Why do dogs lick their paws? How to help them stop.

By Doug Metzler, DVM

On a recent Saturday afternoon I was lounging around, trying to concentrate on my new novel through the slurp, slurp, slurping of my Doberman Pinscher, Jax, seemingly trying to remove the pads from his front paws with his enormous tongue.  Dog Licking PawsI was interrupted by a text from my tennis buddy “why is my dog constantly licking his paws?” OK, I thought as I tossed my novel aside, time to compose that article I’ve been meaning to write since the beginning of spring.  “Why Do Dogs Lick their Paws?”

I am sure there are millions of sleep deprived pet owners out there asking the same question.  The most common reason is simple, allergies.  The solution, unfortunately, is not.

Atopy is the term which refers to an allergy to common environmental allergens such as grass, tree, and weed pollens, mold spores, dust and dust mites.  The allergy is initiated by inhaling or skin contact with these allergens.  An allergic reaction triggers the release of a cascade of chemicals that are very irritating to the skin, resulting in inflammation and intense pruritus, or itching.  Unfortunately, the paws happen to have an abundance of the types of cells that are more than happy to release these irritating chemicals into the skin of your dogs paws.

Dog paw lickingThe only true solution to atopy is the avoidance of allergens.  As this is not practical, here are a few suggestions that may alleviate some of your dogs discomfort, and allow you some peace and quiet.  If the licking is mild, you can wipe and/or wash the paws on a daily basis using hypoallergenic baby wipes or an anti itch soap free shampoo such as aloe and oatmeal.  In addition, you should bathe your dog at least once a week (twice is even better) with the same shampoo.

atopy /at·o·py/ (at´ah-pe) a genetic predisposition toward the development of immediate hypersensitivity reactions against common environmental antigens (atopic allergy)

Sometimes a warm water solution of Epsom salt is soothing to the irritated paws.  Measure ½ cup of Epsom salt per gallon of warm water stirring until the salt is dissolved.  Using a large plastic pan soak the paws two at a time for 5 to 10 minutes.  Gently dry the paws with a clean soft towel.  If the itching is more intense, and the skin between the pads is red and inflamed, you need help from your veterinarian.  He or she will do an evaluation to decide on the type of treatment plan that would best suit your pet’s needs.  This may involve injections, oral medications, and/or topical treatments.  Your veterinarian may also recommend immunotherapy, which involves having an allergy test done to determine what specific allergens in your location your dog is reacting to.  Once these are identified, an extract can be made from these allergens and injected into the skin to help your dog’s immune system counteract the allergic response.

Utilizing these solutions will allow you and your dog to survive allergy season as comfortably and peacefully as possible.

Come on Jax, time for your bath.

Veterinarian Clearwater FloridaDr. Doug Metzler is a Clearwater, Fl Veterinarian and owner of Metzler Veterinary Hospital. Dr. Metzler has practiced small animal medicine in Pinellas County since 1985 and has special interest in Surgery and Radiology.