Why Do Labradors Bite Their Paws?

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While I've been pretty fortunate with Molly, one recurring issue that we deal with is her allergies. I first noticed the symptoms just before she turned a year old. She would constantly lick or chew around her paws, and I spent hours researching the likely causes. During my research I found that there were various reasons for the behavior, which obviously means its a pretty common problem. So, I thought it would be helpful to share what I learned about why Labradors bite their paws!

Paw biting in Labradors and other dogs is most often an indication of skin irritation such as allergies, dry skin, or parasites. However, paw chewing, licking or biting can also be an indicator of a splinter or other paw injury. In some cases, the cause can be mental distress such as anxiety or depression.

If you’ve noticed your Labrador biting their paws, don’t worry! There are things you can do to bring your dear furry friend some relief. Read on to learn more about the causes of paw-biting and licking in dogs and how you can alleviate their discomfort. 

In this article

Paw Biting and Licking Can Come from Many Causes

When dogs bite, lick, and scratch at their paws, it is not normal grooming behavior. It is typically an indicator that the dog is either in discomfort or in pain. When a dog is licking at its paws, it is attempting to soothe them like it would soothe a wound.

A dog’s saliva has natural healing properties, so a dog is drawn to lick itself in areas that are hurting to soothe the pain. Wound licking is a natural behavior that shows up in many different species of animals.

Here are some of the different causes that can result in your Labrador licking or biting at their paws: 

Allergy related reasons Labradors bite their paws

  • Allergies: Skin allergies are relatively common in dogs and can cause their feet to swell and itch. This encourages the dog to chew and lick at their feet. Unfortunately, the chewing behavior only makes the allergies worse. It can become so bad that the dog may begin to lose hair on the top of their paws. Dogs can be allergic to a wide range of triggers, from grass and trees to dust and certain brands of dog food.
  • Dry skin: Like skin allergies, many dogs can suffer from other skin ailments such as dry skin or eczema. These skin conditions are usually more pronounced in hot or dry weather. Skin conditions may require medication to manage if they’re a chronic condition.
  • Fleas, ticks, and other parasites: Ticks and fleas favor tiny enclosed spaces. The space between a dog’s toes is highly attractive to them. This can cause the dog to bite and chew at its feet to drive the parasites out of its fur.

Injury related reasons Labradors bite their paws

  • Burrs and other debris between the toes: Burrs and other plant material can get caught between the toes of a dog and cause them irritation. As a result, the dog will try to lick and chew their feet to remove the irritant.
  • Splinters or thorns: Like foot injuries, dogs can easily pick up wooden splinters or thorns in their feet. This is especially true for dogs that spend a lot of time on wooden decks or in woodland areas with sticker bushes and brambles. A thorn or splinter can become infected if it becomes embedded too deeply in the foot. Be sure to inspect your dog’s feet carefully for injuries if you see them chewing.
  • Pain from injury: Dogs get around on their bare feet all day. They can easily get cuts or puncture wounds on the soft pads of their feet.

Mental or emotional reasons Labradors bite their paws

  • Depression or boredom: Sometimes, if there is no physical cause for a dog chewing or licking its feet, the problem may be psychological. Dogs that are bored or depressed will chew their feet as a neurotic tic. This can be alleviated by either giving the dog anti-anxiety medications or providing more mental stimulation. 

As you can see, there are many causes of paw chewing and biting in dogs. All of them point to some kind of problem that the dog is having that is causing it pain or discomfort. So, if you see your dog licking at their feet, it’s time to take a closer look. 

What to Do If Your Labrador Is Biting Their Paws

Examination is key

The first thing you should do if you notice your Labrador biting their paws is get the dog to lay down on its side and let you examine its feet. It’s a good idea to get your dog used to having its feet, eyes, nose, ears, and mouth handled as a puppy. This way, when you have to perform impromptu examinations they are much more cooperative. Many dogs have a natural aversion to having their paws touched. This needs to be trained out of them. 

Once you have the dog’s paws, you should inspect them for the following (Source: Dr. Phillips Animal Hospital):

  • Irritation and redness
  • Missing fur
  • Signs of insects
  • Blood or cuts
  • Thorns or splinters
  • Cracks or damage to the pads

Allergies and Eczema

If you find signs of irritation and redness or missing fur on the dog’s paws, this is usually an indication of a skin allergy or eczema. You can try to bathe the dog in a medicated shampoo. I have shampoos in my Recommended Products area that may be helpful. This can alleviate the itching and the inflammation. If the symptoms don’t improve, you may need to take the dog to a veterinarian to get a diagnosis. While costly, they will be able to determine exactly what kind of skin condition the dog is dealing with.

Another way to manage allergies and skin irritation in dogs is to keep their feet wiped down. For severe cases, booties can also be used to provide a barrier between the dog’s skin and the allergens. 

When fleas and ticks are the culprit

If you find signs of insects on the dog’s paws, you need to take steps to treat the dog with a flea and tick preventative. In the meantime, you can bathe the dog in an insecticidal shampoo. Take special care to soap up the dog’s feet. Get between their toes, and make sure there’s nowhere that fleas and ticks can be hiding. 

Injuries and debris - use caution

If you find thorns, splinters, cuts, cracks, or damage to the feet, you must treat cleanly and carefully. Any debris should be removed with tweezers, and the pad should be treated with an antibiotic ointment. If possible, a bandage should also be wrapped around the dog’s paw to prevent more debris from entering the wound. 

How to Take Care of Your Labrador’s Paws

Aside from keeping a sharp eye out for injuries or irritation, there are several ways you can improve the foot health of your Labrador. 

Here are a few things you can do to make sure your dog’s paws stay healthy and itch-free (Source: I Heart Dogs):

  • Provide a nutritious dog food. Cheap dog foods can trigger skin allergies and don’t provide enough healthy fats to give the dog supple skin and a healthy coat. Make sure to buy high-quality dog food with a protein-heavy recipe to prevent skin allergies to common grains used in dog food such as corn. Check out my Recommended Products page for food suggestions.
  • Supplement your dog’s diet with an Omega fatty acid supplement. Making sure your dog has enough Omega fatty acids can help make sure their coat and skin stay healthy and shiny with the necessary oils. Without enough Omega fatty acids in their diet, dogs can develop a dull, lifeless coat and dry, itchy skin.
  • Buy a dog paw wax for your dog. If your dog’s pads are looking dry and rough, this can cause irritation that leads to chewing and licking. Dog paw wax helps to keep pads moisturized and soft, alleviating the symptoms of dry skin.
  • Make sure your dog’s nails are trimmed regularly. Long nails can get caught while the dog is running, leading to toe injuries and pain. Use a nail clipper or grinder to keep your dog’s nails short enough that there is no risk of them being broken or caught on something while the dog is running around.

In Conclusion

There are a few reasons that Labradors bite their paws. The good news is that they are almost always treatable and preventable. Be sure to pay attention to your furry friend so that you can help them with any discomfort their paws are feeling!