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Why Does My Dog Chew His Paws & What to Do? (Dog Behavior Explained)

Your dog chewing and licking their paws is fairly normal behavior. They will often clean their paws and pull out any stuck debris between their toes, and this behavior is a normal part of self-grooming. Like us, dogs get itches too, and this behavior is also a common way to scratch that itch. Of course, while this is relatively normal behavior, if the behavior comes on suddenly or becomes compulsive, there may be cause for concern.

If you notice this behavior accompanied by redness, swelling, or limping, there is likely a more serious cause for the chewing, and you’ll need to take a closer look. There are a variety of reasons that your dog could be chewing or licking their paws incessantly, and while consultation with your vet is always the best bet, here are a few of the more common reasons and what you can do about it.

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1. Allergies

skin allergy on dog's paw
Image Credit: Kittima05, Shutterstock

Allergic skin disease is the most common cause of chronic paw licking and chewing, known as atopic dermatitis. This is a fairly common condition caused by allergens in your dog’s immediate environment that cause an allergic reaction on the skin. This reaction is usually caused by pollen, mold, dust mites, and fleas. Licking and chewing of the paws accompanied by other symptoms, such as redness, hair loss in the affected area, odor, and bleeding, is often a sign of an environmental allergic reaction.

Treatment of this kind of allergic reaction is usually fairly simple: identifying and removing the cause of the reaction from your dog’s environment. Finding the cause of the allergic reaction is not as simple and may take tedious trial and error or even require a blood test from your vet. Symptomatic treatment with medication is also a common option for mild cases, as well as topical treatment with ointments or sprays.

Food allergies are also a common culprit, and around 10% of all allergy cases in dogs are from food. This could include beef, dairy, wheat, soy, and eggs, to name a few. An allergy is typically a genetic issue. The only way to accurately diagnose a food allergy is via an elimination diet by putting your dog on a strict diet of food that they’ve never had before. Once they show improvement, you can begin slowly adding in the old foods that you suspect may be causing the reaction and determine the exact cause. This is, of course, challenging and time-consuming and you’ll need to be strict and keep a careful eye out that they are not getting any treats elsewhere.

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2. Dry Skin

Drops of moisturizing cream on dry dog's paw pads
Image Credit: Te9l, Shutterstock

Dry skin is another common culprit of dogs chewing and licking their paws. Winter months can leave your pooch with dry skin, as can dry climates without much humidity. Diet also has an important factor to play in dry skin, and if your dog is not getting enough essential fatty acids, this can cause a gradual decline in the health of their skin and coat. Dry skin may also be caused by using shampoo and soap frequently to clean your dog’s coat. These shampoos often disturb the natural oils present on your dog’s coat and cause dry skin.

We recommend a diet high in essential omega-3 and 6 fatty acids, or you may consider giving your pooch a fish oil supplement to make sure they are getting the essential oils they need or applying a topical balm to soothe the symptoms. Of course, make sure they have constant access to fresh, clean water at all times. Try and use shampoo and soap to wash your dog only when absolutely necessary, or avoid using them at all. If clean water is not doing the job, there are specially designed dog shampoos and soaps that will not disturb your dog’s coat’s natural oils.

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3. Anxiety

A dog laying down on a mat
Image Credit: Susan Schmitz, Shutterstock

Loneliness and anxiety can manifest in a variety of different ways, depending on your dog’s personality and the severity of the situation. Moving to a new home, bringing a new pet into the home, or being away from your pooch for extended periods are all possible causes of anxiety. Some dogs will resort to destructive behavior, like digging or chewing, while others may bark excessively or start licking and chewing their paws in an attempt to self-soothe.

In order to cure your dog’s stress and anxiety, you’ll need to find the root cause first. If you are away from home frequently, you may consider getting a dog walker or dog sitter to help your pooch’s loneliness or even consider getting another dog to keep them company. Regular interaction and exercise with your dog are essential to keep them healthy and happy, and this will usually resolve this kind of compulsive behavior.

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4. Pain

A dog has bleeding on its foot
Image Credit: Mrs.Rungnapa akthaisong, Shutterstock

Your dog’s paws are in constant contact with the ground, and they can easily get injured, get thorns or glass stuck, or get debris lodged between the toes. Additionally, their nails could be the issue, as nails that are too long may splinter and cause pain. Dogs will also often attempt to chew their nails shorter if they are too long, so be sure to check that their nails are not damaged or curling into their paw pads.

Perform a thorough check of all your dog’s paws to make sure there is no injury or lodged objects. Also, make sure to keep their nails trimmed to prevent any pain. For most dogs, once every 6 weeks should do the trick.

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5. Parasites

removing mite and flea from dog paw
Image Credit: Naurora, Shutterstock

Fleas, ticks, and dust mites can be maddingly itchy, and your dog may be chewing or licking their paws to relieve this itch. Ticks are easy to find, fleas are a little trickier unless your dog is overrun with them, and mites are microscopic, making them much more of a challenge.

If you live in an area with loads of ticks around, we highly recommend a chewable tick repellent like NexGard. It is recommended by vets and is FDA approved and works better than most other flea and tick repellants. Make sure to purchase the correct chewable for your dog’s weight.

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Final Thoughts

Chewing and licking of paws is fairly typical behavior in dogs, and in fact, it would be strange if your dog didn’t do this once in a while! However, if you notice the behavior becoming compulsive to the point where bleeding or loss of fur is observed, a trip to the vet may be necessary.

Hopefully, you can help your pooch be rid of the habit as soon as possible!

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Featured Image Credit: Julia Serdiuk, Shutterstock