Downeast Dog News

Licking Feet

By Judith K. Herman DVM, CVH | Dec 01, 2019

Q. It seems my dog constantly licks her feet. Why would she do this?

A. There are several reasons your dog may be licking her paws. The range of causes can be from emotional to deep seeded disease.

Lets start with a simple answer. She may be bored. Dogs need something to do. If adequate mental stimulus isn’t available, they will find something to do. Once they learn chewing up your favorite shoes is a no-no, grooming and licking their feet is the next best thing. Another emotional reason is separation anxiety. This common problem, especially with second hand dogs, expresses itself with different intensity. Licking their paws can be very soothing and comforting to a dog having trouble being alone. The licking of her feet can also be a sign of obsessive compulsive behavior.

Licking the feet may be a sign of a yeast infection. Yeast infections develop as a secondary problem in your dog’s health. FiFi may have an ear infection. She scratches her ear because the yeast makes it itchy, then she licks her foot to clean away the ear debris. I had a patient who kept licking his foot that he used to scratch his ear. The diagnosis was localized sarcoptic mange found in the ear and the foot but nowhere else.

Allergies are the most common cause of licking of the feet. Often this is an inhalation allergy such as pollen. It can also be dietary. If your dog is sensitive to grains, fillers, and other carbohydrates in her diet, a change in her body’s ph can create an environment ripe for a yeast infection. Other ingredients in her diet can also be a cause of licking her feet.

Walking and playing in areas treated with chemicals are another source that irritate your dog’s feet. This time of year certain types of ice-melt can cause contact dermatitis. Using boots or washing her feet when she comes in will help.

There are times licking feet is caused by pain, numbness, or tingling in the foot but is created by a problem further up the leg. This could be sore joints or nerve compromise anywhere up the leg and in the back. Often a dog will relieve some of her discomfort from arthritis by licking her sore paws, just like we do when we rub our sore hands and fingers.

Deeper disease may be the underlying cause for licking feet. There are a myriad of diseases that affect the skin and cause licking and scratching. As mentioned earlier, parasites can be a cause of her discomfort. Hormonal imbalances can cause secondary infections which can include hypothyroidism, and hyperadrenocorticism, also known as Cushings. Autoimmune disease, where the body destroys itself, can result in licking feet and then progress to open sores, infections, and pain. Sometimes over vaccinations or combining certain vaccines together can cause autoimmune skin disease.

When your dog is licking her feet excessively, examine the paws for odor, inflammation, swelling, and sores. If you don’t see any changes, try enriching her environment. Wash her feet when she comes in from out of doors. Put booties on when it is icy, so she doesn’t cut her feet or be exposed to chemicals. If these few things fail or you see changes in her skin, see your veterinarian.


Judith K. Herman DVM, CVH

Animal Wellness Center

Augusta, ME 04330