Why do dogs lick their paws excessively : small brown dog licking its paw

If you notice staining of the fur around your dogs paws, this could be a sign they have been licking excessively.

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Why do dogs lick their paws excessively?

By Greta Inglis Dog Behaviourist | Animal Behaviourist

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Excessive paw licking may indicate an underlying health concern for your dog. Here we look at the reasons behind this behaviour, and what you can do about it.

Occasional paw licking is a normal habit within the world of canines, used to remove dirt and debris.

But if you notice your dog licking their paws excessively, this could indicate underlying health or behavioural issues that may require further investigation.

What does it mean when a dog licks their paws excessively? 

There are many reasons a dog might lick their paws excessively, ranging from joint pain to food intolerances


Dogs often lick their paws if they are experiencing aches or pains of some kind. This can be in response to joint issues, particularly in the case of older dogs. It may also be due to an injury, such as a cut or scrape on the paw pad or the dog's skin. 

Your dog may also have walked on a surface that caused discomfort such as a patch of ice or a hot pavement. They could even have been bitten by an insect, which may require treatment from your veterinarian. 

Environmental allergies

Itchy or dry skin is perhaps one of the most common reasons a dog might lick their paws excessively. This kind of irritation is often caused by environmental allergies, which can range from household cleaning products to grasses, seeds or dust

Allergic reactions

Allergens are not only present in the environment, and paw licking can also be a symptom of flea allergies or a reaction to your dog's diet

If your dog has a bad flea infestation, this can lead to flea allergy dermatitis. Also known as flea bite hypersensitivity, this illness occurs when your pet's immune system overreacts to flea saliva, resulting in fur loss and inflammation of the skin. 

Paw licking is also a common reaction to food allergies. Dogs can be particularly sensitive to products such as dairy, wheat, soy and chicken, which can result in itchy paws. 

If your dog seems particularly bothered by their paws just after eating, or only when fed specific foods, your vet may need to run tests to check for food sensitivities. They will then be able to prescribe hypoallergenic food for your pup.

Bacterial or yeast infections

When dogs lick their paws excessively, it can lead to moisture in the area. This can make the paws more susceptible to irritation of the skin, which in turn causes discomfort.

Bacterial or yeast infections can aggravate the problem for your pet, creating a cycle that is difficult to resolve. For this reason, you should always contact your vet if you notice your dog is spending lots of time licking their paws

Behavioural issues

While excessive paw licking is often a common symptom of a medical problem, it's important to remember that there could also be behavioural issues at play

Boredom can be a contributing factor when it comes to excessive licking in dogs, particularly if they associate attention with the behaviour. Providing lots of physical and mental stimulation for your pet can help them to settle in your absence. 

Anxiety is also commonly associated with paw licking, used by dogs to reduce discomfort when they are feeling stressed. It is sometimes seen in dogs that experience separation anxiety. In these cases, the licking is a symptom of an underlying issue, that may require behaviour modification with the support of a professional.

Lick granuloma, or acral lick dermatitis, occurs when a dog licks an area of the limbs or paws obsessively. The condition is thought to be both physical and psychological, and is commonly seen in breeds such as the Labrador Retriever and the Great Dane.  It may begin originally because the dog experiences irritation or pain, through a scratch or sting, but this then develops into repetitive licking and further damage to the area. Treatment in these cases will involve addressing the root cause of the licking behaviour, perhaps with the addition of anti-inflammatory topical medication, followed by behaviour modification where applicable. 

Compulsive licking is also often seen in senior dogs experiencing canine cognitive dysfunction (CCD), also known as dementia. If you suspect your dog may be suffering from CCD, you will need to speak with your veterinarian to decide on an appropriate treatment plan.

Sudden excessive paw licking in dogs: Here's what to do

If you're concerned your dog is licking their paws more than usual, start by inspecting the area for irritation or injury. Keep an eye out for any soreness, red skin or an object that may be causing the discomfort. 

You may be able to make your dog more comfortable while you wait to speak with your veterinarian. If there are no signs present, but your dog continues to lick their paws, you will need to seek further support. Your vet may arrange an allergy test at your local practice.  

Home remedies to stop your dog licking their paws 

There are a number of home remedies that can help alleviate irritation for your pet, which can be tried at home after speaking with your veterinarian. 

Coconut oil can help soften and moisturise the paw pads, which can be particularly useful for dogs with sensitive skin. 

Oats are also a great way to relieve itching. Simply grind plain oats into a powder and mix them with warm water. Gently taking your pup's paw, soak it in the oat water for around 10 minutes, before rinsing and drying thoroughly. 

Keeping their paws healthy and happy is the best way to avoid problems for your dog in the long-run. You can do this by regularly checking for any signs of pain or injury, keeping the nails short and the pads and surrounding fur clean. If you do suspect an underlying issue, consult your veterinarian for guidance.

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