Many dogs will chew their paws from time to time. Sometimes this is just an extension of normal cleaning or can be a habit that forms over time. For some dogs however chewing their paws can be a sign of an underlying problem that needs medical attention.
Chewing One Paw
A common cause of very intense chewing is a physical problem such as an injury. Typically, this involves chewing of just one paw. If the dog will allow, check both upper and undersides of the paw, between each toe, and examine each nail including the dew claw (the toenail on the inside of the dog’s front leg). Commonly seen problems include:
- Cuts: These are common in very active dogs. Most cuts happen while they’re running around especially in bodies of water where sharp objects such as stones, wire or glass can’t be seen and avoided. Shallow cuts may heal if left alone but deeper cuts will often bleed a lot and may need stitching.
- Loose/broken claws: Claws are easily snapped or broken during normal activities if they become caught. Often the claw breaks at the base but doesn’t fully detach which causes discomfort. Once the loose part is removed the sensitive inner section will dry up.
- Ingrown claws: If claws are not kept short by walking on hard surfaces or regular trimmings, they can curl round and grow into the pad. This is especially common in some small breeds of dog due to the shape of the feet, and on the dew claws. The problem is simply remedied by cutting the claw, but there may be infection which needs treating by a vet.
To help keep your dog’s claws in tip top condition, Healthy Pet Club membership includes free unlimited nail clipping at your vets.
- Interdigital cysts: ID cysts are painful swellings between the toes. They’re particularly common in the front feet of flat-faced dogs due to the shape of the limbs. They’re often treatable by a vet, but can recur in the same place or on the other feet.
Other causes are possible but uncommon, such as nail bed infections, ulcers or foreign bodies. More serious injuries such as broken or dislocated toes tend to cause limping rather than chewing, though some dogs will also lick over a source of pain.
Chewing Several Paws
Dogs who chronically chew several paws can do this due to habit or stress, but it’s also a tell-tale sign of skin allergy. In humans, allergies like hay-fever cause itchy eyes and a runny nose. In dogs allergies cause itchy skin and ears. Often the whole dog is itchy, but the classic areas to be affected include the feet, armpits and groin. Allergies are usually diagnosed between 6 months and 5 years of age, with signs often starting mild and gradually worsening.
There are many causes of allergic skin disease including:
- Pollens and grasses
- Dust or house mites
- Many components of food.
There’s also a condition called atopy, where no underlying cause is found. Diagnosis can be challenging and time consuming, and will likely include a diet trial using a prescription food, and blood tests. Sometimes skin scrapes, plucks and biopsies are required.
Allergic skin disease is not curable but can be very successfully managed. Often dogs will need a combination of treatments consisting of oral medications with shampoos, topical treatments and occasionally individual allergy vaccines. Prompt diagnosis is important to avoid secondary bacterial infection.
There are many reasons why a dog may chew his or her paws, ranging from mild problems to life-long conditions. If you notice your dog showing any abnormal behaviours, please see your vet for a check-up.