A dog on the grass chewing his feet and paws.
A dog on the grass chewing his feet and paws. Photography ©Natael Júnior | Getty Images.

Why Do Dogs Chew Their Feet? Reasons Why and What to Do

Why do dogs chew their feet? There could be a couple of different issues at play — and foot chewing or licking in itself could create even more problems.
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I’ve been known to put my foot in my mouth. But dogs do it on purpose. So, why do dogs chew their feet? The answer isn’t as straightforward 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. But finding the cause of foot chewing can be complicated. “It can be multiple different things,” Dr. Pachel says. “This is not one size fits all.”

Chewing and licking feet are common behaviors. “Just because a dog is licking his foot doesn’t necessarily mean that he needs to be rushed into the vet clinic,” Dr. Pachel says. But if the behaviors come on suddenly and intensely for extended periods, they can be cause for concern.

A curly dog chewing his feet.
Why do dogs chew their feet? Allergies might be the answer. Photography ©Barrie Harwood / Alamy Stock Photo.

Why do dogs chew their feet? Allergies might be at play.

One of the common answers to, “Why do dogs chew their feet?” Allergies. If the behavior coincides with a change of seasons, that offers a clue that an environmental allergen, such as pollen, mold or mildew, might be triggering the behavior. More long-term chewing could signal a food allergy. But determining the exact food ingredient is difficult and time-consuming. “It is a process of trial and error, and it’s impossible to predict just by looking at the dog just what they are allergic to,” Dr. Pachel says.

A 12-week food-elimination trial offers the best chance of finding a specific culprit, says Rebecca Remillard, PhD, DVM, a diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Nutrition. These involved trials start with feeding a simplified diet of foods the dog has never eaten.

Why do dogs chew their feet? Due to these diseases and illnesses.

So, what are some other common answers to, “Why do dogs chew their feet?” Numerous between-the-toes skin diseases can cause a dog to chew his feet, says Dr. Remillard, who founded Veterinary Nutritional Consultations Inc. in Hollister, North Carolina. In addition, injury or pain (such as from arthritis or hip dysplasia), as well as autoimmune diseases, cysts, tumors and cancer can lead to foot biting. Some dogs might munch their digits 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, an arid climate or a deficiency of fatty acids in the diet can cause excessive paw chomping. A cracked claw could be to blame or even a corn (Greyhounds are said to be prone to corns). Maybe a thorn, pebble or other foreign object is lodged in or between the paw pads. Fleas, ticks, mites and other parasites irritate the skin, as can some soaps and shampoos, the salt used to treat snowy streets and chemical substances such as harsh lawn and garden pesticides.

Why do dogs chew their feet? Is there ever a good reason behind it?

Sometimes the answer to, “Why do dogs chew their feet?” is even beneficial. When dogs instinctively lick their wounds (whether on the foot or elsewhere), antibacterial enzymes in their saliva help ward off infection, according to an article on Psychology Today’s website. Saliva also aids in cleaning abrasions and cuts, and the licking action promotes healing by stimulating cells that close the wound.

A dog paw.
What’s the difference between a dog chewing and a dog licking his feet? Photography ©PakHong | Getty Images.

A dog chewing his feet versus a dog licking his feet

Now that we’ve got some answers to,”Why do dogs chew their feet?” let’s look at some reasons why dogs lick their feet. Licking without chewing is often a behavioral issue, says Dr. Pachel, who is a diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists. Licking feet can be a sign of anxiety, depression, stress, boredom or canine compulsive disorder, which affects as much as 3 percent of dogs.

“Something about that repetitive oral behavior may be a stress relief,” says Dr. Pachel, who likens it to people chewing their fingernails.

It also can be an attention-seeking behavior. “We could have a dog that is licking or paying attention to his feet because that is a behavior that drives the owner crazy,” Dr. Pachel says. Reacting to the licking can inadvertently reinforce it.

If your veterinarian rules out health issues as the cause of licking, consult an animal behaviorist.

Plus, all that foot chewing can create even more issues

Whatever the answer to the question, “Why do dogs chew their feet?” is — foot chewing and licking in and of themselves can cause problems.

“Chewing and licking can disrupt the normal skin barrier and the normal skin defenses,” Dr. Pachel says. Dampness from saliva can lead to yeast and bacterial infections, particularly for dogs with thick fur that retains moisture. And repeated friction from a rough tongue can rub off fur and cause acute moist dermatitis (hot spots) and lick granulomas (skin lesions).

What initially might have offered temporary relief to the dog ends up making things worse, requiring a multi-pronged resolution: Breaking the itch cycle with antihistamines, topical creams or lotions; treating any infections; and eliminating 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 lots of causes, there also are lots of treatments.

“It really comes back to why it’s happening,” Dr. Pachel says. “For any one of these issues, there might be multiple treatment options. Focusing on basic health care is a great start to at least minimizing some of these other issues. Then it’s a matter of watching your dog carefully and making that educated decision about when to have him evaluated by a veterinarian.”

A Dalmatian raising his paw or feet.
Are there ways to nip dog foot chewing before it begins? Photography ©kyolshin | Getty Images.

Stomp out foot chomping before it begins:

  1. Feed a high-quality, well-balanced diet. „
  2. Make sure your dog gets plenty of physical exercise, mental stimulation and interaction with people and other dogs. „
  3. Provide proper hygiene care, including bathing and grooming. Go for regular veterinary checkups. „
  4. Use preventive flea and tick medication. „
  5. Periodically rinse and examine your dog’s feet.

Call your veterinarian if you notice:

  1. New, frequent, persistent, excessive or obsessive foot chewing or licking „
  2. Limping, bald spots or skin that is red, swollen, bleeding or warm to the touch
  3. Discoloration of foot fur (pink or rust color caused by the compound porphyrin in a dog’s saliva)
  4. An area of the foot that is sensitive to touch or has a cut or other wound

Read Next: Dog Digestive System Basics — How Long Does it Take for a Dog to Digest Food?

 

38 thoughts on “Why Do Dogs Chew Their Feet? Reasons Why and What to Do”

  1. We put our Dachshund on Little Caesars soft food with a package in the morning and one in the evening to help get rid of rodents that were king us up in the middle of the night eating Beau’s dry food that is in his carrier beside our bed. (it is basically just a private place to put his food and water, he thinks we are crazy for thinking that we would even think of kicking him off the bed. After all he does a good job of sharing the Queen size bed, and I haven’t fallen out of bed in at least two weeks)
    What really surprised us is that he has lost five pounds in the past three months and is as happy as a clam.

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  3. I was thinking of taking white vinegar in my hands and then rubbing his paws with the white vinegar and he probably wouldn’t like to lick that it would that be a good idea.
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  5. Maria G. Christa

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  11. I have one allergic dog and one that chews various body parts out of boredom but also has less severe allergies. The more allergic dog is on prescription medication. Also, washing their paws a couple of times a day, and wiping them down with a pet wipe before bed can help by removing pollen clinging to them. Finally, I’ve managed to teach them a no lick command so that I can interrupt the foot-chewing and licking. Even so, we still have issues during high pollen times each year.

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  13. My dog actually grooms her nails to the point she never has to have them clipped because she keeps them at a proper length. This isn’t the same as some other obsessive behavior. I have never worried about it with her. Maybe I should, but this seems normal for her.

  14. Could there be another reason for foot licking in Dalmatians such as gout? Could they be licking to relieve the pain of the Uris acid crystals?

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  25. I have recently changed my dogs food and have noticed foot chewing and chewing the back of his legs, could it be a food allergy or something more serious?

  26. My dog is a chawa&terrier mix she chewing the hair of her feet what can i give her or do for her to stop chewing her feet hair off ?

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  28. We just got a 9 yr old shiz tzu. He’s obsessively biting, chewing, and grunting over his feet and his butt. His previous owner had a prescription for anxiety meds and I gave him half of one pill (dose age) and have just about doused him with anti itch spray. Bathed him and no good! Food allergy maybe? He eats pedigree small bites, but my rat terrier had a similar problem and it cleared up after we changed his food. Any suggestions?

    1. My 9 year old Staffordshire terrier got relief with th a food change. His feet are white again. They were pink from his saliva.

  29. It’s also worth checking their teeth. One of our two was frantically “biting” his paw – I later found a bit of fur stuck in his teeth that he’d been trying to get out.

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