Foot-chewing drives many dog owners crazy. Imagine that you’ve just drifted off to sleep, only to be awakened by the sound of your dog going to town on his paws right next to you. Not the recipe for a pleasant night’s rest, for sure.
Dogs lick their feet for a number of reasons, and they can do considerable damage to themselves if the primary cause of the licking isn’t discovered and treated. Read on to find out what might be causing your dog to chew and lick his feet.
Allergies are likely the number one cause of foot-chewing in dogs. Although foot-chewing can occasionally occur in dogs with only allergies to the food they eat, the majority of these dogs are allergic to environmental allergens.
Dogs can be allergic to pretty much anything they come in contact with, from grass to dust mites. When an allergic dog comes into contact with whatever they’re allergic to, it stimulates a hypersensitivity response, and the resulting inflammation causes an intense state of itchiness. So it makes sense that if a dog is allergic to grass, and the dog walks on grass, his feet are going to get intensely itchy. And licking seems to be pretty effective at momentarily quelling the itch, so allergic dogs lick their feet.
Pain in the toes and feet is a common trigger of licking behavior. There’s even evidence to support the theory that licking stimulates the release of endorphins, naturally-occurring compounds that cause local reduction in pain. So if something hurts or is uncomfortable, and you lick it, causing release of endorphins and ultimately a reduction in discomfort, you’ll keep licking. This is commonly referred to as the itch-lick cycle.
Pain in the feet can be from several causes. Previous trauma can lead to arthritis in the joints of the toes and feet, which can stimulate licking. Spinal problems can also cause pain or tingling in the feet. Slipped disks, also known as intervertebral disk disease, can put pressure on the nerves that travel down the legs to the paws, which results in tingling and something called “neuropathic” pain. In very rare cases pain of this nature can be attributed to a genetic nerve disease, so any excessive paw chewing in a puppy should be investigated immediately.
It’s very easy for dogs that run and play in tall grass to get grass seed heads (sometimes called “grass awns”) lodged between their toes. And since they’re barbed, sort of like a feather, once they get embedded in the skin they can easily migrate into the foot, and get stuck there. It can be several days between the time your dog gets a grass awn stuck between his toes and it causes him enough discomfort to start licking it, and thus, causing you to notice it. And by that time you won’t see any evidence of the grass, and he probably won’t let you look at it anyways.
Usually we have to give a mild sedative and perhaps a little local anesthetic to numb the area between the toes, because it’s already painful and inflamed. Then we can usually flush out the grass with saline, or pull it out with forceps.
If you live where it snows, you’ll likely see ice balls collect on the fur between the toes when you take your dog out for a walk or a romp in the snow. Often they’ll bite and chew at these balls in an effort to remove them, because they pull on the fur and skin and can be quite uncomfortable. You can use a product called Musher’s Secret in the spaces between the toes to discourage ice formation. I’ve also been told that Vaseline works as well, but I haven’t tried it myself, since my dogs are divas and refuse to deviate from the potty-path we have shoveled for Their Royal Highnesses when it snows.
Infections in the feet typically happen in a couple of different ways. Previously we mentioned allergies as a cause of foot chewing, and one of the common secondary problems associated with this is deep bacterial skin infections. If the skin gets chewed enough, bacteria from the mouth is sure to cause infection. And this results in more licking, and so on, and so on….
Dogs can also get fungal infections on their feet, including those caused by yeast and ringworm. These conditions need to be properly differentiated and treated accordingly with anti-fungal drugs.
Dogs can get weird problems of an auto-immune (when the body attacks itself) nature in the nails, but these are pretty rare. The most common cause of foot licking associated with the nails is broken or torn nails. Dogs are notorious for getting their nails briefly stuck in the cracks on decking and in other spaces, and when they move the foot they’ll often fully or partially tear the nail off. This leaves the tender “quick” or “cuticle” exposed, and this hurts, especially when they walk on it. If this happens to your dog you’ll need to have your vet cut or remove the nail, and apply a bandage to keep the foot comfortable enough for walking while the cuticle toughens up again.
Like so many of the weird things our dogs do, we’d love to say that there’s an underlying behavioral problem to foot-licking, like obsessive-compulsive disorder. And while this can happen, it’s pretty rare. Usually there’s another inciting cause to foot-licking, and left untreated a behavioral attachment can develop.
Well I know this was a really long post but it is really important. I hope this helps some of yall. Like always if you have any questions fell free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org