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Ask A Vet: Why Does My Dog Chew Her Nails And/Or Lick Her Paws?

Have you ever noticed your dog chewing her nails or licking her paws? I bet you thought it was the same reason that some people bite their nails. Nail biting for people can be a bad habit or a self soothing event for anxiety. But nail biting for dogs is not typically a habit-like or anxiety associated behavior. It is usually a sign of a more physical illness. Some people assume that the paw licking and nail biting are a normal thing for their dog to do as part of cleaning herself, but this is not the case. Normal paw licking is only occasional and usually can be related to the feet being wet or dirty.

Inhalant allergies, also known as Atopy (like hay fever for humans) are the number one cause of repeated paw licking, nail biting and itching of the skin, especially the feet and toes. Dogs then lick the feet and bite their nails because of the itching. The moisture and infection in the saliva then encourages a secondary bacterial or fungal infection on the feet. This can become a nail bed infection as well (which can be a treatment challenge). It is a vicious cycle that your dog needs help to break. Besides skin problems, other signs, such as a runny nose, itchy and watery eyes and other respiratory signs can occur.

dog chewing paws

Atopy may be seasonal or nonseasonal depending on the allergen, but most dogs with atopy will eventually develop nonseasonal signs. Most sufferers first develop signs from spring to fall because of environmental allergens. Abnormal nail biting is frequent, so if you notice that your dog licks his feet every single day, there might be a problem. Especially if the feet become stained brown on light colored dogs. Saliva staining is a big warning sign of inhalant allergies.

Imagine your feet and hands itching intensely. You would want help. If you notice your dog is chewing her nails or frequently licking her feet, it is important that you contact your veterinarian. There are certainly things that can be done. Now is the time that we are starting spring flowers…and itchy feet!

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Written by Dr. Kathryn Primm
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