Why Do Dogs Lick Their Paws?

Dogs are rather limited when it comes down to washing themselves and keeping themselves clean- they’ve got one tool for the job. So, why do dogs lick their paws when there are so many other places to clean?

There are a few reasons why dogs lick their paws. Some reasons could involve keeping clean which is fine. However, other reasons aren’t so innocent, such as an injury, skin irritations, allergies, or even parasites! Being anxious or full of unexhausted energy will also lead a dog to start focusing on its paws.

When Dogs Lick Their Paws 

I know, the thought of us licking our feet to clean them is a disturbing one. However, we still make sure to keep our hands and feet clean, right? But, dogs, on the other hand, think nothing of it. Licking paws is part of a dog’s life that is as natural as lapping water or wagging its tail.

There are two overall categories we’re going to use to explain why a dog will be cleaning its paws. One would be Harmless, the other is Warning Signs.

Photo of Dog Licking Paws

Harmless Paw Cleaning

It isn’t uncommon for a dog to begin cleaning himself after a good meal, or sometimes it may be at random (at least to us). Maybe your dog prefers to clean himself before taking in some shut-eye? 

There’s no need to think that there’s any problem when your dog goes through regular bouts of trying to keep itself clean. Any healthy dog will spend some time cleaning wherever it can reach, and among the easiest area to clean are its paws. 

A healthy dog with healthy paws will tend to their paws until they feel like the job is done, and will move on. Either they’ll move on to another area to clean, or will call it quits, and move on to its next venture- perhaps a nap or finding the closest toy to play with.

Paw Cleaning Warning Signs

When dogs start cleaning their paws in a way that seems to be excessive, then it’s time to start paying attention more closely because something might be going on. This is especially true if the dog is obsessing or becoming aggressive in the action of licking its paws. 

Biting Claws

That said, don’t confuse obsessive or aggressive paw licking with nail or claw biting. They may bite at their nails if they’ve grown long enough to become a nuisance to the dog. 

They’ll be cleaning their paw and you’ll see them grab and at times pull at their claw to attempt to remove the overgrown subject. The remedy for this is to clip their claws back, just be sure to do it appropriately according to the type of claw (clear or dark) your particular dog has.

Trouble With the Paw Itself

If a dog is obsessing with a paw, there is a good chance that it could be injured somehow. Either the overall paw could be sore, or there is some sort of irritant on the surface of the paw, on or between its paw pads. 

Since paws are their sole mode of transportation, they likely stepped on something that either irritated or injured the paw. Cutting, bruising, or slight swelling can occur by jumping and landing on something it shouldn’t have or trampling through an area where there might have been debris, broken glass, sharp metal objects, etc.

If you notice your dog spending a particularly long time on a certain paw, take a moment to make some observations. Perhaps there is a wound or a foreign object lodged into its paw. Make sure to check between the paw pads as well as between the toes. 

Dry Skin 

Also, dry skin can affect the paws and can occur if they’ve walked through something that would promote such a condition. The older a dog gets, the more likely it will wind up with some degree of dry skin on its paws. 

This will cause many of the same irritants that we might suffer, such as itching, slight pain, slight burning, cracking, flaking, or peeling. When it becomes noticeable to the dog, you may find it spending an extra amount of time in the affected areas on the paw. 

A remedy to help out your dog if it is suffering from dry skin on the paw is to apply coconut oil. Vitamin E oils will also be a safe option to use in these areas.

Insects and Paws

Stings from insects can be a dangerous problem for dogs, as many are allergic to different types of stings. Bulldogs for example can be very allergic to bee stings and can swell right up, endangering their lives. 

If your dog has been stung, you’ll likely see it before it’s licking, as it will be favoring the paw while walking. An application of good old-fashioned baking soda and water paste will do the trick to remove any undesirables, and an icepack should top everything off to ease the pain.

Other Reasons

Excessive or obsessive paw licking can also be signs of tumors, infections (including yeast infections), overall allergies, parasites, and dermatitis. 

Is Your Dog Bored?

When dogs don’t have an outlet to release some energy, they can get fairly destructive around the house. This is when they take it upon themselves to play with things that you’d rather them not play with, or they can begin focusing more on themselves due to having nothing better to do. 

For whatever reason, their paws become a primary focus. It could be that they’re suffering from anxiety or simple frustration of not having anything to do. 

If you’re going to be away for any real amount of time, say having to go to work, just make sure that the dog has easy access to plenty of chew toys or other fun activities for it to do while you’re gone. 

Final Thoughts

As stated toward the beginning of the article, there are all sorts of reasons why dogs lick their paws. Some are harmless, others are reasons to be concerned, or at least worth checking out. 

This may be an area of a dog’s life that we tend to take for granted due to the normalcy of paw licking. But when we pay attention, we might notice that our dogs could be focusing on their paws for a reason.

Dogs are inherently tough animals, and they can silently suffer without raising any alarms. Because of this, diligence is key to ensuring that your dog is behaving normally, rather than excessively concerning their paws.