Ask the Vet: Allergens & Paw Licking
The Question: Why is my dog obsessed with licking his paw? He started this after a move. Is it anxiety? He seems totally fine until we sit down for the evening. The quietness starts...Baxter starts licking. It drives me mad! -JJ Smith
My first question is: From where did you move? Even if you moved here from another southern town, the allergens in Charleston seem to be pretty bad for dogs AND their human house mates. Even if you moved from Folly Beach to Summerville, the allergens in the yard can change based on the types of trees and plants in the area. Even if you moved across the street, it could be as simple as the neighbor’s cat is not on flea prevention, and is therefore perpetuating a flea problem in your yard. Even if your dog is on flea prevention every month, and you never see a single flea, and you treat the yard, he/she might be suffering from a few extra bites that cause itchy skin and feet chewing. Flea allergies are not the same as a flea infestation, and flea allergies are very real.
My second question is: Did the food change? Are you giving Baxter extra treats or people food because the dog food is packed away in a box? Food allergens are notorious for creating feet licking and ear infections. And sometimes, dogs that have been eating the same food their entire lives can become allergic to that food. Many people have the same problem and discover food allergies in their 20’s and 30s that never seemed to be a problem in their teens.
Allergies are always the underlying cause until proven otherwise, but it is true that anxiety can play a part. More often than not, the allergy leads to a secondary infection with yeast or bacteria. This makes the foot even itchier, so they lick more. Dogs are nervous in a new environment, and so the licking can become an ingrained or OCD behavior. Then, even when the allergens are controlled, the dog continues to lick which can create an infection. They can actually make a skin problem WORSE if they are obsessive about licking - Hence the dreaded lampshade around the neck, which is needed to break the cycle. But if the allergy is not controlled, the itching and licking will never stop.
Dr. Danielle Cain is originally from Long Island, NY where she grew up riding horses, rehabilitating wild animals with her family, and fostering stray dogs and cats. She completed a bachelor's degree in biology at the University of Delaware with a focus in genetics and the aim of researching reproduction in endangered animals. While working as a veterinary technician she fell in love with the profession and decided to pursue a career in veterinary medicine at North Carolina State University. Dr. Cain has worked extensively with turtles, has experience with reptiles and other exotics, and has a passion for wildlife rehabilitation. After veterinary school, she completed a rotating medicine and surgery internship in San Diego, and worked in several California practices. She then relocated to Charleston in 2005, where she lives with her two rescued cats, Una and Bagheera.