It is highly frustrating when you catch your dog biting his foot, but cannot see what’s bothering him. This happens to all dog owners, sometime. You’re not unobservant – The cause of your dog’s paw-chewing is often something that cannot be seen from the outside.
So, in answer to “Why does my dog bite his foot?” – – The most obvious reason would be to relieve injury or irritation of the paw, perhaps from a splinter, wound, or from having stepped in something that is irritating the pads. When there is no visible damage to the paw, a common cause is allergies. If, however, the dog is not showing any other allergy symptoms, he may be responding to pain from a strain, injury, or deterioration elsewhere in his body.
The two basic reasons why a dog chews on his paw are to get something off of it, or to relieve discomfort. When you catch your dog chewing on his paw, you can – and should – tell him to stop it. If it becomes a habit, your pet could chew it to the point of injury and infection. This article will help you get to the root of the problem. Figuring it out yourself, if possible, will save you the expense and hassle of a veterinary visit. If you are unsuccessful in finding the reason, you will still have done something very valuable – You will have collected enough facts about your dog’s condition to help his doctor make an accurate diagnosis.
Assessing Why your Dog Bites his Foot
The fact that you are reading this article tells me that you probably need to look at your dog’s paw NOW, but don’t snatch up that paw just yet! Be sure he understands that you’re there to help him. Some dogs are complete marshmallows; others don’t like having their paws touched. One thing every owner must work on with his dog is training him to have his paws handled.
1. Paw-Check pre-Training
Retired racing greyhounds are usually wonderful about having their paws examined, because each is checked over by his trainer, all over, after every race. My first greyhound, Peaches, would even offer me the afflicted paw, whenever there was a problem. It was quite funny – She would flop onto the ground and stick her paw up in the air. If the problem happened during a walk, she would halt, and lift the injured paw off the ground.
While you’re training him to have his paws handled, also take the time to train him to lay on his side, on command. It is much more difficult to examine a paw on a standing dog.
It’s a good thing that dogs usually chew their feet while laying down!
2. Gather a few Useful Items
After you tell your dog to stop nibbling, take a moment to gather up a few things: a flashlight, a magnifying glass, some clear tape, a helper, and a clean, damp rag. This infographic shows you how these items will make your task easier:
I have found it very valuable to have these gadget-glasses, which combine flashlight and magnifying function, and are hands-free, to boot! This can be especially important if you are doing this alone.
3. Check the Foot
Of course, the first place to check is the spot where the dog has been biting. If you do not see a wound or splinter, look closer for a tick. Dog Ticks, though large, can be difficult to spot, if one is embedded in the dog’s skin. Then, some ticks, such as the Deer Tick, are very small, and can be easily mistaken for a bit of leaf of dirt.
You’re probably wondering where the clear tape comes in – If there are any ticks or anything on your dog’s skin, gentle use of the tape can be very effective in removing it. If you grab anything with the tape, fold it over to seal it in. This creates a specimen, which may be helpful to your veterinarian, later on. Be sure to take pictures of the affected area, as well.
Once you are sure that none of these things are present, check the skin for irritation. Naturally, it may be irritated simply from being gnawed; so look closely. See if there are any small dots that could indicate an insect bite or a rash.
4. Go Deeper
If there is no visible problem, gently touch the area, watching closely for any reaction. Warning: dogs can be very stoic. A greyhound often reacts only the first time you touch a sensitive area; and even then, the reaction may be limited to a little creep of the skin or roll of the eye.
If you still haven’t found the problem, carefully check his whole foot. Gently flex his joints. In this video, an expert shows you how to give your dog a 2-minute check for injuries:
Why it’s Important to Observe your Paw-Chewing Dog for Additional Symptoms
I was surprised to learn from the Forever Vets Hospital blog that a dog may chew his paw in reaction to pain that is occurring elsewhere in his body. For example, “older dogs may be reacting to the pain of arthritis. Watch for limping and stiffer movement;” so if you cannot figure out why your dog is chewing on his foot, you must have the veterinarian take a look at him. Believe it or not, though, your veterinarian may not be sure of the reason, either! It often depends on how much information you can give him, up front. The fact is that there is a vast range of things that could cause the chewing, so you may not be totally surprised when I tell you that sometimes veterinarians get the diagnosis wrong.
This was picked up on by Dr. Peter Dobias, who became frustrated with the lack of relief that some of his paw-chewing patients had experienced after being treated by the veterinarian. If the veterinarian checks your dog’s paw and finds an injury, that is easy to treat. If the he cannot immediately find a reason for the paw-chewing, however, he will often choose to treat the dog for allergies. After all, it is a very common cause, and if the treatment doesn’t work, there’s no harm done to the dog. Besides, time is money, so the veterinarian will do the best he can with the time he’s got.
A Surprising Cause of Paw Biting/Licking
Dr. Dobias hit upon the idea that the itching might have a neurological cause. He has stated, “surprisingly, most of the patients that licked their front feet had signs of lower cervical inflammation and discomfort. The dogs that licked their forearms had muscle spasms and inflammation in the inter-scapular region [Wow! When my Shannon did that, I thought he was trying to get a bad taste out of his mouth!]. Those that were licking their hind feet often had signs of injury in the lumbar spine – the origin of nerves supplying the hind feet.”
“I also noticed that front paw lickers often pulled on the leash or their guardians used a collar attached to a retractable leash. The dogs with hind foot licking were often sprinters and ball retrievers, and frequently had signs of para-spinal muscle injuries and strain of the lumbar spine.”
That is why, when you see your dog merrily nibbling away, hold the phone for a moment! Before you call the doctor, observe exactly how your dog is munching on his paw, and make a list of all of his other health symptoms and problems, even if you think they are totally unconnected…because sometimes there is a connection, after all.
How do I Stop my Dog from Chewing his Paws: Remedies and Prevention
- Prevent burnt pads by keeping your dog in the shade or on the grass on hot days.
- Prevent frostbite by shortening walks in frigid weather.
- Protect pads against both heat and cold with a good paw cream, such as Musher’s Secret.
- Keep your dog off any lawn that may have been treated with toxic pesticides. Be aware that these chemicals are also often present on the street, close to the grass.
- Clean paws off after walks, to remove road salt and other chemicals that may irritate a dog’s skin. A Paw Plunger makes fast work of this, and is less messy. I used to use a plastic container, but the dog kept kicking it over.
- De-ice your paths using paw-safe ice-melt. This one has saved my pets a lot of sore paws!
“Will Saliva Heal Wounds?”
Should you let your buddy take matters into his own hands (or, in his case, his own teeth)? The AKC website says “scientific evidence suggests that dog saliva, and even human saliva, has some antibacterial and antimicrobial properties. Dog saliva is even slightly antibacterial against Escherichia coli (E. coli), and against Streptococcus canis, which can be passed from companion animals to humans. In addition, a dog’s tongue is good at loosening any dirt from a wound. However, the keyword in this research is ‘slightly.’ Modern medicine has far surpassed saliva in terms of effectiveness at wound healing, with veterinary antiseptic products providing a better alternative.”
Resources for Further Info
A good list of possible causes:
Dr. Peter Dobias gives very specific information on paw licking and biting from hidden causes:
AKC’s deep-dive into the medicinal properties of dog spit: