Why is she constantly licking her paws?
Abby has a puzzling habit. She spends hours licking her front paws. Her guardian took her to the vet, who is treating her for allergies, but the licking continues. What’s going on?
Paw licking and chewing in dogs is actually a very common complaint. Conventionally, it’s considered an allergic response. Most dogs are taken through a battery of tests, put on hypoallergenic and elimination diets, and given repeated or long-term antibiotics. Many end up on corticosteroids. Yet like Abby, many of these dogs go on licking.
For years, I cringed every time I saw a dog that excessively licked his paws. Although I agree that allergies should be on the differential diagnosis list, many affected dogs improve only marginally when treated for allergies.
For the longest time, I tried different diets, homeopathy, herbal supplements and detox protocols on these dogs, but the results were not as good as I hoped for. I asked myself if I was missing something important, and started looking at these patients with fresh eyes.
Looking for neurological causes
Then it dawned on me. Could it be that “paw lickers” paid attention to their feet because of an abnormal neurologic sensation or referred pain? I started to look most closely at the patients I was seeing, and began examining their necks and spines for discomfort, muscle spasms, inflammation and tightness.
Surprisingly, I found that most of the dogs who licked their front paws had signs of lower cervical inflammation and discomfort. The dogs that licked their forearms had muscle spasms and inflammation in the inter-scapular region. Those 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. 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.
This made sense from an anatomical and neurological point of view. Nerve and energy meridian pathways are affected or “impinged” by tight muscles, collars or leash jerks.
Looking at where collars are positioned, it is logical that they could cause neck and nerve injury in dogs prone to pulling. In the case of retractable leashes, meanwhile, the spring of the leash develops a continuous pull that generates a degree of stress in the cervical region. In addition, when a dog gets to the end of the retractable leash, the sudden stop and jerk causes additional force.
Based on these observations, I started addressing the injuries and tightness I found in my paw-licking patients. To my surprise, a large majority of these dogs recovered completely or at least improved significantly, depending on the severity of the injury and the chronicity of the condition.
8 ways to solve the problem
If your dog is a paw licker, try the following approach. First, I assume he has been examined by a veterinarian, that blood work has been done, and he is being fed a wholesome diet and essential vitamins, minerals and Omega fatty acids.
1. Use a front clip harness to reduce stress on your dog’s cervical spine.
2. Never attach the leash to a collar, especially if he pulls frequently.
3. Don’t use a retractable leash.
4. If your dog licks his hind feet, prevent him from sprinting, jumping, leaping in the water or retrieving balls for at least a month. This will reduce the muscle tightness that usually affects nerve and energy pathways to the hind feet.
5. Chiropractic, physiotherapy or osteopathic adjustment or therapy is an essential part of treatment.
6. Don’t play tug-of-war with your dog, or if you do, let the rope or leash gently slide through your hands. Don’t lift him in the air when tugging.
8. I also suggest Zyflamend, an all-natural turmeric-based anti-inflammatory. I have used it for more than four years in dogs, with great results, and have seen no evidence of side effects.
It’s natural to assume that paw licking or chewing is a reaction to the itching and irritation caused by allergies, and in some cases, of course, it does. But if your dog continues licking his feet or forearms despite treatment, consider the possibility of referred pain or inflammation arising from an injury.