The overwhelming reason dogs obsessively lick their paws is because they itch.
Nine times out of ten, the itching is caused by allergies to inhaled pollen.
In people, allergy symptoms are usually watery eyes and sneezing. But allergies in dogs usually cause an inflammatory response in their skin.
Paws have special skin that is more sensitive to histamine - and inflammation - so allergies often show up first in paws. They also have a lot of nerves, so paws usually itch first and worse than the rest of their bodies.
Other body parts like legs, tummy, eyes, rectum, snout, back and ears are also prime locations for inflammation and itching.
We don’t believe that dogs lick because they are bored. They lick the most at night when they are ready for bed. Dogs are happiest when they are getting ready to go to sleep and everyone is settling down for the night. They aren’t bored. It's just that all inflammation gets worse at night. The same thing is true in people.
For the same reason that arthritis hurts more at night, or your sinuses get swollen at night, or your back hurts more, or your skin itches. Almost all inflammatory problems are much worse at night, dogs included.
We also don’t think it’s anxiety. Almost all dogs will stop licking if given a steroid. That's because steroids decrease swelling and inflammation, so it stops itching. But steroids will, if anything, increase anxiety. If anxiety was the issue, steroids would make it worse.
Because the main problem is inflammation and itching a steroid can reduce it or stop it altogether for anywhere from a few weeks to two months. Steroids are excellent anti-inflammatories, they just can't be used on a long-term basis, and they have some nasty side effects, including some pretty serious ones.
Certainly separation anxiety can make things worse, but that isn't the primary cause either. Paw licking is only seen in certain breeds, and it has very little to do with anxiety.
The genetics of the breed have much more of an effect in how bad the paw licking or skin problems will be, than anything else.
About 25 breeds totally dominate the paw licking category. They are usually pure breeds, and the smaller dogs seem to do it slightly more than the larger dogs. Although little dogs lick more, they do less damage to themselves. Larger dogs can lick or chew until it bleeds and becomes infected with bacteria or yeast.
Dogs with white skin are horribly sensitive to everything and get secondary infections more easily too. Bulldogs have toe cysts. Great Danes chew one ankle. Jack Russells all lick their paws constantly. Westies almost all have skin problems. Bichons get red spots and sores all over. Black Labs usually lick just their front paws, and golden retrievers often get ear infections around the same time their paw licking starts.
Each breed usually exhibits almost exactly the same symptoms and behavior as the rest of the dogs of the same breed.
There are about two dozen breeds that seem to have all the allergies. Very few dogs outside that group show any problems at all.
Since there’s not much to do about the genetics of dog breeding, or pollen in the air. And no one has yet developed a cure for allergies, dog owners can only rely on finding the best things to manage the symptoms.
There are several things you can do to help your dog. Dermapaw is just one of them.
Just click on one of the links below to read more.