Tuesday, October 9, 2012

My Dog Licks Their Paws!

Many owners think nothing of the fact that their dog seems to lick and chew on their feet a lot.  I've heard owners say they assumed their dog was merely grooming, and didn't give it more thought than that.

Cats groom themselves, but dogs do not... *not* in the sense that would explain away licking away at paws or other areas of their body.  We naturally see our dogs affectionately lick on their friends, but offering grooming and licks to a buddy is different than the focus they give to their own bodies. 

Your veterinarian may ask you about licking or chewing, and they do this because it isn't typically a normal behavior.  Dogs who pay this kind of attention to their paws are likely suffering from some kind of allergy, and their paws are itchy.  With excessive licking, they may become raw and irritated, and will likely "bronze".  Bronzing is easy to see in our white dogs, because their fur turns to the color of tea.  Their saliva causes these changes, and if they stop licking (are cured of the source of the itch), the bronzing will go away.

Seeing bronzing is a sure sign of excessive licking, whether it be around their mouths, their paws, or their abdomen.  If you do not notice your dog licking much, he or she may be doing it more when you are not home and if you notice discoloration of fur like this, have your vet talk to you about ruling out allergies.

In addition to this unwanted attention to their paws, if you notice itchy ears or reoccurring ear infections, allergies are a likely culprit.  (Keeping in mind there are *many* things which can irritate our dogs ears, such as baths, excessive hair in the canal, and swimming, to name a few). The only *real* way to determine if it's an allergy is to have a DVM do allergy testing.  It's just like how they do it in humans, where a patch of fur is shaved and irritants are injected under the skin to isolate what they are allergic to.  Not all general practice DVMs may do this, but they can refer you to a dermatologist.

Some of the most common allergens for dogs are dust, fleas, grass, pollen, and certain proteins they are consuming in their foods.  Based on my experience and conversations with veterinarians, some dogs who never had a particular allergic reaction to, say, cow, can develop one after a couple of years eating the same protein.  Your vet may recommend trying a new protein (anything else.. fish, chicken, etc.) for *no less* than 2 months to see if you see an improvement.  (Keep in mind that buffalo and cow are essentially the same protein). Switching for less than 2 months won't give their body enough time to respond.  If you do this, WATCH YOUR SNACKS..  make sure the correct protein is also within your snacks, not just their main meals.

While some dogs have an allergic reaction to vaccines, this *won't* be why you see this licking.  If you dog is allergic to vaccine, symptoms of that will show up the day of the injection and present, most commonly, as a swollen face.  (Anything other than being tired following a vaccine should be cause for concern and you should call your vet immediately).  

Our pups spend their entire lives on their feet!  We need to take any possible discomfort very seriously, whether it be allergens or even overgrown toe nails.  Always be cognisant of the surfaces they are walking on, especially in extreme cold and heat.  With winter coming, beware of salt placed on slippery surfaces, as this can irritate their feet as well.  In the winter, dogs are also more prone to pad injuries, because the ground is covered in leaves or snow, hiding lawn edgings and other potentially harmful items.

That being said, if you notice your dog licking or chewing, exam their paws.  Be sure to look closely between all their "toes", and ensure no nails are overgrown and rubbing into their pads.  If you have ruled out injury or irritation from a foreign object, take them into the vet.  It won't GO AWAY without a change in diet or reduction of allergens, and will likely grow worse and more irritated and possibly infected.  Dogs can be placed on medications to help manage allergies, just like us.

As with all things, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and putting off addressing even things which seem minor save us a lot of money in the long run, not to mention the comfort of our best friends which is always paramount to anything else.

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