Paw Gnawing: Why Dogs Chew on Their Feet

It can produce the most annoying sounds that grind on your nerves like a dripping faucet. That never ending paw gnawing and incessant licking! Those of you that ever experienced it, know oh too well the unforgettable lip smacking and slurping noises we’re referring to. It goes on in the middle of dinner, in the dead of the night, when you are entertaining guest or when you are desperately trying to study for that final exam. “For the love of God, make it stop!” Why must my dog gnaw and lick on his feet like a t-bone steak?

Is it normal for a dogs to chew or lick their paws?

If you’re one of the millions of dog lovers in the world, then you have probably asked yourself on many an occasion if your canine BFF’s chewing or licking behavior is normal. Rest assured, you’re not alone. It turns out dogs are pretty basic creatures that, believe it or not, they are not doing it just to annoy you. We promise. The truth of the matter is, an occasional chew or lick here and there for a few minutes is a relatively normal and acceptable grooming behavior. But keep in mind that it is only normal behavior when they’re not taking it to an extreme. As with most behaviors, too much is never a good thing and typically leads to other problems or health complications. If your four-legged canine friend is passionately going to town on their feet incessantly, then it’s high time you give those paws a closer examination.

Sudden vs Chronic Paw Gnawing and Licking

What’s the difference?

The reason why a dog will chew or lick at their paws can be broken down into two basic groups known as: sudden vs chronic. This refers to the frequency and urgency with which ‘Fluffy’ goes at their paw(s) or if it is a secondary behavior to an alternate problem.

An example of this would be if Fluffy suddenly developed a behavior to lick his paws and subsequently rub his eyes with them. The act of licking his paw to clean his eyes or ears is quite a normal grooming behavior and is no cause for alarm. On the flipside, if Fluffy is constantly ‘cleaning’ his eyes with his paws, the problem might not be with his paws – but rather his eyes.

Alternatively is a pet that has never made an issue of gnawing or licking their paws a day in life before and has now become obsessed with the behavior. In this example, the dog started with a  sudden behavior that led into a chronic condition.

As you can clearly see in these examples, distinguishing the type of behavior will go a long way in helping both you and your vet find a cause – and thereby a remedy. Additionally, whether or not medical intervention is needed.

Sudden Paw Chewing and Licking

What is sudden paw gnawing and licking?

Dog Licking Paw

A sudden drive to chew or lick simply means Fluffy has started going at their paw(s) like it was last night’s pork chop bone with a seemingly ‘out of the blue’ behavior never displayed before. This sudden urge to chew or lick their feet is speculative and often the first clue that something is wrong. Frequently, the culprit is easily discovered once you or a veterinary doctor has given closer inspection. At no time should sudden paw gnawing and licking ever be ignored or punished, as it is usually indicative of trauma caused by pain, irritation or discomfort.

What causes sudden paw gnawing and licking behavior?

Sudden chewing or licking of your dog’s paw often happens during playtime, a walk, run or hike outside. Sometimes, jumping off of furniture or out of vehicles can also cause injury or irritation not readily seen – especially if you have a senior dog with underlying arthritic conditions. These harmless everyday activities are known to break nails, inflame joints and strain soft tissue.

It’s important to note that unusual exposure to chemicals such as flea dips or shampoos can also irritate the skin if used improperly or the dog has an unsuspected adverse reaction. This is why use of potent flea dips and shampoos should always be administered by a licensed professional groomer.

Additionally, harsh chemicals found on roadways or lawns can cause chemical burns to sensitive areas like your pet’s paws. Allergies from environmental elements including grass, weeds, trees and more are another trigger. Here is a list of basic reasons for your pup to start sudden paw gnawing and licking behaviors.

Causes of Sudden Gnawing:

  • Wounds
  • Broken Nail
  • Broken Toe
  • Burns
  • Corns
  • Ticks
  • Burrs
  • Interdigital cysts
  • Tumor/Cancer
  • Nail bed/paw pad autoimmune disease
  • Allergic Skin Disease

Chronic Paw Gnawing and Licking Conditions vs Behaviors

There are two points that we would like to emphasize here; that being the words condition and behavior. First is the word ‘chronic.’ By definition, chronic is used to describe a persistent and acute illness which is long term – as opposed to a behavior. Thereby indicating a medical basis for the reaction.

In contrast the word ‘behavior’ is defined as an action. Therefore meaning the chronic chewing and/or licking has become a chronic behavior, rather than a condition. We have made a point to clarify the difference between the two because they can help rule out unhealthy behaviors patterns versus a medical condition. However, please be advised that both conditions as well as behaviors require attention and should never be ignored.

What is chronic paw gnawing or licking?

Chronic paw gnawers and lickers typically started out at one point in time as sudden. A mere reaction to an immediate problem arisen from pain, injury, illness, allergies or stress induced anxieties. But due to various reasons spanning from neglect, abandonment or an uneducated pet owner, the sudden reaction developed into a chronic condition or behavior over a period of time.

What causes chronic paw gnawing and licking?

So, just why would our furry canine friends constantly chew and lick on their paws insatiably? Well, often times it just feels good to them. Just as it does to you when you have a poison ivy rash or a nervous tendency to crack your knuckles. Like our dogs, our first conditioned response is to react because it feels good – even when it might not be the healthiest thing to do.

A veterinarian should be your first choice to ascertain any underlying physical condition which might have initiated this obsessive compulsive behavior. It is also important to note that chronic gnawing/licking can lead to secondary infections such as yeast and bacteria if left unchecked. This is all the more reason for veterinary invention. This being said, there are treatable physical conditions that should be examined and eliminated which could be causing the unsavvy behavior.

Causes of Chronic Gnawing:

  • Anxieties
  • Atopic Dermatitis
  • Food Allergens
  • Environmental allergens
  • Yeast/bacterial infections

Should I be worried?

Yes. While it’s not uncommon for dogs to occasionally lick or chew their feet, the  sudden onset or chronic behavior is quite another story. Paw gnawing and licking – especially sudden – should be addressed by your veterinarian. This is particularly true if the behavior is accompanied by limping, pain, sores, bleeding, swelling, redness, or signs of infection like odor and drainage.

What should I do next?

Take notice if your beloved furry friend is chewing and/or licking on just one paw or more, and which paw(s) it is. Carefully and gently examine the paws, but be sure to exercise extreme caution. Animals in pain or discomfort can sometimes bite. Spread their pads to look between them for swelling, drainage, redness, objects like splinters, wounds, bleeding and odor; looking closely at their nails for breakage. Most importantly, make an appointment with your vet. The sooner you do, the better for Fido and your sanity!



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