Have you ever had a dog lick your face and thought it was the cutest thing in the world until it just didn’t stop? Yes, even the cutest puppies have their limits with us humans, but what about when the dog licks itself? New pet owners may wonder: Is it normal for a dog to constantly lick a certain area of their body, or could it be a sign of something more serious?
It’s important to be on the lookout for a seemingly cute habit turning into a cry for help from your pup. But there are a few easy ways to spot if your dog is trying to tell you something, or if they’re just going about their grooming routine. With a little help from Dr. Rachel Mar, veterinarian and blogger at The Vitality Vet, here’s everything you need to know about paw licking and your dog.
Should you be worried? Don’t panic just yet, as paw licking can be normal in some dogs as a way of self-grooming. Dr. Mar points out that this is especially true in breeds with longer fur, as these dogs are ensuring no foreign materials, such as thorns or twigs are left in their paws.
"However, paw licking, or feet licking in general, can definitely turn into an obsessive compulsive disorder and lead to further irritation or infection of a paw," says Dr. Mar. That’s where you, the pet owner, come in. It’s up to you to watch and look out for your dog to notice if the paw licking is random and short, or if it’s become a habit that lasts longer than a minute, or if it's repetitive in the same spot or location. Dr. Mar warns that this can cause redness of the skin, or even loss of fur.
"In minor cases, especially in light-colored dogs, it’s easier to tell if paw licking is becoming too frequent in your dog; their paws have 'lick staining,' which is a brownish-red discoloration of their paws caused by the moisture of their saliva staining their fur."
Of course, they could be licking because there's an underlying health issue the dog is trying to address, so in any case, if you notice licking starting up without previously being present, it’s a good idea to talk to a vet.
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As mentioned above, it could be an obsessive compulsive urge that is causing your dog’s licks. Usually if you stop the dog repeatedly every time they start licking, they will stop and move onto doing something else. Pay attention to your dog tending to any one spot of the body and if their behaviors change over time.
"One of the first things we want to rule out when we see licking," says Dr. Mar, "is arthritis of the paw or foot joints." The dog might be feeling pain or tenderness in the affected area and licks it to find some sort of relief. This is why if you notice a behavioral change in your dog, it’s always a good idea to take it to the vet so they can rule out any additional health issues.
Sores or contact dermatitis (Acral Lick Granuloma) is a health issue the dog can create by licking a certain area over and over again for whatever reason. "This is a sore which results from excessive licking of the paw or foot area where dogs first lose their fur, then the skin becomes so raw it ulcerates and starts to bleed,” explains Dr. Mar. It’s important to stop the dog from licking if you notice they start up again.
Just like arthritis, the dog could be feeling pain, tenderness, or other symptoms from allergies or existing infections. "Overall, licking their paws is a dog saying, 'ouch there is a problem here, let me try to fix it,'" says Dr. Mar.
In order to treat paw licking in your animal, you must first understand the underlying cause, which may require a trip to the vet's office. "As vets, it's our goal to help you and your dog get to the bottom of this and do our best to remove these causes," says Dr. Mar. "In rare cases, this is a behavioral issue and training is needed to stop the licking."
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There are many things you can do at home to stop your dog's excessive licking after you've taken your pet to the vet to determine the underlying cause. "The first thing you can do at home is place a collar (cone) on your dog so that they can no longer reach the paw and irritate it more," says Dr. Mar.
If you and your dog are active and enjoy going on hikes, walks, or even to the beach, make sure to check your dog's paws and hair for burrs, tar, foxtails, etc. to stop a problem before it starts. "This will not only help you bond with your dog more, but also help them learn to trust you more, as well as prevent further problems to your dog's paw as you can catch any problems before they start," says Dr. Mar.