Written by Dr. Cariann Turbeville

Dogs chew their paws. It’s normal dog behavior. But what happens when your dog is chewing their paws excessively? What causes it and how do you address it?

Most mammals groom themselves frequently and in the case of your dog, their tongue is the all-purpose cleaning device! Daily licking is normal, not only to keep the fur fresh and clean but the effect is also self-soothing, like a calming massage.

But too much of a good thing may indicate trouble.

What is excessive chewing?

If you know your pet, you’ll recognize when licking and chewing increases from normal to excessive. A gentle tongue bath of a paw should typically take no more than a few minutes. If your dog persists in licking a lot longer, or if your dog returns again and again, this may indicate an issue. Ditto for repetitive chewing. Gentle nibbling while grooming is normal, but persistent, aggressive chewing signals an itch or pain. Although it’s subjective, a kind of manic intensity while licking and chewing is often a sign of distress. The vibe of normal grooming is relaxed and mellow, whereas excessive grooming is frenzied.

Reasons that dogs chew their paws:

Allergies – Whether responding to irritating seasonal pollen, mold, or a specific food ingredient, allergies often lead to excessive licking and chewing which can produce lesions in the skin. These lesions then make your dog susceptible to secondary infection.

Dry skin – Dry skin due to a diet too low in good fats may deplete skin of its naturally protective shield of lipids.

Psychological/Emotional stress – Stress and boredom trigger a need in all animals to self-soothe. Birds may pluck out all of their feathers in response to anxiety or fear, while dogs may “worry” a spot on their skin with excessive licking and chewing.

Parasites – Fleas and mange may cause severe irritation in the paws, in addition to the rest of the body. Mange is caused by two varieties of mites, which are so irritating that they may cause secondary bacterial or yeast infections in your dog’s skin. Check for thick yellow crusts, thickening of the skin, and hair loss on your dog’s body as signs of mange infestation.

Paw injuries – Is your dog licking and chewing one specific paw in particular? If so, a cut pad, torn nail, insect bite or something stuck between the pads may be the problem. If so, your dog may try to chew and nibble out the offending object. Also, simple irritation from walking on blazing hot asphalt or salted roads in winter may trigger licking.

Hot spots – These disturbing lesions are common on the upper surface of dog’s paws. This condition is also called acute moist dermatitis. Obsessive licking can actually create these raw, red, swollen lesions which can quickly become infected. A hot spot may begin with a single small injury, but manic chewing can rapidly expand its dimensions. Dogs with thick coats may also experience moisture build up that leads to hot spots.

Tips to prevent your dog from chewing their paws

Start with an Airvet consult to discuss the specifics of your dog’s licking and chewing.

Preventing allergies in dogs

To reduce the irritating effects of potential allergens in the environment, wipe your dog’s paws with a hypoallergenic pet wipe or a wet washcloth after an outdoor adventure. Replace the air filters in your home to help you and your dog breathe easier. Try a medicated dog shampoo containing oatmeal, along with a canine anti-itch spray to reduce inflammation.

Food allergies are difficult to diagnose because there is no reliable test for them. Some dogs develop an allergy to one or more meat proteins as they age. Allergies to grains are extremely rare in dogs, contrary to significant misinformation on this topic online. Your vet may recommend a special diet or elimination of certain proteins in your dog’s food to try to reduce their skin irritation.

Avoiding dry skin in dogs

Check out dog paw balms that help to heal and prevent parched, cracked skin. The best of these balms contain emollients that soothe and soften skin. Look for moisturizing paw balms containing natural calming ingredients like:

  • Beeswax
  • Shea Butter
  • Aloe Vera
  • Rosemary Seed Extract
  • Vitamin E
  • Cocoa Seed Butter
  • Jojoba Oil
  • Coconut Oil

Some of these ingredients, including rosemary seed extract, are botanical antimicrobials which discourage infection while they moisturize your dog’s skin. Avoid products containing Tea Tree Oil, which has been proven to be toxic to dogs in high concentrations.

To alleviate stress in your dog

Ask your vet about mildly sedative chews, which may contain gentle botanicals such as:

  • Valerian Root
  • Chamomile
  • L-theanine
  • Magnesium Citrate
  • L-Tryptophan

Dental sticks offer the extra advantage of being long lasting, distracting your dog for longer periods of time than snacks, which are gobbled down in one bite. Puzzles and safe chew toys may also entertain a bored or nervous dog, and break the pattern of compulsive licking.

Finally, to change your dog’s behavior, consider changing your own. More long walks and energetic play time may elevate your dog’s mood and make you happy, too. Consider engaging the services of a canine behaviorist if your dog has extreme separation anxiety or aggression. A compression vest may also help your dog feel more relaxed. Pheromone diffusers, such as Adaptil, can reduce anxiety in some dogs.

Other reasons your dog may be chewing its paws

Fleas

Fleas can be treated topically or systemically. Topical treatments are generally applied as drops between the shoulder blades so your dog can’t lick them off, and they last about a month.

Remember that fleas reproduce so quickly that by the time you notice them on your dog, you may be dealing with two or three generations of the pests. It is often necessary to vacuum your home daily to fully eradicate all fleas, larvae and pupae.

Mange

Consult a vet when your dog has mange, rather than trying to DIY it. There are two major forms of mange, each caused by a different biting, burrowing arthropod.

Demodectic Mange

Demodectic Mange is caused by a cigar-shaped mite called Demodex canis. This mite is a normal part of your dog’s skin flora– in other words, these mites are always present in your dog’s hair follicles and usually cause no trouble.

However, if your dog has a weakened immune system, their population will erupt out of control and make your dog miserable. In this sense, demodectic mange may be a warning sign of a serious systemic condition. Elderly, sick and diabetic dogs are especially prone to this form of mange.

Sarcoptic mange

Other mites and the mange they cause are never normal. Sarcoptes are contagious mites that cause extreme, nearly constant scratching. To diagnose sarcoptic mange, your vet will take skin scrapings to check for the presence of eggs and mites.

Treatment for mange depends on the type of mite present. It might include medicated baths, and topical or oral mite killing medication over the course of several weeks.

Paw injuries

Healthy foot pads protect bones and joints from the daily shocks of running and walking, so a torn, burned or injured foot pad needs prompt care. Consult Airvet, and be prepared to bring your dog to your vet for treatment. These thick, rubbery pads typically don’t hold stitches well, and injured pads are prone to infection as your dog walks.

Wounds

If you detect a wound anywhere on your dog’s paw, begin with a gentle cleaning. Swish the paw in cool water or run a hose over it, and search for glass or metal shards, such as a pin, nail or plant material that may be stuck in the pad. Wash the paw with a mild antibacterial soap. If possible, remove the object with sterilized tweezers. If the object stuck in the pad appears to be deeply lodged, leave it alone and take your dog for immediate veterinary care.

Trauma

Your dog’s pads may be damaged by extreme temperatures – walking on superheated cement in summer, or ice in winter. If you suspect this sort of trauma, soak pads in room temperature water for immediate relief. If the pad changes color or the interior tissue of the pad is exposed, take your dog for immediate treatment.

If you suspect a chemical burn, hold the paw under running water for several minutes, then wash the paw using mild soap and rinse thoroughly. Make sure that you’re wearing gloves, since caustic chemicals can burn your skin, too. A call to the chemical manufacturer or Pet Poison Helpline, as well as immediate veterinary care may be necessary if the burn is severe.

Keep dog paws healthy

Prevention of injury begins by remembering that your dog walks the world barefoot! Although those bouncy, leathery pads are tough, they are not indestructible.

  • Clear the environment and watch where your dog is walking, and if you wouldn’t walk there in your own bare feet, don’t walk there with your dog. In the yard, sweep up any sharp sticks, thorny branches and any broken glass that could harm your dog’s sensitive feet.
  • Flea control is an ongoing commitment for pet owners.
  • Good hygiene goes a long way. If your dog loves to swim and splash, be sure that their fur is clean and dry after the plunge so that moisture isn’t trapped close to the skin.
  • Good nutrition, making your dog less susceptible to dry skin.

And support all of the above with daily exercise, grooming, enrichment and of course, lots of love! As with ourselves, mental well being supports optimum body function for plenty of good times on four feet (and two).

Is your dog chewing its paws excessively? Contact Airvet and speak with a veterinarian immediately. Don’t have the app? Download it now.

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