For your dog, itchy paws can be quite distressing. And listening to your dog lick and chew at his or her feet isn’t that pleasant for you either. Integrative veterinarian Dr. Julie Buzby discusses five reasons a dog may have itchy paws then gives six ideas for at-home remedies. Plus, she discusses when you should make a vet appointment and how your vet can help give your dog some itchy paw relief.
Is the sound of your dog licking his paws keeping you up at night? Does it seem like your dog spends more time chewing her feet than her toys? When you ask your dog to “shake” do you find yourself holding a saliva-soaked paw?
If you answered “yes” to any of those questions, your dog may have itchy paws.
5 reasons for your dog’s itchy paws
If this news comes as a surprise to you, don’t feel bad. It tends to be pretty obvious when other parts of your dog’s body are itchy because your dog scratches with a foot or rubs against the ground. On the other hand—or paw—the symptoms of itchy paws can be a bit more subtle. Keep an eye out for:
- Licking and chewing paws
- Discoloration of the fur on your dog’s paws
- Paws that are red and irritated
- Foot pad cracks or dryness
- Abnormal paw odor
- Wet spots on your carpet or sheets from the obsessive paw licking
Notice whether your dog seems to be concentrating on one foot or switching between multiple feet. Plus, take note of any other symptoms your dog is showing. This information can help distinguish between the five causes of itchy paws in dogs that we are about to discuss.
#1: Allergies, allergies, allergies
It isn’t a mistake that I wrote allergies three times. This is by far the most common reason dogs are itchy and licking their paws, especially if all four feet are involved.
Dogs can have different types of allergies just like people can. If you see your dog itch only part of the year (like summer or spring), he or she could have environmental allergies. However, if your dog is itchy year-round or is also experiencing some vomiting and diarrhea, he or she could be suffering from food allergies.
To complicate matters, some dogs have food allergies plus environmental allergies, which can make them somewhat itchy year round but worse certain times of the year. Or a dog might have environmental allergies to things that are present year round (like dust mites). It is also worth noting that some dogs are allergic to flea saliva. However, flea allergies are less likely to cause itchy feet than food allergies or environmental allergies.
If your dog has allergies, you might notice symptoms such as:
- Red and itchy paws
- Ear infections (i.e. otitis in dogs)
- Itching or scratching other parts of the body
- Dry, flaky, red, or irritated skin
- Red, swollen eyes
- Eye discharge
- Nasal discharge
If you notice these symptoms and suspect your dog has allergies, please consult your veterinarian. He or she can help you find the allergy management solutions that are right for your dog.
#2: Bacterial skin infections
Licking and chewing the paws because of an allergy can also set up the perfect environment for a bacterial skin infection (i.e. pyoderma in dogs). So can parasites or hormonal disorders. And sometimes no one can find a cause.
As a result of the infection, the dog may have red and itchy paws which look irritated. Sometimes the paws also become swollen and painful or develop an odd odor. The pain and itching may cause the dog to lick and chew at the paws even more, further worsening the irritation.
If you suspect your dog has a bacterial infection on his or her feet, please make an appointment with your veterinarian. Skin infections can progress quickly so it is best to start treatment as soon as possible.
#3: Fungal skin infections
Along the same lines, dogs who are itchy and licking their paws due to allergies can end up with a dog paw yeast infection. The same is true of other situations that lead to increased moisture on your dog’s skin. For this reason, dogs who go swimming frequently or live in wet environments are prone to developing yeast infections of their paws.
One of the first signs that many owners notice when it comes to yeast infections is the smell. These infections smell musty or like moldy cheese. Also, the paw might have a moist appearance and be irritated, red, and itchy.
Yeast infections are most likely to develop between the toes or paw pads. These small tight areas don’t get as much air flow as other parts of the dog’s body so they tend to trap moisture. The problem is compounded when a dog has hairy feet because the wet hair can hold moisture close to the skin.
Contact your veterinarian if you suspect your dog has a yeast infection so your dog can get some relief. Your vet can also discuss ways to prevent yeast infections like keeping your dog’s paw hair trimmed and drying your dog off well after swimming or bathing.
#4: Dry, irritated, or cracked paw pads
Sometimes you might encounter a situation where your dog has itchy paws after a walk but was perfectly normal before. This can happen for a few reasons:
- Walking through sand can dry out your dog’s feet.
- Hot cement may burn your dog’s paw pads which leads to pain, irritation, and itching. (Learn more from Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine’s article on protecting your pet’s feet from heat.)
- Ice melt products could potentially irritate your dog’s paw pads after a winter walk.
Any of these scenarios can also cause your dog’s paw pads to crack as well. If you have ever had your hands become chapped and cracked, you know this can be both itchy and painful. The same is true for your dog’s feet.
To avoid these issues, consider using PawZ Dog boots to protect your dog’s feet. These rubber boots do a great job of keeping feet safe while still allowing your dog to feel and grip the ground when walking. This isn’t the case with other dog boots, which is why PawZ are the only ones I recommend. You can also try walking your dog in the grass instead of on the cement, and washing your dog’s paws off when coming in from outside.
#5: Grass awns or other foreign bodies
An important consideration, especially if only one foot is affected and the licking and chewing started suddenly, is a foreign object stuck in the foot.
Sometimes the seeds, heads, or awns of plants that grow in some geographical areas are the culprit. The worst one is foxtails in dogs. These weeds have a seed head that falls off as the plant begins to dry and die. Foxtail seeds are V-shaped and have a very sharp, pointy tip. Because they are shaped like an arrow, they can become easily embedded in your dog’s foot or other body parts.
Foxtails or other foreign objects can cause swelling, infection, and irritation of the affected paw. The dog may also begin limping on that leg. These foreign bodies can even migrate further into your dog’s body. It is important that they are taken seriously.
If your dog has the potential to encounter foxtails, grass awns, or burrs, it is important to carefully check your dog for them as part of your regular tip-to-tail dog wellness scan. Immediately remove any plant material you find in your dog’s fur.
If your dog has a foxtail or other grass awn in his or her foot, you can try using Epsom salts to draw it out. Soak your dog’s foot in water with Epsom salts for 10 to 15 minutes while ensuring that he or she doesn’t try to drink the soak water. If this does not draw out the whole grass awn, please contact your veterinarian to have him or her safely remove the whole seed head. Also, call your vet if you suspect that a grass awn has migrated into your dog’s paw.
At-home remedies for your dog’s itchy paws
Seeing (and hearing) you dog lick and chew his or her feet all day and night long because of any of the problems we just discussed can be difficult (and irritating!). So, let’s talk about some at-home ways to give your dog itchy paw relief.
When dog parents suspect their pup has allergies, one of the first things they want to try is an over-the-counter anti-histamine. In most cases, it is okay to use Benadryl for a dog’s itchy paws.
However, there are a few things you need to know about using Benadryl for dogs. First of all, it is important to take a close look at the label before giving it to your dog. Sometimes children’s Benadryl can contain the artificial sweetener, xylitol, which is toxic for dogs. Also, diphenhydramine (the drug name for Benadryl) should be the only active ingredient. Combination products that contain Benadryl plus other drugs can be dangerous for your dog.
Additionally, Benadryl can interact with other medications. It also can have increased side effects for dogs who are pregnant, nursing, or have heart disease. So, you should consult your veterinarian before giving Benadryl to your dog, especially if they have one of these described conditions.
#2: Apple cider vinegar
You also can try applying a small amount of dilute apple cider vinegar to the itchy spot on your dog’s paw. The apple cider vinegar should be diluted 50/50 with water. This can be used as a spray or a soak for itchy dog paws.
#3: Bathing and wiping
If you suspect your dog has environmental allergies or his or her skin is irritated from contact with something in the environment, you could consider bathing your dog with a moisturizing or “allergy reducing” shampoo. The very act of giving the bath can remove surface allergens and the special shampoos can help soothe the skin. Along the same lines, wiping your dog’s paws off with baby wipes when he or she comes inside can also help remove irritants and allergens.
#4: Paw balms
If your dog has dry or cracked paw pads, a paw balm might be useful. Paw pad balms can help add moisture back into the dry paw pads, and some balms even have anti-inflammatory properties.
#5: Changing your dog’s diet
While many dogs with food allergies will require a prescription diet, sometimes feeding your dog an over-the-counter “sensitive skin,” “limited ingredient,” or “hypoallergenic” diet can be help reduce itching. Beware of grain-free diets, though, as they may be linked to dilated cardiomyopathy, a potentially fatal heart condition.
#6: Omega-3 fatty acid supplements
If the root of your dog’s problem is allergies or inflamed skin from an infection, omega-3 fatty acids supplements for dogs might be another great option. Omega-3s have amazing anti-inflammatory benefits and also help promote healthy skin and fur.
Veterinary remedies for your dog’s itchy paws
While a home remedy might work for mild cases of itchy paws, I do want to be clear that there are many situations where it is appropriate to seek veterinary care for your dog rather than attempting treatment at home. Contact your vet if:
- Your dog has a grass awn or other foreign material stuck in the paw
- Your dog is limping or obsessively licking and chewing at a paw
- The paw is red, painful, warm, irritated, odd smelling, or swollen
- You have been attempting to manage allergies at home but the dog is getting more itchy
- Your dog’s condition is worsening
The veterinarian has many tools at his or her disposal to help your dog get itchy paw relief and heal quickly. Some of these options include:
- Anti-inflammatories to reduce pain and inflammation
- Antibiotics to treat bacterial skin infections
- Antifungals to address yeast infections
- Medicated shampoos or wipes for treatment and prevention of infections
- Allergy medication for dogs to reduce itching
- Removal of foreign material
- Hypoallergenic or novel protein (i.e. venison, bison, elk, etc.) veterinary prescription diets to manage food allergies
Work with your veterinarian
As you have gathered, there are a variety of reasons for a dog to have itchy paws. This also means that treatment isn’t one-size-fits all. The best way to get to the bottom of the problem and find the right remedies for your dog is to involve your veterinarian in the process. Hopefully, with a little help from your vet and some veterinary and at-home remedies, your dog’s paws will be less itchy in no time at all.
Why were your dog’s paws itchy and what worked best to give him or her some relief?
Please comment below.