My six-year-old Miniature Schnauzer cross has recently started licking his paws a lot, especially when he’s home alone — sometimes to the point where they are sopping wet and smelly after. What could be the cause of this?
It is true that an underlying skin condition is often the cause of licking—this behaviour is a natural reaction on your pet’s part to soothe irritated or inflamed skin, much like how we scratch our skin when it’s itchy. While we often have the self-control to know when to stop, our pets do not possess the ability to recognise when they are being trapped in a repetitive itch-scratch cycle.
Additionally, moist, wet fur is a haven for bacterial and fungal growth, leading to a worsening and prolonged skin condition.
The most common skin conditions are bacterial and fungal infections, and allergic reactions to food or environmental particles. Less common underlying causes are parasites or hormonal imbalances.
While it is often easy to treat the symptoms (like licking) and get rid of infectious conditions, the problem will only go away for good when the underlying causes are identified and addressed.
It is recommended that early investigation and treatment is done with the help of your vet. Prolonged irritation and licking can lead to behavioural conditioning, whereby your pet continues to lick even after the skin condition is gone.
Long-term, permanent skin changes — such as fur discolouration, skin thickening, and growth formation — may also develop. These can be irreversible, so rather than wait for these changes to occur, seek help as soon as you can! If your pet has cleared the health check, then it is probably a behavioural problem.
If the nature of his licking is just down to poor behaviour—meaning there is no irritated or inflamed skin—then boredom or separation anxiety might be to blame. In this case, your pet is likely to be trying to soothe and calm his emotional state by performing stereotypical behaviours such as paw-licking or even fur-biting.
These are harder to correct, and will require consistent conditioning and lifestyle changes for both you and your furkid.
Positive conditioning involves slowly swapping the unwanted behaviour with a more “socially acceptable” behaviour, which is at the same time, more rewarding in the eyes of your pet. You can try pet-safe chew toys, environmental “puzzles” with hidden treats, and dedicating more time for combined activities such as walks, involvement in hobbies, and/or pet grooming.
Consulting dog trainers and behaviourists might be extra helpful during this process.
By: The Animal Ark Veterinary
*This article was updated on 23 Sept 2021. It first appeared in PetsMagazine.com.sg on 10 Mar 2016.