Why does my dog lick his paws?
My two-year-old Pekingese has started licking his feet a
lot, mostly just before going to bed at night and
first thing in the morning. I thought they might
be itching and put some oatmeal spray I got from
the vet on them, but has no effect.
My vet isn't very concerned, but the licking is
somewhat annoying and I'm worried that his paws
are bothering him. What can I do?
San Francisco / East Bay, CA
I agree that your dog's feet are probably itching. Licking the feet (especially the tops of the feet) during periods of relaxation or boredom is a common symptom of allergies in dogs.
That may sound strange, since people with allergies usually develop problems with our eyes, nose, and sinuses. Dogs and cats are different. When they have allergies, they usually suffer from itchy skin.
There are three culprits that are responsible for most allergies in dogs. Fleas are by far the most common offender. Environmental allergens such as pollen or mold spores also lead to allergies. And finally, some dogs become itchy if they have an allergic reaction to their food.
When the main symptom of allergies is foot licking without other skin problems, many veterinarians suspect a reaction to pollen is the most likely cause. In theory, dogs walk through grass and foliage, get pollen on their feet, and then react to it. However, if your dog also is allergic to fleas or to his food, that will exacerbate the problem. So I recommend that you try to address the matter from many fronts.
First, even if your dog does not have fleas, use a good flea control product regularly. An occasional flea bite will definitely make your dog itch more.
Second, try not to let pollen build up on his feet. You can cleanse his feet with a cool, moist wash cloth after each walk to physically remove pollen. Make sure you thoroughly dry his feet after each cleansing.
Next, consider using some natural anti-allergy products. Oatmeal sprays work well in some dogs, and if you combine an oatmeal product with the above tips that may help to control the problem. Also, your veterinarian may sell fatty acid supplements (basically, fish oil capsules) that have been shown in studies to strengthen the skin's resistance to allergic reactions.
Finally, remember that allergies are very frustrating in pets, just like they are in people. It probably won't be possible to eliminate the licking entirely. Your goal should be to keep him comfortable.
If the basic suggestions I have listed don't work to your satisfaction, talk to your vet about changing to a hypoallergenic diet, or about medications such as antihistamines that may help with the itching. However, I would be hesitant to use medications without first trying some of the less intrusive tactics listed above.