Paws are one of the most important parts of a dog. To a dog, their paw is like a shoe, one which must be kept in perfect condition. It’s common to see a dog licking their paws, but why do they do it, and how licking is too much.
Dogs will lick their paws mainly to clean them, this usually happens after being outside. Although this is the most common reason dogs lick their paws there are other reasons such as injury and bad habits.
It’s not always going to be clear why your dog is licking their paws but it is something that can often happen. We explore the reasons why and give some helpful advice to prevent excessive licking.
Reasons Your Dogs Lick Their Paws
It can become confusing for owners if dogs begin licking their paws at random times. Below are some of the main reasons your dog may lick their paws.
Cleaning and Self Grooming
As with many animals, there are certain hygiene standards. Although it may not be totally obvious at first, the majority of the time when a dog is licking their paws it is for cleaning purposes, this is especially true after being outside. Walking your dog will sometimes result in a dirty or wet dog. In this case, you would understand why they are licking their paws, but if they weren’t dirty would your dog still lick their paws, the answer is yes. Dogs lick their paws to clean them of not just the obvious mud but dead skin, loose hair, dust, and even strange smells. Its always important to ensure that this licking does not descend into excessive licking but it is perfectly natural for your dog to lick themselves for hygiene purposes, especially their paws as these will be the most contaminated.
If you want to reduce the amount of licking your dog does to their paws after being outside you could try rinsing them before they enter the house. There are some nifty pet tools you can use but it can be just as easy to use a deep bowl of warm water. Dogs will also lick their paws to dry them so using a microfibre towel can help quickly soak water up. In addition to drying with a towel, you can have an absorbent mat waiting at your door to catch any mud or water entering the house. It’s not easy keeping on top of things like this but it can be worth it to keep your house clean and your pooch lick-free. Check out our article on “Keeping Your House Clean With Muddy Dogs” for more tips and tricks.
For some dogs licking their paws is psychological whether it’s whilst relaxing inside or they have been outside only for a moment. Even if your dog has only gone outside for a small amount of time, the experience may bring on some urges to lick, particularly their paws.
Although paw licking tends to only happen as a reaction to something, it can stem from habit. Bad habits can escalate and your dog may not just be licking their paws after walks or going outside but also during normal hours of the day. It’s a good idea to keep an eye on their licking habits and if needed distract them with something else, so they learn to forget about licking their paws all the time. This sort of habit may seem harmless at first glance but if your dog becomes really addicted to licking their paws they may begin to create sore patches, which could then lead to infection. It’s best to stop this as soon as you can or at least limit any excessive licking.
This is something that dogs can suffer from quite commonly, certain breeds more than others. You may find your dog is excessively licking their paws after a walk due to swelling or sore areas on the pad. This could be down to an allergic reaction to the environment in which they were walking in, or possibly something at home. Its important to assess whether this happens every time they get back from a walk and to establish whether the swelling goes away on its own. If your dog keeps getting allergy like symptoms after walking or going outside, see your vet as soon as possible. Letting them know about the area in which your dog lives or ventures can help, as a local vet may have seen other dogs with similar reactions.
It is widely known that both humans and dogs have antibacterial properties in their saliva. This is a way for the body to regulate the microbes inside our mouths, however it does not mean that our saliva can heal. A dogs saliva is similar in that it produces high amounts of saliva which they use to lick themselves with. According to a study conducted by the University of California, maternal instincts to lick young pups could be an anti disease habit. The study highlighted that a dogs saliva is bactericidal, giving it the ability to kill bacteria. They identified E. Coli and S. Canis as common bacteria causing illnesses in young pups and concluded that the licking of wounds could be highly effective in killing these types of bacteria. So although your dogs licking habits may be persistent it is a natural instinct that can likely protect them from infections.
Is it Normal For Dogs To Lick Their Paws?
Paw licking is known as a common behavior, especially after a walk. Dogs, just like cats will clean themselves when they think it is necessary. Although it doesn’t seem so obvious dogs also have a hygiene standard built into them and this comes out when they start licking themselves.
According to VetStreet, this common behavior can turn into one which is unhealthy for your dog. There is a big difference between a dog that licks to clean or dry itself and the need to excessively lick. Excessive licking can lead to sore areas on their paws and might be a sign of something more painful than dirt. You should always expect your dog to lick their paws after a walk, especially if it is muddy or wet. However, it is still good to be vigilant as you may not realize how much your dog is licking and in some cases chewing its paws.
Common Reasons A Dogs Paws Might Hurt After A Walk
Going for a walk is probably the most common time your dog will hurt their paws. If you think of your dog’s paws like shoes you will realize how much they actually go through on a dog walk. Depending on the terrain your dog’s paws can stand up to a lot, but that doesn’t mean they can’t get hurt along the way. Here are some common reasons as to why your dog’s paws might hurt after a walk.
Hot Surfaces – This is something that happens more in the summer as the pavements and ground heat up. Owners sometimes don’t realize the damage they can do to their dog’s paws on hot days. You can inadvertently cause burn marks, especially in younger dogs as their paws are much more tender than an adult dog. For advice on walking your dog in the summertime, check out our article “A Helpful Guide To Walking Your Dog in the Summer”. One of the most common effects of walking on hot surfaces is cracked paws. Hot surfaces along with general wear can cause cracks to appear in the pad’s surface. If your dog starts licking excessively it may cause further damage by opening the crack up.
Thorns and Brambles – Another common injury dogs can get when walking is a thorn in their paw pads. If your dog is anything like mine a thorn in his paw will stop him in his tracks. An over-dramatic limp will happen and he will just stop until I’ve got it out, clever dog…or manipulative. If our walking in woodland or more rural settings bramble and thorns can occur fairly easily so it can be a good idea to encourage your dog not to run into the bushes. Thorns are easily removed, just make sure that you have got all the thorns and there is non still stuck inside your dog’s paw pad. Sometimes the excitement of being out and about will cause your dog to not notice a thorn and when they get home you find them licking their paws excessively after their walk.
Cuts and Scrapes – This can occur more often in energetic dogs running around off lead and getting into everything. Cuts are most likely going to happen randomly and it would be difficult to identify where it could happen the most. Scrapes on the other hand usually occur because of momentum. Dogs don’t really give much thought to stopping when they start running down a hill and more often than not they will come to a skidding halt. If done on hard rocky surfaces, scrapes can occur and you may only realize after a walk. Your dog will be licking their feet excessively due to the sore area caused by the scrape. It’s important to identify this as soon as possible as excessive lick can cause them to open the scrape up and make it worse.
Ice and Road Chemicals – In our other article, “A Guide To walking Your Dog In The Winter”, we highlighted that not only snow and ice but road chemicals can cause serious harm to your dog’s paws, and walks during these times should be limited. When walking in the snow dogs tend to get ice build-up between their toes, this can become quite painful as the hairs between them freeze together. In addition to this, the salt and chemicals we use on our roads can cause even more pain especially if your dog’s paw is wounded, hence the expression “rubbing salt in the wound”. In the case of winter walking, you don’t want to let your dog lick their paws after a walk unless you have cleaned them beforehand. Cleaning your dog’s paws after a walk will ensure that your dog does not ingest any chemicals.
Injury Or Overuse – In some cases, your dog may have just overused their paws and caused more of an aching feeling in them. Injury through overuse can occur more commonly in large breeds as there is more weight to bear when running around and jumping off things. Injuries such as sprains are random and can occur near the end of a walk when your dog is feeling weaker and so can’t take the full force of its own weight. You may not know if your dog has sprained their paw until you get open. However limping should usually be the first sign of an injury, but excessive licking is sure to be the second.
Matting and Mud – Its clear and obvious to many owners that dogs love mud. No matter how we dress them up, groom them or make them look like dog show material, at the end of the day dogs will always love mud. However, despite your pooch loving a roll around mud can cause painful matting to occur between your dogs toes. Its important to cut matts out before they start to get close to the skin. Matting is something that longer haired dogs tend to get and it is extremely common. Dogs will lick their paws to clean them and in turn attempt to get the matting out, but its difficult if you have just a tongue to work with. Having a decent grooming routine will see to any matting that occurs on your dog and keep their paws in tip top shape. Here’s our guide on cleaning your dog after a walk.
How To Prevent Paw injuries During Walks
So we have established what can cause injuries to your dog and the reasons as to why they may be licking them excessively. Now it is time to identify how you could protect your dogs paws during a walk.
- Dog Boots/Shoes – This is probably one of the most popular choices owners make when deciding on how best to protect their dogs paws. Dog boots are a good way of protecting your dogs paws in the snow and ice, or even on long distance hikes. However dog boots don’t tend to be very comfortable for your dog to wear and so for normal short walks i wouldn’t recommend getting these unless you place on hiking or playing in the snow. Some owners think that dogs wearing boots can walk on hot surfaces and this is not entirely true, you should still consider the heat transfer through the boot. Even though your dogs paw wont get directly burnt, they could be sweltering hot inside that dog boot.
- Socks – Socks for dogs are essentially a more flexible boot for your dog to wear. There are many good brands that provide socks with anti slip coatings on the bottom. These can be used in cold weather and on long hikes, as your dog will feel more comfortable in these, although a little strange at first. Again these should not be worn on hot pavements as your dogs paws can still get hurt through the material.
- Paw Wax – This is a popular compound used to protect your dogs paws from the ice and harsh chemicals that get spread onto our roads. Paw wax wont be much good for protecting your dogs paws during long hikes or on rough surfaces, it is mainly used in cold weather. The main attribute of paw wax is similar to that of moisturiser, as it prevent your dogs paws from cracking, which will hopefully reduce the amount of licking your dog does.
How To Stop Your Dog Excessively Licking Their Paws
Before you begin trying to stop them from excessively lick their paws, its important to establish whether the reason behind their licking is health related or behavioural. More often than not excessive licking is due to a health reason whether it be allergies or injury. If this is the case you should assess every part of your dogs paw and consult your veterinarian for advice and guidance. If the problem is behavioural, you should attempt to detach them from this bad habit.
Paw licking is generally treated as something that dogs should be doing whenever they feel the need, but excessive licking can cause more harm than good. Because we should treat licking as a good trait to have telling your dog off is not something that will work very well. You will upset your dog and essentially make them not want to lick their paws even when it’s OK to do so. Some advice online will also tell you to put something bad tasting on their paw which is not a good idea, again you will just upset your dog and it is unnecessary. The best technique to use is the art of distraction. Giving your dog a toy to play with can be a good opportunity to bond with your pooch and also move their thoughts over from licking their paws. If all else fails you may want to see you veterinarian as they could offer some advice, including behaviour classes.
The reasons as to why your dog licks their paws can be many, so it is always a good idea to asses the situation yourself and determine where the behaviour is stemming from. Always try to protect your dogs paws as best you can, they use them more than you realise and in the long run your dog will have a much happier life with healthy paws to walk on. If you enjoyed this article why not check out some of our others.
Citations: BL, Hart and KL, Powell., University of California., Physiology and Behaviour., Volume 48, Issue 3., 1990