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Why does your beloved pet incessantly lick his paws? Here are the top causes of paw licking and how to treat each one:

1)  Theres a foreign body (usually affects one paw). Sometimes grass seeds penetrate the skin between the toes, causing redness and swelling. A small entry point may be visible, and if there is a secondary infection, you’ll see a little yellow discharge. Your vet will need to sedate your pet and open the area to remove the foreign body.

2)  Cut paw pad (usually affects one paw, but could affect more ~ depends on the cause). Small cuts on the paw pads can take a long time to heal. They are usually painful to the touch and dogs will continually lick them. Your vet would normally bandage the paw to allow the cut to heal properly.

3) Torn toenail (usually one paw). Check all the nails and nail beds. Torn toenails are very painful and sensitive. Your vet will normally sedate your pet and remove the affected nail or trim it, depending on where the damage is. Sometimes the quick of the nail is then exposed and your pet may need a bandage for a few days.

4)  Contact allergy (usually all four paws). Contact allergens such as grasses and various cleaning products can aggravate the sensitive skin between your pet’s paw pads, causing redness and irritation of the skin. If you’ve noticed this reaction frequently after walks, try rinsing your dog’s paws with water after walks, and observe if there is any change. You can also cover their feet with boots or rubber socks.

5)  Food allergy dermatitis (usually all four paws). Certain proteins and carbohydrates can cause allergies in pets, usually manifesting in the skin. The paws are often affected. You will need to do a 12-week exclusion diet, removing one suspect ingredient at a time and observing the results.

6)  Secondary yeast infections (can be one or more paws). Any irritation to the skin between the paw pads can disrupt the natural microbes of the skin. When this happens, we sometimes see bacterial and yeast infections, which are extremely itchy and can exacerbate paw licking. When yeast infections are the cause, your pet will need antibiotics and anti-fungals.

7)  Arthritis or general pain (can be one or more paws). Pain will often cause dogs to lick, and arthritic pain may well be the culprit. Licking stimulates the body to release endorphins, the ‘feel-good hormones’ and the body’s natural pain relievers. The pain could be located anywhere in the body; an arthritic pet may be unable to reach painful joints such as the hip and will lick the paws simply because they’re closest. These pets usually respond very well to acupuncture as a natural way of managing pain. In severe cases, your vet may prescribe anti-inflammatories and painkillers and may request X-rays to confirm the diagnosis.

8)  Neural pain (usually one paw). A pinched nerve in the neck or back could cause a shooting, burning sensation down the leg towards the paw. The dog will often lick the area, including the paw, to relieve this awkward sensation. Acupuncture is very effective in treating referred neural pain. If your pet is not responding, your vet may request X-rays or an MRI.

9)  Flea allergy dermatitis (usually all four paws). Some pets are allergic to a protein in the saliva of fleas. One flea bite can make them itchy all over. Make sure you treat your pet for fleas every month.

10)  Psychological (can be one or more paws). Since endorphins are released when your dog licks, some dogs may become excessive paw lickers out of boredom or anxiety. They simply feel a little better when they lick. Make sure your pet gets adequate exercise, has toys and chews, and plenty of interaction with you, the main human in his life; also try natural anti-anxiety products. In severe cases, one may need to consider doggy anti-depressants.

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The Pet Owner Blog by Dr Megan Kelly