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Why do Dogs obsessively lick their paws, and how can I make him stop it?

Paw licking: It is something that all dogs will do from time to time. But for some, this occasional behaviour turns into a constant habit that can quickly become distressing, both for you & your dog. So why do some dogs lick and chew at their paws obsessively? And is there anything you can do to stop this annoying, and sometimes even harmful, habit?

Luckily, the different causes behind paw licking are fairly well known. And, even better, most are relatively simple to address. We'll talk about how to determine what is causing your dog's discomfort and what you can do to get them back to their normal, happy, less-licky selves. Causes of Paw Licking There are many reasons a dog may suddenly or frequently lick and chew at their feet. Some have a physical origin and have to do with pain or itching, while others have more to do with a dog's emotional state. Here are a few of the most common causes behind paw licking, chewing, and biting. Injury or Growth If your dog is targeting a single paw during their foot chewing and biting episodes, odds are pretty high that you are dealing with an injury, such as a sliver, cactus needle, or cut, or some kind of painful growth. It is also possible that the cause may be a less visible injury such as a fracture or sprain. Some dogs will engage in foot licking as a reaction to spinal inflammation or injury. These kinds of injuries can affect the nerves that feed the paws, causing abnormal neurological sensation. Oftentimes, dogs with lower cervical, or neck injuries, will obsessively lick their front feet, while dogs with injuries to the lumbar spine may lick their hind paws. If your dog's paw biting is focused on just one foot, or only the front or back paws, it is a good idea to take them to the vet for a physical examination to identify the underlying pain. The sooner this is done, the better to avoid the injury becoming worse or getting infected. Allergies When it comes to indiscriminate licking and chewing of both front paws or all four paws, allergies are the most common cause. Because the epidermis of dogs carries such a high load of mast cells–the immune cells that react during an allergic reaction–it is very common for dogs to develop itchy, inflamed skin as a symptom of both food and topical allergies. If your dog has symptoms like itching elsewhere on their body, dry or inflamed skin, hotspots, or frequent ear infections in addition to paw chewing and licking, then it is likely they are suffering from dermatitis caused by allergies, or more commonly a Yeast overgrowth. Unfortunately, both topical and dietary allergies cause very similar symptoms, which can make it hard to address the exact cause of your dog's foot licking. To learn how to identify and discern between different types of allergies, as well as to find out what you can do to reduce your dog's symptoms, including foot chewing, check out our article on natural allergy remedies. Once you know what your dog is allergic to, you can take steps to reduce their discomfort and, by extension, their foot chewing. Yeast Overgrowth All dogs carry the yeast strain Candida albicans. As humans we do too, and is commonly called Thrush. It is an incredibly itchy problem to suffer from is it grows out of control in the body. Unfortunately it is very, very common to see dogs with chronic yeast infections that go unnoticed and untreated until it takes over the entire body, both internally and externally. Then you have a much hard battle to fight to heal and bring under control the fungus. Itchy Paws are usually the first sign Candida can be identified quickly and easily. The symptoms are:

Itchy paws, excessive licking and chewing

A red, rust like stain on the fur and skin

Darker leathery areas on the skin

Hair loss

A 'Popcorn or Nachos-like' smell in between the toes

How can I treat a Yeast overgrowth? Short and simple answer is through their diet. Please refer to the Blog for a more comprehensive answer: What can I do to ease the itching? Some simple and cheap home remedies can help stop that itch. Unfortunately these will NOT cure the problem, just relieve the itchy symptoms and help to sooth and heal any damage done by the chewing. Apple Cider Vinegar diluted and popped into a spray bottle will help to calm the overgrowth and change the PH balance on the skin. Simply dilute 50/50 with water and spray or allow the paws to be dipped in the solution 2 or 3 times a day. Extra Virgin Coconut Oil is anti-microbial and anti-bacterial. When applied directly on the effected area it will stop the itchiness and help to sooth the skin while keeping it clean. It will NOT cure the Yeast infection, just sooth it. You can also pop a small teaspoon of oil in their daily food as it will help to heal the gut, and allow the oil to help the skin and coat. Another all natural remedy is Spirulina Spirulina is an effective antimicrobial agent, particularly for candida eradication. Specifically, spirulina has been shown to promote the growth of healthy bacterial flora in the intestines, which in turn inhibits candida from overgrowing & thriving in your dog’s body. Diet change together with this supplement will help the gut heal, in turn allowing the skin to heal & build it’s natural defenses. Tested & medically proven to treat the same yeast infections humans get, it’s the best product on the market to stop that itch & allow the skin to heal. Spirulina is considered by many to be one of nature’s superfoods & it boasts an impressive 60% plant-based protein. It is a wonderful colour (because is actually a blue/green algae) &, like many naturally bright foods, is packed with nutrients & anti-oxidants. In fact, spirulina contains over 100 nutrients & is considered to be the most complete single food source on the planet. Skin Soother Meal Supplement may help add to your dog'e defenses. Anxiety One of the most common causes of foot licking that has nothing to do with pain or itchiness is anxiety. When dogs lick, endorphins are released into their brains that make them feel calmer and happier. This is true whether they are licking their newborn puppies, their owner's face, or their own paws. Common stress-driven paw licking triggers include moving houses, boredom, a new housemate, phobias, and living with an overstressed owner. In some cases, this coping mechanism may continue long after the original stressor has been removed. If you believe your dog is paw chewing due to anxiety, your first course of action should be to remove the source of that stress as much as possible. In addition to helping make your dog's life less stressful, it can also be beneficial to increase their activity. Exercise also releases calming endorphins and will help to tire your dog out, leaving less energy to be put toward foot chewing. Time spent with you, especially while engaging in an activity they like, such as petting, trick training, or playing fetch, will also increase feelings of positive wellbeing. If your dog still engages in foot licking, you should try to replace the object of their focus–their paws–with something a little more appropriate, such as a kong full of frozen peanut butter. While this won't stop the licking behaviour itself, it is a more acceptable outlet for endorphin-inducing licking and is less likely to cause injury to themselves. Obsessive Behaviours Some dogs engage in paw licking compulsively, with or without stressful triggers. In cases like this, paw biting and licking would be considered a true obsessive behaviour. There are many different kinds of obsessive behaviours seen in dogs, including tail chasing, leg sucking, and, of course, paw chewing. Often, obsessive behaviours become, in themselves, distressing and act both as the cure for the dog's anxiety and the cause of it. Obsessive behaviours are more common in certain breeds, such as Doberman Pinchers, and in dogs that have experienced some type of trauma. If you believe your dog's paw licking is a true obsessive behaviour, it would be in their best interest to contact a behaviourist for help. How to stop the paw licking behaviour When it comes to putting an end to paw licking, there really is no one remedy. That's because there are multiple causes behind this behaviour, and stopping it relies solely on addressing the root cause for your particular dog's paw obsession. Address the Cause Once you have identified which of the causes of paw licking is likely responsible for your dog's habit, then you will need to take the steps outlined in each section to address the problem driving the behaviour. Keep in mind, it may take time to identify allergens and for those substances to make their way out of your dog's system. Similarly, wounds may take time to heal before your dog stops bugging them. Using a cone, basket muzzle, or another barrier to prevent licking will give your dog's skin, paws, or injury time to heal without them making things worse. If your dog suffers from anxiety or OCD driven paw licking, then you also shouldn't expect the problem to go away overnight. It will take some trial and error to find out what changes to your dog's routine will help the issue and which will make it worse. Whatever the cause of your dog's paw licking, know that there is relief out there, so long as you are willing to do the detective work to determine the true root cause of the issue and find a better way to soothe your dog's discomfort.

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Obsessive paw licking can have many causes

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