Why do dogs lick their paws? Top Reasons & How to Help

Does your dog keep licking their paws? This behaviour can cause concern for pet parents, and the reasons for paw licking can be varied. If you dog is constantly licking their paws, it can be a sign of poor health or malnutrition. 

Here are the top 5 reasons your dog may have itchy paws and how you can help.

1. Environment or Environmental Allergies

Do your hands get dry in the winter? A similar phenomenon can occur with your pup’s paws! As changes in the seasons occur and temperatures rise and fall, your dog’s paws may get dry or cracked. This can be irritating to can result in your dog licking their paws. 

Additionally, seasonal or environmental allergies could be causing your dog to lick their paws. This may be especially noticeable in the spring when there is a large increase in pollen and allergens in the air. 

dogs playing in field                                                                  Photo by Daniel Lincoln

How to Help: Your veterinarian will be your best connection for helping to alleviate environmental allergy-related itching. A veterinarian may prescribe some medications for your pup such as:

  • Oral medications (ie. Apoquel, antihistamines)
  • Steroid medications
  • Injectable medications (ie. Cytopoint)

Other methods for reducing allergy-related itching may include supplementing your pets’ diet with fatty acids, frequent bathing, or probiotic supplements. 

2. Food Intolerance or Allergy

Food intolerances or allergies can result in itchy or flaky skin and itchy paws. Diagnosing a food allergy is difficult for dogs, and while allergy testing exists for dogs, they are not well researched or validated. An elimination trial is the only effective way to diagnose a food allergy, though this can be a long process. You can read more about food allergies in our article: Understanding Allergies in Dogs.

How to Help: Treating a Food Allergy will include a dietary change and avoidance of specific allergens. Common allergies for dogs include protein sources and some grains. At Tom&Sawyer, we have a variety of options for pups with food allergies, including gluten/grain free options and novel proteins:

  • Kangaroo: A novel protein, grain/gluten free, and limited ingredient recipe for dogs with food allergies. 
  • Rosemary Venison: A lean novel protein option for pups with food allergies which is also grain/gluten-free.
  • Fisherman’s Best Friend: Our pollock is considered hypo-allergenic though this recipe is grain friendly (contains rice).
  • Classic Pork Stew: A gluten/grain-free option with hearty root vegetables!
Kangaroo dog food recipe
3. Bacterial or Fungal Infections

Itchy paws can be a sign of a bacterial or fungal infection. Common bacterial infections resulting in itchy paws can come from Staphylococcus, Proteus, Actinomyces, Mycobacterium, Nocardia, and Pseudomonas. Fungal infections can include ringworm (Dermatophytes), mycetoma, cryptococcis, sporotrichosis, or blastomycosis. 

Other symptoms for bacterial or fungal infections can include swollen feet, hair loss, ulcers, and pus or discharge. 

How to Help: Medications will be prescribed by your veterinarian and could include antibiotics, steroidal creams or medications, or antifungals.

4. Nutritional Deficiencies

Specific nutrient deficiencies may cause itchy paws for your dog. Nutrients of particular interest can include:

  • Protein
  • Omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids
  • Zinc
  • Magnesium
  • Copper
  • Vitamin E

How to Help: A complete and balanced diet is the best way to ensure your pup is meeting their nutritional needs. Supplements may also be prescribed depending on the level of deficiency to ensure a speedy nutrient recovery. 

fresh cooked dog and cat food

5. Low Quality Food

Even when feeding a complete and balanced diet, your pup may be at risk for nutrient deficiencies if the food is of low quality. Low quality foods can reduce digestibility, meaning much of the nutrients won’t get digested and absorbed. Rather, they will move through the gastrointestinal tract and be excreted. 

Gently cooked pet foods have been shown to have a greater digestibility than other pet food formats (ie. kibble, raw foods). Our gently cooked meals are complete and balanced and highly digestible to ensure a healthy pup! 

Some of our pup’s favourite Tom&Sawyer meals:

  • Italian Beef Pasta: We don’t know a dog (or hooman) who doesn’t love pasta! Our #1 best-selling recipe is a hearty bowl of lean ground beef, egg, spinach and tomato puree designed for a healthy pasta night with your pup
  • Classic Pork Stew: Our Classic Pork Stew combines hearty root vegetables like pumpkin, parsnip and turnip with kale and spinach – a tasty meal that's high in protein and low in carbs. This nutrient-dense meal is canine comfort food in a bowl.
  • Coconut Chicken: Creamy coconut, tender chicken, carrot and spinach on a bed of rice — we’ve taken Thai take-out and made it dog-friendly. Infused with turmeric, it’s anti-inflammatory and low-fat friendly for pups with pancreatitis.

To learn more about our gently cooked meals and how they can help your pup, click here. 

Written by: Hannah Godfrey
Animal Nutritionist
BSc.H. | MSc. Animal Nutrition
www.tomandsawyer.com

References: 

Case L.P. et al. Canine and Feline Nutrition: A resource for companion animal professionals 3rd ed. 2010.

National Research Council. (2006). Nutrient requirements of dogs and cats. Washington, DC. The National Academies Press.

Hand MS, Thatcher CD, Reimillard RL, Roudebush P, Morris ML, Novotny BJ. editors. Small animal clinical nutrition, 4th ed. Topeka, KS: Mark Morris Institute. 2000.

White SD, Moriello KA. Allergies in Dogs. Merck Manual: Veterinary Manual. 2018.