What Causes Paw Licking?


By James Leung

James - Managing Director

Excessive paw licking is a common issue that can lead to serious skin problems if left untreated. There are a number of causes and it is important to identify the correct one to ensure the appropriate treatment is applied. As part of the identification process observe which paw or paws the dog is licking. If the main cause is environmental generally all the paws are involved. Below Ive listed the primary causes of excessive paw licking and how they can be treated.

Foreign Objects

Often the cause can be as simple as something lodged in the paw, such as a grass awn stuck between two toes. Carefully check the skin for signs of irritation or damage and if possible remove the object. If it is deeply embedded it may require veterinarian assistance.

Flea Bites

These are a very common cause. Some dogs are certainly more adversely affected than others leading to frequent and more intensive licking. To counter this you willl need to start a flea control regimen for as many environments as practical including your home and garden/outside area. Even if no fleas have been observed it is still something worth doing.

Food Allergies

With the large variety of commercial dog food and treats available be selective and familiar with all the ingredients your pet food contains. Try switching brands if none of the other primary causes of paw licking seem to fit. Behaviour changes and allergic reactions to food are common so again pay close attention when making a switch.

Retractable Leash

Evidence is now starting to appear that the use of a leash attached to a collar around the neck can impinge upon nerves that affect the front paws. This seems to be particularly exacerbated by the use of a retractable leash. According to the Integrative Veterinary Care Journal "the spring of the retractable leash causes a continuous pull that generates a degree of stress in the cervical region... And, when the dog gets to the end of the retractable leash, the sudden stop and jerk causes additional force... This causes spasms and inflammation in the inter-scapular region and nerve and energy meridian pathways are affected or impinged by tight muscles." There a number of other unrelated reasons why a retractable leash should not be used. Switch to a regular leather leash or harness.


This primary cause is the most complex and could be a result of boredom, anxiety, stress, a lack of exercise or a combination of these. Providing adequate physical, mental and emotional exercise are important components in keeping a dog psychologically balanced. Distracting your dog or redirecting it's attention from licking to other activities can also be very helpful. If you are lost for ideas on how to proceed contact a professional dog trainer or canine behaviourist. They can help provide you with a structured treatment plan.

Even after removal of the root cause, the cycle of itching and licking might continue so it's important to prevent this and allow the damaged skin time to heal. To stop the itchiness there are a number of prescription medications available. Antibiotic therapy is commonly used to reduce inflammation. Natural chemical free alternatives such as colloidal oatmeal shampoos are very useful if itching is the problem.

Below Ive listed some additional solutions to help prevent paw licking. Use a systematic approach when using them so you know which ones work and those that do not.

  • To help treat allergens resulting from environmental factors try the following:

  1. After walking try washing your dogs paws with baking soda dissolved in water. It helps to remove allergens and soothe irritated skin. One or two tablespoons per litre should suffice.

  2. Chamomile is known for its ability to sooth. Simply make a cup of tea, let it cool and wash your dogs feet in it.

  3. Epsom salt contains sodium chloride, potassium and nitrates that can assist in restoring the ideal balance of bacteria on a dogs skin. The salt may raise
    the pH level of your dogs skin, which in turn helps regulate healthy
    bacterial ratios. And as a result, it helps to disinfect the problematic areas.

  • Using dog booties prevents access to the affected areas and gives the skin time to heal and you time to work out what the root cause is. Applying shea butter paw rub underneath the booties can protect, heal, and relieve the itchiness.

  • Change your dogs diet by cutting out the carbohydrates and replace with a grain free food based on a higher protein, simple carbohydrate diet. In addition, many dogs diets lack sufficient fatty acids in their food which can affect their mood, their blood chemistry and skin health. Try supplementing with fish oil capsules - 1000 mg, once a day for an average sized dog.

  • Use anti-bacterial wipes that contain colloidal silver. These may reduce the chances of infection and are particularly useful during the wetter months when your dogs feet get wet and exposed to a bacteria rich environment.

  • Medicating with antihistamines usually won't prevent paw licking. They may however, help to calm or make your dog sleepy. This is useful if your dog has worked himself into a frenzy. Consult your vet for the appropriate dose and frequency.

  • Medicating with antidepressants for dogs with an obsessive compulsive behavior can be helpful but this should be viewed as a short term solution only. Increased physical, mental and emotional exercise and stimulation should be the long term goal.

Good luck!