Dogs chew their feet for a number of reasons. Some dogs lick their paws to alleviate itching. Others suffer from Canine Compulsive Disorder, a condition that causes strange, obsessive behaviour that may include paw licking. Dogs may also chew their feet due to boredom or pain. Paw licking can, over time, cause lick granuloma, skin infections and other serious problems. Obsessive foot chewing should be stopped as soon as possible.
Allergies and itching commonly cause obsessive paw licking. If this is determined to be the cause of a dog chewing its feet, the specific reason that the dog itches must be identified and eliminated. One common cause of itching and paw licking is flea allergy dermatitis. Food allergies are also common, as are environmental allergies. A skin infection or a healing wound may also be to blame.
If the dog is itching and licks its paws, the licking itself will provide only brief relief and will cause further itching in the long term.
Canine Compulsive Disorder
Canine Compulsive Disorder is a psychological condition present in approximately 2 per cent of dogs. Not all dogs with this disorder lick their paws. Foot chewing is only one possible symptom. Dogs with CCD who do lick their paws frequently lick so often and so intensely that skin infections and lick granulomas occur. The disorder develops when dogs are under stress or anxious. Treatment consists of medication combined with behaviour modification.
Some dogs chew their paws out of boredom or a lack of exercise. This type of licking may progress to Canine Compulsive Disorder, but in the beginning it is less severe than the compulsive behaviours associated with CCD. Dogs left home alone all day may lick their paws for this reason. The same behaviour is seen when something causes an owner who previously exercised his dog frequently to stop paying attention to the dog. For example, when a new baby arrives, many dogs begin chewing their paws as a result of a sudden disruption in their exercise and socialisation routines.
Prevention of paw chewing should be part of a complete approach to physical and behavioural health. To avoid allergies, feed a premium food and rotate protein sources with each bag. Alternately, research and create a raw or home-cooked diet with high quality protein. Socialise puppies early and often. Make sure that dogs get plenty of exercise and bonding time with their human family. Avoid frequent changes in the dog's daily routine. If a major change like a move must be made, take steps to reduce stress for the family dog(s).
Treatment of obsessive foot chewing and paw licking should start with a physical evaluation. A veterinarian should identify any health problem causing the paw chewing. The vet should also look for problems like skin infections created by paw licking. If a health problem is found, it must be treated as soon as possible.
A barrier method is generally necessary to stop the dog from licking while the causes are identified and addressed. Wrapping the paws in vet wrap may help. If the dog chews off the vet wrap, an Elizabethan collar or inflatable collar can be used to prevent him from reaching his paws
If a health problem has been ruled out or if licking continues after the underlying health problem has been treated, a professional animal behaviourist should be consulted. Behaviour modification plans are designed based on each dog's individual personality. The behaviourist may recommend distracting the dog with increased exercise or treating the behaviour with medication.