Here are seven reasons why a dog might lick their paws or a paw. Six of them indicate an actual or potential health problem.
Clearly, self-grooming, aka auto-grooming, is a good reason why your dog licks their paws. It is what dog owners expect.
I am writing this during the summer months so grass seeds are very relevant. In summer months small pointed grass seeds can become embedded in a dog’s skin digging into the flesh between their toes. The Kennel Club also tells us that grass seeds can burrow deep inside a dog’s ears causing headshaking and scratching. I have seen these seeds become lodged in the eye as well. They get everywhere. They recommend that you should always check your dog’s paws after walking through meadows and woodlands.
Boredom is linked to separation anxiety i.e. being left alone when their owner is out at work. This is worrying. They may do it when their owner is asleep. It may keep their owner awake. Dogs lick their paws under these circumstances to calm themselves down and to relieve boredom. That’s because it is a pleasant activity. Cats do the same thing to relieve stress. Boredom is a form of stress. Although cats lick their bellies normally under these circumstances as the area is the easiest to access. I guess dogs can do the same thing.
Dogs can pick up parasites in the paws such as fleas, ticks and lice. These cause irritation. To alleviate the irritation the dog licks their paws. They will probably lick other parts of the body. Ticks jump from long grass onto dogs and people so after walking a dog through grassland it obviously pays to check the dog.
Injury causing pain can result in a dog licking their paws in order to alleviate the pain. It might be a strain or a break in the bone structure, a puncture wound, a burn, a cut or a sting or even perhaps an ingrown nail. Arthritis is a common pain-related reason for paw licking. Foxes often acquire paw injuries and I have seen a fox lick their left foreleg as it was broken.
Allergies can cause itching. This might be due to a food allergy. The dog might be allergic to certain foods such as dairy, wheat, soy et cetera. Itchiness due to an allergy to a certain food ingredient may be apparent if a dog licks their paws after meal time. I guess you’ll have to do some research yourself by changing your dog’s diet and/or seeking the advice of a veterinarian. It can be difficult to pin down food allergies. Another cause of itchiness is dry skin. And certain grasses, weeds and perhaps dust can trigger an allergic reaction.
Bacterial and yeast infections
Constant licking of paws creates a problem on its own. It can lead to a bacterial and/or yeast infection because of the moisture deposited onto the paw. This would appear to generate a negative cycle because under these circumstances licking paws can create more irritation and more licking.
Below are some more articles on dog health.