The room is quiet except for the sound of Fido vigorously licking his feet.
Telling him “no” lasts for about 30 seconds and he is back at it. You are on the verge of pulling your hair out because you feel helpless and frustrated.
Understanding some of the reasons for paw licking can help you to help Fido to break his bad habit. The first thing you as a responsible pet owner need to do is to try to determine why your dog is obsessively licking his paws.
There are two main causes to obsessive foot licking. The problem can be a medical one or it can be a behavioral issue. It is important to determine the underlying cause so that you can treat the problem.
Ask yourself two questions. Does my dog have itchy paws? Does my dog lick his paws out of boredom, anxiety or instinct?
Some experts suggest that a dog that licks only one paw with no visible injury or just his or her front paws probably does it for psychological reasons. A dog that licks all four paws may be suffering from allergies, environmental factors or physiological issues.
Let us look at some of the common reasons for paw licking. One is pain. A dog that has a splinter between its pads may lick as a means of relieving the pain. If your dog suddenly begins licking one or more paws, take the time to thoroughly check all four feet. Look closely between the pads to determine if there is any kind of injury or if there is a foreign object lodged there. Look for signs of an insect bite or a broken nail.
If you don’t find a physical reason for the licking, you need to consider the fact that your dog could have a behavioral problem.
In addition, realize that paw licking is often a result of stress from either an internal or external factor. You have the tough chore of determining the cause of the stress. Is it an allergy? Does the dog have parasites such as fleas that may cause excessive itching? Are there any environmental issues that could be the cause? For example, contact with snow melt products can cause irritation to a dog’s feet.
Complications resulting from infections, hypothyroidism or changes in brain chemistry can cause a dog to lick obsessively, which leads to more licking. It is a never-ending downward spiral that will only get worse if left untreated.
Food allergies are a common cause of excessive paw licking. You may want to discuss the situation with the dog’s veterinarian, who can recommend and prescribe non-allergenic dog foods.
In addition, allergies to carpets, cleaning products or plastics are common causes of excessive paw chewing.
Anxiety is another underlying cause of paw licking. Anxiety such as your leaving the house for the day can set Fido off on a record-breaking lick session. You leave home while the dog has hair on his or her feet. By the time you arrive back home, the dog’s feet are bald, red and raw.
It is a good idea to make sure your dog has plenty of toys to keep him or her busy because boredom is another very common cause of foot licking.
In fact, it seems that the most intelligent dogs have the ability to become the most obsessive lickers. They need more to keep their minds occupied. A dog bred for herding wants to herd. A dog trained for rescues needs something to do, so be sure to provide plenty of exercise and work opportunities.
Compulsive or chronic paw licking generally follows a cycle that you will have to find the means to break. First comes the trigger. It may be a stressful event or an environmental issue. The dog licks as it reacts to the stressful trigger. Once the licking begins, the dog’s owner makes an appointment with the vet, who may prescribe steroids, antibiotics, pain killers and/or antidepressants. The doctor may also recommend bandages, boots or even a muzzle. Your dog may end up wearing a cone-like Elizabethan collar that keeps it from being able to reach its paws to do further damage.
The sad part is that it is quite possible that none of the doctor’s treatments will work, causing the owner to become increasingly more frustrated. The dog picks up on the owner’s frustrations and may misinterpret it as disapproval.
Remember, the dog does not understand why all of a sudden it has a plastic cone wrapped around its head. The confusion felt by the dog often cause more licking, thus making the problem worse.
Add in the fact that excessive licking can cause physical problems that result in a secondary infection. In severe cases, the chronic paw licking can lead to a lick granuloma, which is a collection of dead cells and tissue that form inside an infected wound. A lick granuloma resembles a nasty looking ulcer.
Unfortunately, dogs can become chemically addicted to the act of licking and chewing their paws. Experts believe that the dog’s licking actually raises endorphin levels. As time goes on, the dog actually becomes addicted to the feel that these opiate-like chemicals produce.
As the owner of a dog that begins to excessively lick its feet, you need to take action promptly. Do not allow the condition to go unchecked. The longer the dog is allowed to get away with chewing and licking its feet, the harder it will be to get the dog to stop the obsessive behavior.
Fast action can also save you money because treating lick granulomas can become expensive when you add up the vet bills and medication costs.
Do you and your dog a favor. Make a point of doing a daily examination of the dog’s foot pads. Make a game of it so that you are not the stress trigger that starts the excessive licking. Offer up a treat and include a nice body massage. Fido will soon learn to roll over and wait because what you do feels good.