For a dog, chewing paws is a pretty common behavior. In this article, we’ll help you figure out the difference between problem chewing and normal chewing. And give you some tips for preventing your dog from chewing their paws unnecessarily.
Throughout their life, every dog is bound to chew their paws at least once. However, just because this behavior is common does not necessarily mean that you should not be worried or look for a way to prevent your dog from insistently licking and chewing their paws.
Sometimes, your dog licking his or her paw can be problematic, but other times it is completely normal behavior. Telling the difference between normal chewing and dangerous chewing can be difficult, and preventing your dog from licking their paws more than necessary can pose an even bigger challenge.
When Should I Worry About My Dog Chewing Paws?
If your dog only chews or licks on their paws occasionally or when they are dirty, you probably don’t have anything to worry about. A dog will clean his paws by licking them when they are dirty. Dogs will also lick and then use their paws to clean their face and head similarly to cats, though this behavior is somewhat rarer in dogs than their feline counterparts.
If your dog appears to be licking and chewing his or her paws to clean them or their head, you probably have nothing to worry about. This is considered normal, healthy behavior. However, if your dog is licking and chewing their paws excessively when they do not appear to be dirty, it’s time to start looking into their behavior.
When a dog excessively chews their paws, there is almost always an underlying problem causing their behavior. Finding this underlying problem, though, is often easier said than done.
When to Seek Vet Care for Dog Chewing Paws
When a dog chews on his or her paws, it is often accompanied by other symptoms as well, which can help you get to the root of their problem. Most of the time, excessive licking and chewing can be corrected at home, but occasionally vet care is required. Excessive chewing usually either appears suddenly or lasts for a long time. Taking into account when your dog’s abnormal behavior started and how long it has lasted can help you figure out what has led to this behavior in the first place.
If your dog’s chewing is also accompanied by redness, swelling, odor, bleeding, or limping it is time to take them to the vet to get checked for a possible infection. When excessive licking is present, your dog’s skin can easily become irritated, and open wounds can develop. Since the wounds are constantly irritated and not given the opportunity to heal, a secondary infection can set in quite easily.
If this is the case for your pooch, it is time to seek veterinary attention. A vet can take skin scrapings and start a culture, which will show you whether or not your canine has an infection. This infection will likely be treated with medication depending on the specific type.
Why Do Dogs Chew Their Paws?
Dogs should only chew on their paws to clean them or remove debris from their fur. If they appear to be chewing on their paws for other reasons, it is time to put on your detective hat and take a close look at your dog’s behavior. If your dog has begun licking their paws suddenly, check their feet over for puncture wounds, broken claws, and foreign bodies stuck in between their toes. It is not unusual for dogs to get a briar or bur stuck in their toes and have difficulty getting it out.
On the other hand, if your dog’s paw chewing is chronic, it is most likely caused by an allergic reaction. Specifically, a food allergy is the most likely culprit. Secondary infections from the repetitive licking and chewing can then exacerbate this behavior, which leads to it becoming chronic.
While dogs can chew on their paws out of habit, the habit was usually initially started by a different, non-behavioral problem. Correcting that problem can result in a decrease and eventual stop to the troublesome chewing.
How to Stop my Dog from Chewing his Paws
The specific steps you take to decrease the problem depend a lot on the original cause. So, let’s look at each possible cause in turn and discuss possible treatments.
Dog Chewing Paws Remedy – Puncture Wounds
If you notice puncture wounds on your pet’s paws, it is likely to be the culprit behind their repetitive chewing. While puncture wounds usually heal on their own, the process of healing can cause the skin to become itchy, which explains your dog’s chewing. It is important to encourage your dog not to insistently lick the wound to allow it to heal. Puncture wounds can easily get infected, so it is important to keep an eye out for infection and take your pup to the vet as soon as you notice any symptoms.
Puncture wounds are usually caused by a foreign body entering your dog’s paw, such as a splinter or nail. As soon as you notice a puncture wound, it is important to inspect it to ensure that whatever caused it is not still in your dog’s paw. If possible, you should remove the foreign object with a pair of tweezers. When this is not possible or your notice severe redness and ooze coming from the wound, take your dog to the vet right away.
If your dog has long hair that appears to be packing into the wound, it is probably in your canine’s best interest to shave or trim the hair around the puncture. You should not apply any ointment to your pet’s wound without first speaking to the vet. Some ointments designed for humans are not safe for pets, especially if they are ingested. If a puncture wound is the cause of your dog’s paw chewing, it is likely to go away as soon as the wound is healed.
Dog Chewing Paws Remedy – Broken Claws
Broken claws are pretty uncommon in dogs, but they can happen. Because a dog’s claws are more sensitive than human fingernails, injuries and tearing of the claw are often exceedingly painful and prone to infection.
If you notice that your dog’s claws are torn, it is important to apply first aid and then take them to the vet for follow-up care. Your priority when treating your dog’s broken nail is to stop the bleeding. A dog’s nail can bleed quite a bit when broken, so do not be surprised if your dog’s paw is suddenly coated in blood. Applying pressure, however, can stop the blood flow within five to ten minutes.
Do not attempt to remove the claw even if it appears to be hanging. Your dog’s claws are extremely close to the last bone of the toe and inappropriately trimming or pulling the nail can lead to serious injury for your dog. Instead, throw a towel over it and take your pooch to the vet right away.
Dog Chewing Paws Remedy – Foreign Body in Between Toes
If your dog has been out romping around in the woods, it is not uncommon for them to get things stuck in between their toes and have trouble pulling them out. Luckily, your dog has you to help them remove the pesky burr or briar from in between their toes. This is usually pretty easy with just a pair of scissors and some patience.
The hardest part of removing a foreign object from in between your dog’s toes is finding the object. You probably know what paw the object is stuck in, but finding the exact location can take a lot of patience. Offer your dog a wooden spoon with some peanut butter on it and begin slowly opening and looking in between your dog’s toes.
Since burrs usually become wrapped up in fur, it is usually best to use your fingers to feel between and under each toe. Burrs are almost always easier to feel than see. Once you’ve located the object, simply cut it out with a pair of scissors. Try not to pull on the object too much; your dog’s paws are very sensitive, and excess pulling might prompt a bite from even the calmest dog!
Dog Chewing Paws Remedy – Allergic Reaction
Chronic dog paw chewing is almost always caused by an allergic reaction. Generally, this reaction is almost always from your pet’s dog food. There are a number of ways to combat this problem, but switching to minimal-ingredient dog food is usually the easiest and most straightforward.
You could also cut food out of your pet’s diet one-by-one until the problem corrects itself, but this usually takes far longer than simply switching to an allergy friendly dog food and is almost impossible unless your pet is on a raw food diet.
If switching your pet’s food does not work, look at the chemicals you use around your home next. Your dog might be allergic to their shampoo or to the cleaner you use on the floor. Try switching each cleaner one at a time until your dog appears to be recovering.
Environmental allergens can also cause your pooch to have an allergic reaction. In this case, it is usually harder to identify the culprit. After all, how are you ever supposed to narrow down your dog’s allergy to one specific kind of weed or pollen? In this case, taking your dog to the vet is your most suitable option. Your vet might be able to help you discover what your dog is allergic to or prescribe a medication to lessen the reaction.
If nothing you seem to be doing is working, it is important to take your pet to the vet. Often, your dog’s chewing is not JUST chewing. Instead, it is likely caused by another disorder or problem that needs to be discovered and treated.
Dog Chewing Paws Remedy – Secondary Infections
Secondary infections usually take root after your pooch has already begun chewing their paws. In this case, simply treating the original cause will not cause your dog’s chewing to stop. The secondary infection must be treated as well. For example, if your dog originally began chewing on their paw because of a skin allergy, they might not necessarily stop after the allergen has been removed if a secondary infection has set in.
The most common symptoms of secondary infection are swelling, redness, and sensitivity. Your canine might even hold the infected foot up when they walk or avoid walking altogether.
Secondary infections must be treated by a vet with medication. Topical ointments might also be prescribed alongside antibiotics or antifungals. Dogs usually respond well to medication, and the infection clears up within a week or two. If you expect that your pet has a secondary infection, seek vet treatment before it gets any worse. Your vet will be able to plan the appropriate treatment for your pooch and prescribe the correct medication.
Dog Chewing Paws Treatment
As you can see, the treatment for your pooch chewing their paws is dependent on the cause. Usually, the cause can be pinpointed by the owner and treated from there. However, if you are having difficulties discovering the cause of your dog’s chewing, or your at-home treatment does not seem to be working, take your dog to the vet as soon as possible.
Stopping your pet’s chewing is important to prevent a secondary infection from setting in, and your vet will probably want to see your canine to ensure that their paws have not already become infected. Plus, seeing your vet could never hurt!
How to Stop Dog Chewing Paws
When your pet begins chewing their paws, it can be extremely frustrating, especially if you cannot figure out the exact cause. Luckily, there are only a few possible causes for the chewing behavior, and many of them are easily ruled out. Hopefully, you can pinpoint that cause and begin treating your pet. If in doubt, your vet is only a phone call away!
References and Further Reading
- “Dog Paw Injury? How to Care for the Wound.” Cherished Companions Animal Clinic. 2016.
- Buzhardt, Lynn. “First Aid for Broken Nails in Dogs.” VCA Hospitals.
- Lewis, Thomas. “Diagnosing food allergies in dogs and cats—Bring your case to trial.” Veterinary Medicine. 2017.
- White, Stephen. “Pododermatitis.” Veterinary Dermatology. 1990.
- Breathnach, Rory. “Clinical, immunological and histopathological findings in a subpopulation of dogs with pododermatitis.” Veterinary Dermatology. 2005.