It’s normal for dogs to self-groom by licking their paws. But excessive licking or chewing of the paws or nails could be cause for concern and likely necessitates a vet visit.
There are several reasons why your dog might be chewing their feet or nails. The most common causes include:
- Yeast Infection – Yeast normally lives on a dog’s skin without issue, and Malassezia pachydermatis is the most common species found on dogs. But it’s an opportunistic pathogen; when something else causes an imbalance, Malassezia takes advantage of the situation and rapidly multiplies, especially in warm, moist areas.
Yeast infections of the feet and paws are common and make the surrounding skin horribly itchy, causing the dog to lick and bite at her feet, which intensifies the overgrowth of yeast.
- Pruritic Pododermatitis – This is an umbrella diagnosis related to itchy feet with a number of causes, including parasites such as mites, hookworms, or yeast, as well as a reaction to a variety of contact, food, or inhaled allergens. Finding the underlying cause of pruritic pododermatitis is an important step in providing long-lasting relief.
- Toenail and Foot Issues – Nails that are too long can cause discomfort and cause dogs to bite at their feet to find relief. Broken nails – either due to disease or injury – will also lead to excessive licking and chewing. Monitor your dog’s nails and train your dog to cooperate with nail trimming or grinding to help keep his nails healthy and in good shape. Check regularly for foxtails or other grass awns between the toes and pads.
- Behavior Issues – In some cases, behaviors like excessive licking and chewing begin for an identifiable reason – such as an irritation or injury – but persist even after the issue has been resolved medically. Sometimes, it’s because the behavior has become a habit. It’s also possible the dog learned licking is a great way to get attention from an otherwise preoccupied owner.
Stop the Paw Obsession
If you’re confident there’s not a medical reason for the licking and chewing, try to proactively give your dog something else to do during the times when she’s most likely to chew her feet. Boredom can also contribute to repetitive behaviors such as licking and chewing, so it’s always good to take an honest inventory of your dog’s day and make sure you’re providing enough exercise and enrichment to meet your dog’s physical and mental health needs.