Dogs and cats love to run -- through fields, over lawns, and across grungy kitchen floors. Not surprisingly, their feet can get plenty dirty by the end of the day. Since they can't use a sink and washcloth, they lick their paws clean.
It is normal for dogs and cats to lick their feet from time to time. In some cases, however, they don't know when to quit. They can literally lick (and bite) their feet for hours on end, sometimes causing raw, irritated skin or even open sores called lick granulomas.
Pets that lick their feet all the time may have allergies, says Patricia Shema, V.M.D., a veterinarian in private practice in Glenn Dale, Maryland. Veterinarians aren't sure why, but pets that are allergic to certain foods or airborne particles like pollen often get itchy feet, while other kinds of allergies typically cause itching elsewhere on the body. Contact allergies, which occur when pets step on something that they are sensitive to, can also cause itchy feet, she says.
It is not only allergies that cause pets to lick their feet. When your pet has a sore paw -- from a thorn, a cut pad, or a broken nail -- he will lick until it gets better. In fact, any problem that makes the feet hurt, such as arthritis, Lyme disease, or infections from parasites, can result in licking.
Just as humans will sometimes bite their nails or twirl their hair when they are bored, pets may turn their attention to their feet, licking them for long periods of time. In addition, some dogs -- especially Doberman pinschers and German shepherds -- will get compulsive about their feet, licking them until they are raw and sore, says Steven A. Melman, V.M.D., a veterinary dermatologist in private practice in Potomac, Maryland, and author of Skin Diseases of Dogs and Cats.
A problem unique to the feline set is an infection called plasma cell pododermatitis, which causes the feet to get puffy, soft, and sensitive. Also, cats that have been declawed may lick and chew their feet until the cuts from the surgery have completely healed, says Margie Scherk, D.V.M., a veterinarian in private practice in Vancouver, British Columbia. Sometimes, in fact, the claws will start growing back, which can also cause cats to lick their feet.
See Your Vet If...
- Your pet's paws are always damp
- He is limping, licking, or favoring one or more paws
- Your cat's paws seem soft or puffy
- His paw is red or has a bad smell
- Your pet has begun having trouble walking, getting up, or climbing stairs
- One or more legs is dragging
- He has a limp that doesn't go away
- One or more legs is in an awkward position
- There is swelling in the toes, feet, or legs
- Your pet can't get up
- Your pet is constantly licking or biting his feet
- The nails are broken, cracked, or bleeding
- There are cuts, blisters, growths, or burns on his paw pads
- Your pet is lame first in one leg and then another
- He has pain when jumping off a bed or changing position
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