Q: My three year old dog licks her paws incessantly. I've examined her feet carefully and found no injuries or other obvious problems, is this some kind of a nervous tic?
A: The usual cause of constant paw licking is allergies. Humans tend to get stuffy noses, coughing and scratchy throats....dogs tend to get itchy skin. An allergic dog will do all sorts of crazy things to satisfy an itch, like rub their face on the carpet, roll in the grass in the yard or itch and scratch themselves til they are driving everyone nuts, including themselves! Licking as a nervous tic, is possible, but less likely.
Let's start with allergies. Dogs are allergic to things that they inhale or absorb through their skin, such as pollen, dust, mold, fleas, or even stuff found in their food. It's usually a safe bet to start with inhaled or absorbed substances since only about 1 to 5% of dogs have food allergies. For more about allergies, click here
Chronic licking to the point of injury needs careful diagnosis. Injuries and other health issues should be ruled out first with the help of your veterinarian. If the dignosis is in fact a compulsive behavior, there are a few things you can do to help your dog.
1. Make sure your dog gets plenty of vigorous exercise
2. Exercise their brain! Teach them a new trick or work on tricks that they already know for 15-20 minutes each day.
3. Rotate toys and provide plenty of good things to chew on, like Kongs stuffed with goodies.
4. Don't give your dog attention, negative or positive, when you see them licking. Giving your dog attention may actually be encouraging them to do the behavior in order to gain your attention.
5. Dog phermone (DAP) diffusers may be helpful to calm and relax your dog.
6. Talk to your veterinarian(s) that have training and experience with other alternative remedies that may help your dog.
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