A photo of a brown colored dog who is licking their snout and laying outside on the ground

Health & Wellness

Why do dogs lick their paws?

If your dog is licking their paws excessively, they might have allergies or be in pain.

Dogs bathe themselves with their tongues, so if you notice your dog licking his paws for a short period, it's probably just normal behavior. That said, excessive paw licking can be a sign of allergies, irritations or even pain. If you're trying to figure out if your dog's paw licking is normal or something that needs to be seen by a vet, here's what you need to know.

Common causes for dogs to lick their paws

Some paw licking in dogs is completely normal behavior. Dogs use their tongues to clean and bathe, so if your dog starts licking their paws after walking outside in dew-soaked grass, they're probably just cleaning things up. But, excessive paw licking can point to other potential problems.

"Most of the time when a dog is licking their paws, it's because they have allergy problems, osteoarthritis pain or because they're bored or stressed," Dr. Melissa Best, DVM, a US-trained and-licensed veterinarian and the owner of Tranquila Vet in Costa Rica, says.

Licking is one way dogs manage to itch themselves — so it may not surprise you that a dog suffering from allergies might lick their paws. What could be surprising is that the most common cause of allergic licking is due to food, not external irritants.

"Most allergies in dogs are due to food rather than environmental allergies. However, some dogs do have allergies to pollens, molds, grasses and so forth," Dr. Best explains.

And, if you're quick to assume that your dog's food allergies may be related to grain intake like many human allergies are, you need to think again. "Most food allergies are due to the protein source in the food, and not to grains. Grain allergy is extremely uncommon, and feeding a grain-free diet can possibly cause very serious heart problems in your pet, so it's important to discuss any possible allergies and dietary changes with your vet before you switch dog foods," Dr. Best warns.

RELATED: Dog allergies: symptoms and treatments

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How much licking is too much? When is paw-licking excessive?

If some paw-licking in dogs is normal, how can you know when to contact your vet? It's a good question, and there are some clear signs. "If you start to notice 'lick-staining' which is a brown color to the paws, or if your dog is licking more than 30-60 seconds several times a day, there is probably something going on that needs to be addressed," Dr. Best says.

And while you may be tempted to "wait and see" if the licking improves, the sooner you see your vet, the better. "Because the possible underlying causes of paw licking are so different, it's best to have it checked out by your vet. There may be clues on the physical exam that help your vet identify whether your dog has allergies or if your best friend might be in pain or discomfort that needs to be addressed," Dr. Best explains.

Things to check for at home before you visit your vet

If your previously-content dog suddenly starts licking their paws a lot more than usual, it's worth thinking about whether they've been exposed to any potential irritants. "If the licking just started and you're using new cleaning products or having your lawn treated, it may help to give your dog a foot bath and wash off any residual chemicals that may be irritating them," Dr. Best says. But, she reiterates that if the licking continues, it's time to make an appointment with your vet.

Photo by Liam Read on Unsplash

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