I have been known to put my foot in my mouth. But dogs do it on purpose. Why do dogs chew their feet? The answer is not as simple as you might think. Sure, there’s a simple explanation for the behavior. “A dog is essentially trying to scratch the itch,” says Christopher Pachel, DVM, owner of the Animal Behavior Clinic in Portland, Oregon. However, identifying the cause of the foot chewing can be tricky. “It can be several different things,” says Dr. Pachel. “This is not a one-size-fits-all.”
Chewing and licking feet are common behaviors. “Just because a dog licks its foot doesn’t necessarily mean it needs to be taken to the veterinary clinic,” says Dr. Pachel. However, if the behaviors are sudden and intense for long periods of time, they can be cause for concern.
Why do dogs chew their feet? Allergies could be at play.
One of the most common answers to the question, “Why do dogs chew their feet?” Allergies. If the behavior coincides with a change of seasons, it indicates that an environmental allergen such as pollen, mold, or mildew may be triggering the behavior. Prolonged chewing could indicate a food allergy. However, the exact determination of the food ingredient is difficult and time consuming. “It’s a process of trial and error and it’s impossible to predict just looking at what the dog is allergic to,” says Dr. Pachel.
A 12-week food elimination study offers the best chance of finding a specific culprit, says Rebecca Remillard, PhD, DVM, diplomat with the American College of Veterinary Nutrition. These attempts begin by feeding a simplified diet of foods that the dog has never eaten.
Why do dogs chew their feet? Because of these diseases and ailments.
So what are some other common answers to the question, “Why do dogs chew their feet?” Numerous skin conditions between the toes can cause a dog to chew their feet, says Dr. Remillard, who founded Veterinary Nutritional Consultations Inc. in Hollister, North Carolina. In addition, injury or pain (such as arthritis or hip dysplasia), autoimmune diseases, cysts, tumors, and cancer can all lead to foot bites. Some dogs may eat their skin due to skin infections caused by hormonal imbalances, namely too much cortisol or too little thyroid hormone.
Something as innocuous as dry skin from winter weather, a dry climate, or a lack of fatty acids in the diet can lead to excessive paw chewing. A cracked claw could be to blame, or even a corn (greyhounds are said to be prone to corns). There may be a thorn, pebble, or other foreign object in or between the paw pads. Fleas, ticks, mites, and other parasites are irritating to the skin, as are some soaps and shampoos, the salt used to treat snow-covered roads, and chemical substances such as harsh lawn and garden pesticides.
Why do dogs chew their feet? Is there ever a good reason for that?
Sometimes the answer to “Why do dogs chew their feet?” is even an advantage. When dogs instinctively lick their wounds (whether on the foot or elsewhere), antibacterial enzymes in their saliva help fight infection, according to an article on the Psychology Today website. Saliva also helps cleanse abrasions and cuts, and the licking action promotes healing by stimulating cells that close the wound.
A dog chewing its feet versus a dog licking its feet
Now we have some answers to the question, “Why do dogs chew their feet?” Let’s look at some reasons why dogs lick their feet. Licking without chewing is often a behavioral problem, says Dr. Pachel, diplomat from the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists. Licking feet can be a sign of anxiety, depression, stress, boredom, or obsessive-compulsive disorder in dogs, which affects up to 3 percent of dogs.
“Something about this repetitive oral behavior may be a stress reliever,” says Dr. Pachel, who compares it to people who bite their fingernails.
It can also be attention-grabbing behavior. “We could have a dog that licks or watches its feet because this is behavior that drives the owner crazy,” says Dr. Pachel. Responding to the licking can inadvertently make it worse.
If your vet rules out health problems as the cause of the licking, consult an animal behaviorist.
Plus, all of that foot chewing can cause even more problems
Whatever the answer to the question, “Why do dogs chew their feet?” is – foot chewing and licking in and of itself can cause problems.
“Chewing and licking can disrupt the normal skin barrier and defenses,” says Dr. Pachel. Moisture in saliva can lead to yeast and bacterial infections, especially in dogs with thick coats that retain moisture. And repeated rubbing from a rough tongue can rub the fur, causing acute wet dermatitis (hot spots) and licking granulomas (skin lesions).
What might initially have given the dog temporary relief makes the situation worse and requires a multi-faceted solution: interrupt the itchy cycle with antihistamines, topical creams, or lotions; Treating infections; and eliminate the underlying cause.
Some final insights into the question, “Why do dogs chew their feet?”
The short answer to “Why do dogs chew their feet?” It’s complicated. But just as there are many causes, there are also many treatments.
“It really comes down to why it happens,” says Dr. Pachel. “There may be several treatment options for one of these problems. Focusing on basic health care is a good place to start to minimize at least some of these other problems. Then it’s about keeping a close eye on your dog and making the informed decision about when it should be examined by a veterinarian. “
Stamp out the foot before it begins:
- Feed them a high quality, balanced diet. ??
- Make sure your dog is getting plenty of exercise, mental stimulation, and interaction with people and other dogs. ??
- Provide adequate hygiene, including bathing and grooming. Do regular veterinary exams. ??
- Use preventive flea and tick medication. ??
- Rinse and examine your dog’s feet regularly.
Call your vet if you notice:
- New, frequent, persistent, excessive, or obsessive foot chewing or licking?
- Limping, bald spots, or skin that is red, puffy, bleeding, or warm to the touch
- Discoloration of the fur on the feet (pink or rusty color from the porphyrin compound in a dog’s saliva)
- An area of the foot that is sensitive to touch, or that has a cut or other wound