their Paws?

If your dog only licks their paws occasionally, there’s no need to worry. However, if your dog licks their paws excessively, especially in one specific area, it could be a sign of an underlying health concern. Look for signs of injuries and irritation, and visit your vet to find a remedy.


Why Do Dogs Lick Wounds and Injuries?

Dogs lick wounds and injuries as an instinct. Licking the wounds can soothe their pain, clean their wounds, and potentially kill bacteria. However, if your dog licks a wound excessively, it could do more harm than good.


Why Do Dogs Lick People?

Dogs lick people for a variety of reasons. They could be showing affection, seeking attention, cleaning wounds, or showing submission. Sometimes, you may just have a little peanut butter on your fingers that they want to lick off. It all depends on the context.


Is it Okay to Let My Dog Lick My Face?

It’s generally okay to let your dog lick your face, but prevent them from licking your mouth, nose, or eyes. Illnesses and bacteria could be transmitted that way, so it’s better to be safe than sorry.


Why Do Dogs Lick Their Lips?

If a dog licks their lips, it’s likely a sign of stress or appeasement. Thus, you should remove a dog from a situation if you notice excessive lip licking. Dogs who regularly lick their lips could also be dealing with dental disease.


Dog paws outside

Paw Licking is Normal

Why dogs lick their paws isn’t always cut and dry. In general, paw licking is normal for dogs because they like to groom themselves and it’s a way to entertain themselves when they’re bored. However, excessive licking could be a sign of an underlying health condition, so regularly examine your dog’s paws for signs of pain, inflammation, and injuries. 


The sound of dog licking can be annoying, but painful paws are even more frustrating for them than the licking is for you. So, when in doubt, visit your vet to get to the root of the problem.

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