Dog Chewing Feet – The Causes, Treatment, and How to Stop It
Is your dog chewing feet all night long or incessant paw licking annoying you? Ohhhh Dogs! Sometimes they are such simple creatures, and other times they are very complex. Ironically, as a trainer and a veterinary technician, I will tell you that this problem is both simple and complex!
Let’s Talk About Dogs Chewing Their Nails
It is too bad your dog can’t trim his own toe nails. If he could, he would keep them short. Very few dogs file their own nails as they walk.
Dog toenails that curl under hurt the conformation of the foot and can even grow into the paw pads. Occasionally, dogs will chew their own toenails.
Sometimes they chew them because they are getting long, getting caught on things and irritating the dog.
You would think this is a blessing in disguise but this behavior often causes brittle nails that get caught in things and can rip completely off.
Sometimes, the dog has allergies that cause them to lick their feet and secondarily they end up chewing their nails. Other times, they will lick and chew out of boredom. Always make sure that you are meeting your dog’s mental and physical needs with training and exercise!
And, some dogs suffer from a form of obsessive compulsive disorder that causes them to lick and chew. The best way to keep your dog from chewing his nails is to keep them short. You can trim them every 2 weeks or so.
Is Your Dog Chewing and Licking His Foot or Paw?
You may catch your dog excessively chewing, licking, and biting at his paws. You ask him to stop but he keeps on chewing. It continues when you are trying to sleep; you hear your dog biting and gnawing his paws.
You are frustrated, but you’re also concerned for your dog.
There are different reasons why your dog may be chewing at his paws such as: allergies, behavior issues, pain/discomfort from a foreign object lodged in the foot, secondary yeast or bacterial infection
If you believe that your dog has Obsessive Compulsive Disorder or is causing self-harm, then it is time to seek help from a vet.
After putting a catheter for IV fluids in the front leg of a Greyhound receiving a dental cleaning at one of the vet clinics I worked at, the dog went home and continually licked the IV sight. Several weeks later he had come back because he had licked through his skin, creating a sore, then continued to lick until we could see the dog’s tendons. He was an extreme case that caused us to rethink our catheter placement and was the perfect example of OCD licking.
I remember one dog who chewed his toe completely off after his paw was put in a bandage. These dogs are less common than your typical cases, but they do exist.
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.
Many dogs suffer from allergies. Dogs can have allergies to grass, trees, pollen, fleas and contact allergies and less often things that they ingest from their food.
Typically skin allergies come from the environment. And allergies in dogs can represent with itchy feet which causes the dog to lick and chew in order to alleviate the itching, burning or irritation. Many times, these dogs come into a vet clinic with saliva stained fur around their paws, belly, armpits, and rear end.
A dog can lick a normal foot and cause infection.
Dogs can also create large sores or “lick granulomas.”Licking paws creates some relief by flooding their system with feel good “endorphins”, even if the licking is actually causing more of a problem!
Thankfully, there is help. There are great new allergy drugs that help dogs with skin allergies immensely! With Apoquel, 97% of dog owners said the drug improved their dog’s life. And 95% said it improved their own life! After all, who wants to watch their dog suffer? There are other medications available to your vet if that doesn’t work or isn’t recommended.
Your vet can also run allergy blood tests that will isolate what your dog is allergic to and allergy shots can be formulated to help your specific dog. Medicine is truly an awe-inspiring thing as neither of those was really readily available 20 years ago.
There are a number of things that can cause issues with paw chewing for your doggy, but here’s a compilation of the most common causes:
Flea allergy is the most common allergy in dogs and cats. It is usually not the flea bite that causes the itching, it is the flea’s saliva which causes the allergy.
Your dog may have been exposed to a certain chemical, pesticide, soap or seasonal pollen, which is causing his paws to be irritated.
Cleaning supplies used on the floor or carpets may be too harsh on a dog’s paws.
If your yard or your neighbor’s yard was recently treated with pesticides, it may be the reason his paws are bothering him.
New shampoos or soaps may be causing an allergic reaction to the products. Grass pollen can cause great discomfort if your dog is allergic to it.
Your dog may have itchy paws caused by a food allergy. The most common food allergens in dogs include beef, dairy, corn, wheat and soy.
Dogs sometimes bite at their paws due to stress, fear or separation anxiety. Boredom may be another behavior issue, which may cause the dog to chew at his paws.
The dog may have a spur, awn or piece of glass in his paw. Ticks sometimes burrow between the dog’s toes causing great irritation.
Corns are painful growths found on the toe pads of dogs. They are common in the Greyhound and Lurcher breeds.
The constant chewing, licking paws and biting may cause a secondary bacterial or yeast infection. The infection will cause more discomfort and itchiness.
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.
Short Term Solutions
If your dog is licking and you need to get him to stop, the best way is to keep him from licking.
Traditional Elizabethan Collar (or E-collars) keep dogs from being able to reach certain areas to lick.
They also now have a variety of other types of collars that are meant to do the same thing.
No matter what is causing your dog to lick, the most important thing is to keep him from doing so until your vet can diagnose or locate the problem!
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, then 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.
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.
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. If 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.
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.
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!
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 dog’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.
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!
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!
How the Vet Helps
If your dog is excessively chewing, licking and biting at his paws he should be seen by a veterinarian. The veterinarian can help determine and eliminate the cause.
A veterinarian can help determine the underlying cause for your dog chewing at his paws. The veterinarian will perform a physical examination and the dog’s overall condition will be evaluated. The patient’s paws will be checked for any foreign objects. The vet may recommend a complete blood count (CBC), skin biopsy or cytology test.
The complete blood count can help determine if there is a bacterial infection.
A skin biopsy takes a small sample of skin, to be examined under a microscope. A cytology test scrapes or swabs the surface of the itchy skin to examine the cells more closely.
If the veterinarian suspects allergies he may suggest an intradermal allergy test.
Small amounts of common allergens are injected under your dog’s skin. If your dog is allergic to a certain allergen his skin will get red and swollen.
A food trial test helps to determine food allergies. This test introduces one new protein for 6 to 12 weeks.
If your dog shows a reaction to a protein, it is eliminated from the diet. During a food trial, your dog can’t be fed any treats, table scraps or raw hides.
Dogs with environmental allergies may need to have daily allergy shots.
Dogs with flea allergies should be on monthly flea preventative medication. Corns may need to be surgically removed from the pads.
Foreign objects will be removed from the pad and bandaged. Secondary yeast infections are treated with topical antifungal medications.
Bacterial infections are treated with topical and oral antibiotics.
If the veterinarian believes the paw chewing is caused by behavior issues he may suggest a consultation with an animal behaviorist. An animal behaviorist may be able to recommend activities which may help your dog overcome his stress, boredom, fears and separation anxiety issues. Prevention of Chewing His Paws Some conditions cannot be prevented but some can. Dogs should be on monthly flea and tick preventative medication. This will prevent flea allergy reactions and irritated skin.
There are many ways that you can help mitigate the risk of your dog chewing its paws. It is important to prevent your dog from being exposed to toxic chemicals. If you spray your lawn with pesticides, your dog should not be allowed to walk on the grass until the chemical is dry.
The same thing goes for recently cleaned floors or carpets. Dogs should be provided toys, attention and daily exercise. Additional activities may help prevent a dog from feeling bored or anxious.
Your dog is your best friend and loyal companion. Take great care of him or her and they will reward you with unconditional love.
I have been a professional dog trainer and pet sitter for over 20 years. I am a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, through the international Certification Counsel of Professional Dog Trainers. I have trained and worked with police, Schutzhund and personal protection dogs. I trained Assistance Dogs in a men’s prison and ran my own nonprofit organization to take adult dogs from shelters and to train them to assist children and adults with disabilities, at no charge to my clients. My nonprofit organization and I were nominated for several awards of merit and even made the front page of the Denver Post. I was a veterinary technician for many years, where I learned about all aspects of health and preventative medicine. I have trained and worked with exotic animals and cheetahs. I introduced a temperament testing program in my local shelter and sat on the board of directors. I volunteered with my dog “Mr. Snitch” and helped local children learn to read. I have attained obedience titles and several blue ribbons. I am constantly in search of ways to continue my education and excellence when it comes to animals, their behavior and their health.