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Most dogs lick their paws occasionally as part of normal grooming, but sometimes you may notice that your dog is licking more than usual. This behavior may seem harmless at first, but it can hint at more serious underlying issues, and it can also cause irritation to your dog's skin. If you notice that your four-legged friend has suddenly started licking its paws more frequently than usual, you may want to talk to your veterinarian and other professionals to see if any of these common reasons dogs lick their paws are making your dog uncomfortable.

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Pain

Dogs sometimes they hide their pain very well. Excessive licking can be a subtle sign that something is hurting them. The causes of this kind of pain can range from arthritis to injuries to a thorny plant or other foreign object embedded under the skin. Regardless, if your dog suddenly starts licking excessively, it's a good idea to call your vet and schedule a check-up to rule out physical causes.

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Allergies

Another common reason dogs lick their paws is a subtle allergic reaction. This often manifests as itchy feet, which causes dogs to lick and chew excessively in an effort to soothe the itch. This is most commonly seen with environmental or food allergies, so if your dog starts licking his paws suddenly after you change foods or start using a new grooming product, this may be a cause. If there isn't an obvious new allergen, call your vet to schedule an appointment.

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Boredom

Dogs need a lot of physical and mental exercise, and if they don't get it, they often find unhealthy ways to entertain themselves. Sometimes this involves chewing up a couch or barking excessively, but excessive self-grooming behaviors like licking and chewing can also become a problem. If this is the reason your dog licks his paws, the solution is simple. Just be sure to spend more time exercising, training and socializing your dog.

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Anxiety and Stress

Licking is an instinctively soothing behavior for dogs, so sometimes dogs that live with excessive anxiety and stress begin to do it obsessively in an effort to soothe themselves. This can lead to skin irritation and other problems. If your dog is licking his paws due to fear or anxiety, there are several options you can take. Some dogs need more routine or quiet environments to feel comfortable. Others may be so anxious that they need medication to help them stay calm.

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Dry Skin

Dogs can get dry skin just like people do, and the resulting itchiness and irritation can cause them to lick their paws. Unfortunately, this often makes the problem worse by further irritating the skin. Some breeds are particularly prone to it, especially hairless breeds such as the Chinese crested dog or the Xoloitzcuintli. However, all dogs can get dry skin in certain conditions. This can be helped by feeding dietary supplements such as fish or coconut oil, as well as using topical moisturizers designed for dogs.

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Hormonal Imbalances

Sometimes an underlying systemic health problem causes dry or itchy skin. Two common culprits are Cushing's disease, which involves the production of too much cortisol, and hypothyroidism, which means the thyroid gland is underactive. Both can result in dry, itchy skin and odd hair growth. Fortunately, both conditions are usually easy to treat, but you will need to visit your vet to get a proper diagnosis and start your dog on the appropriate medications.

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Excessive Bathing

Everyone likes a clean, well-groomed dog, but it's important to remember that most dogs weren't bred to be bathed frequently. In general, most dogs should only be bathed once a month at the most. Dogs with particularly sensitive skin might need it even less frequently. You should also be sure to only use appropriate shampoos and conditioners designed for use on dogs, as human shampoos often have harsher chemicals that can irritate canine skin and cause paw licking.

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Fleas and Ticks

Most areas have populations of fleas and ticks that your dog can pick up while on a walk, and these can cause a lot of irritation. You might notice your dog scratching excessively as well as licking his paws if this is the culprit, but in early stages of the infestation, it might not be that obvious. It's a good idea always to keep your dog on a flea and tick preventative to avoid this. If you do get an infestation, you'll need to groom your dog with special shampoos and tools, as well as to clean your home using flea-eradication techniques to kill any bugs living in the environment.

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Ice, Snow, and Salt

If you live in an area with harsh, snowy winters, you may notice your dog licking his paws more frequently during winter months. This is often a result of snow and ice getting caught in your dog's paw hairs, which can cause small ice balls to form between the toe pads. In some areas, harsh deicing salts and other chemicals can cause irritation to the paw pads themselves, which may cause your dog to lick in an effort to soothe them. Consider using protective boots when walking dogs in these conditions, and keep a clean towel and a bowl of warm water by your door to wipe your dog's paws off immediately after each walk.

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What to Do if Your Dog Licks Their Paws

While occasional paw licking is normal, excessive licking can cause damage and create problems for your dog. The first step is to prevent further harm by stopping the behavior. Consider using a cone-style emergency collar to prevent access, or wrap the affected paws gently in a bandage or cloth. Bitter apple spray can help deter the dog as well, but be sure not to apply it directly to broken or irritated skin. Be sure to call your vet and schedule an appointment to find out the root cause of the licking and develop a treatment plan to stop it from continuing to occur.

dogs lick their paws FatCamera / Getty Images

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