Pet parents see a lot of weird dog behavior as pets grow up, but one of the weirdest is foot-chewing. A dog will curl up on their favorite chair and start biting at their toes, or plop down on the kitchen floor and gnaw — sometimes during the most embarrassing times, like when their pet parent is entertaining a date.
So, why do dogs chew on their feet, and what can a pet parent do about it? The first step is to look for what else might be going on. Once the cause of chronic foot chewing or licking is clear, pet parents can help their pups feel better — which may sometimes require an online vet consultation or medication.
Why Dogs Lick Their Feet
1. Injury to the Paw
When a dog isn’t usually a paw-licker and suddenly starts chewing on one particular foot, they may have injured it. Dogs step in things that get embedded between their pads and occasionally puncture the skin. Foxtails, burrs, or splinters are common. In the same way that we humans get splinters and bits of glass when walking barefoot, dogs can step on something sharp and not be able to remove it.
What to Look For
Pick up the paw that the dog has been licking and closely examine it. Use fingers to gently spread the pads and check under the fur, searching for:
- Punctures or cuts
- Debris (gravel, sticks, etc,)
The first step is always to remove anything that shouldn’t be there, including dirt, debris, gravel, grass, and more. If the dog whines or yelps when touching their paw but no debris or cut can be easily seen, seek a veterinary consult to help determine the cause of the pain.
Managing Paw Injuries
Start by wiping down the dog’s paws with a damp cloth, focusing on in between the pads. Sometimes this will immediately solve the problem, as the wiping will jiggle out whatever was stuck there.
If something has broken the skin, a little more doggy first aid might be in order. If it’s just a small cut, treat it with iodine and apply a triple antibiotic ointment like Neosporin once or twice a day until fully healed. A twice-daily Epsom salt soak can help speed up the healing process, too.
If the source of the small injury can be easily found, a pair of clean tweezers can help to gently remove debris. Splinters and glass shards are tougher to deal with. If lucky, they won't be embedded very far into the skin, and pet parents should be able to gently slide them out. Occasionally, though, slivers may be stuck too deep, which can happen if the dog has continually walked on the paw and pushed the splinter, fox tail, or shard deeper. If so, a vet’s help may be needed.
Contact a vet if:
- The affected area is red or swollen, has a pus-like discharge, or smells unpleasant
- An object is embedded too far to lift out easily
2. Allergic Skin Disease
Itchy paws are a classic sign of a canine allergic reaction. Like humans, dogs can be allergic to many things in their environment — mold, pollen, dust, plants, and so on. They can also develop allergies to ingredients in their food.
Allergies can show up or develop in dogs of any age. Even if a dog was fine with pollen last year, they may suddenly develop an allergy during the Spring. Even if a dog has eaten the same food for years, they may develop a food allergy or intolerance of a staple ingredient in the food due to overconsumption.
What to Look For
Any time a dog develops a chronic paw-licking problem, seemingly out of nowhere, consider the possibility of allergies. Check for other allergy symptoms, including:
- Paw-licking in specific situations (coming in from outside, after meals, etc.)
- Redness or rashes around the toes
- Ear scratching
- Runny eyes or discharge
- Itching or rashes elsewhere on the body
Wash them away.
Bathing a dog 2 to 3 times a week can help scrub away environmental allergens that cause itchy feet. Medicated shampoo can provide some extra relief.
For dogs with outdoor allergies, a quick wipe-down after walks and play sessions can help prevent anything from getting stuck. Focus on the feet to prevent paw-licking, and remember to wipe between the toes!
Try allergy meds.
Over-the-counter human antihistamines like Benadryl, generically sold as diphenhydramine, generally work well to relieve itching in dogs. The recommended dose is usually 1 mg of Benadryl per pound of body weight, given with food. Chat with an online veterinarian for specific guidance on how to administer antihistamines for a pet for specific guidance and recommendations.
Dogs who take Benadryl may experience many of the same side effects as humans do. Some get drowsy; others may develop a rapid heartbeat, drool more, or have temporary trouble urinating. Don’t hesitate to chat with a Fuzzy veterinarian if there are any concerns.
Some anxious dogs lick their paws as a way of self-soothing, similar to a child who sucks their thumb. Just like with a child, addressing the anxiety should be the pet parent’s number-one job rather than merely treating the symptom of paw licking.
What to Look For
To recognize when a dog chews their feet because they’re anxious, look for:
- Paw-licking and chewing with no visible cause
- Patterns in when the dog licks their paws (when someone leaves the house, after a car trip, in new or unfamiliar places, etc.)
Other anxious behaviors like whining, crying, or barking
Clinginess and other separation woes
Managing Dog Anxiety
Figure out the source. This can be easier said than done, especially since pet parents can’t exactly ask their fur babies what makes them nervous.
Offer anxiety meds. There are many anxiety medications and treats out there that treat canine anxiety. Some dogs love relaxation chews, while others respond better to calming collars and pheromone sprays. Try a few options and see what works best.
Want to know more about anxiety, foot-chewing, or other dog health questions? Become a Fuzzy member and access 24/7 Live Vet Chat for on-demand support. Sign up today and enjoy the peace of mind that comes with knowing that whenever a dog starts licking their paws, pet health advice is just a phone call away.