Dogs chew on their feet because it makes them feel good and is the perfect illustration of compulsive behaviour that many dogs demonstrate in times of anxiety. The behaviour is undesirable because when a dog chews on their own feet they can hurt or injure themselves and can lead to the bigger problem of a dog becoming reliant on the behaviour as a method of self-soothing when they feel stressed.
In this guide we'll explore the most common reasons why dogs chew on their feet, establish an understanding of interventions that we can take to eliminate or minimise the behaviour and also outline some of the early warning signs of the specific health problems that can cause a dog to seek comfort from chewing on their own feet and legs.
Understanding Why Dogs Chew On Their Feet
When it comes to establishing the underlying cause of why dogs sometimes seek relief by chewing their feet, it's important to acknowledge that the problem is not uncommon. If you're reading this because your dog chews his or her feet or if you're simply curious as to the reasons why dogs chew their own feet, seek solace in the fact that the behaviour is widely seen and is curable.
But first, we need to look at the most common root causes for unwanted feet chewing by most dogs.
Dogs chew their feet for a variety of reasons.
Some dogs tend to lick themselves obsessively to alleviate itching whilst others chew their feet or obsessively lick as a result of a behavioural pattern. Conditions such as separation anxiety, canine compulsive disorder (CCD) or simple boredom or stress can be primary causes of feet chewing in dogs too.
It's important to intervene if your dog is chewing their own feet as they can cause themselves significant physical damage, which can lead to infection, but more pertinently a dog chewing their own paws is demonstrating an undesirable behavioural pattern, the underlying cause of which we should be committed to solving.
When Dogs Chew Their Own Feet, Beware Of:
Allergies Can Make Dogs Chew Their Own Feet
Is your dog suffering with a skin allergy or do they have itchy skin as a result of a food allergy?
Canine Compulsive Disorder (CCD) - A Potential Cause of Dog Feet Chewing
Canine compulsive disorder is extremely rare. It is thought that less than 3% of all dogs have it, but you should seek the advice of a suitably qualified professional to find out if there are underlying problems causing your dog to chew their own feet.
Boredom Can Lead to Dogs Chewing Their Own Feet
By far one of the most common causes that lead to dogs chewing their feet. Boredom is a serious problem and requires owners to work on daily plans to ensure the dog is properly stimulated, both mentally and physically.
How Do I Stop My Dog Chewing Their Own Feet?
Having established the primary cause of why the dog is chewing their own feet, you can begin to work on the solutions.
If boredom is the cause, work hard to fill the dog's day with interesting tasks and challenges. Interactive dog games such as hide and seek, fetch or simply training the dog to learn new behaviours is both mentally and physically stimulating.
Separation anxiety: If separation anxiety is the cause of your dog chewing their own feet, you need to address the problem head on. Separation anxiety i dogs is increasingly common. Read K9 Magazine's guide to dealing with separation anxiety for advice on how to cure it.
Food allergies: If your dog has an allergy that is causing them to gnaw and chew their feet, you should get a professional diagnosis from a vet or nutritionist. Switching food will normally be the first change to make when treating allergies.
If your dog is causing damage to their feet, see a vet without delay. Dogs are capable of inflicting serious injuries upon themselves either through scratching or chewing themselves. These wounds can become infected and can develop in to much more serious problems.
Ultimately to put an end to a dog chewing their own feet you need to
A) Discover the cause
B) Work on behaviour modification to cure the problems
C) Switch your dog's diet (under veterinary supervision) or general daily routine.
Why Do Dogs Chew Their Own Feet? Self Mutilation in Dogs Explained
A dog that licks or chews on itself is manifesting stress or frustration about something. The problem may start because of some frustration relating to environment, but soon develops into a self-reinforcing habit, as the licking or chewing causes inflammation. Further licking or chewing can provide at least temporary relief, but this ultimately perpetuates the problem.
A complete veterinary evaluation should precede the behaviour program for rehabilitation. Flea or tick infestation must be ruled out as a cause. Possible allergies also should be considered, as the problem in many self-mutilators stems from food or other environmental allergies. Many practitioners recommend hypo-allergenic diets, even in the absence of clinical symptoms, as a matter of "insurance."
Corrective measures must consider the environmental factors that bear on the problem. However, a general plan involving nonphysical, off-leash training and stabilization of the owner-pet relationship provides satisfactory results. Owner leadership is established by withholding petting and praise, except when the pet responds to some directive from the owner.
How To Recognise The Signs of Stress In Your Dog (The Most Common Reason Why Dogs Chew On Their Feet)
Stress is the body's response to any physical or mental demand. The response prepares the body to either fight or flee. It increases blood pressure, heart rate, breathing and metabolism, and there is a marked increase in the blood supply to the arms and legs. It is a physiological, genetically predetermined reaction over which the individual, whether a dog or a person, has no control.
When your dog is stressed, his body becomes chemically unbalanced. To deal with this imbalance, the body releases chemicals into the bloodstream in an attempt to rebalance itself. The reserve of these chemicals is limited. You can dip into it only so many times before it runs dry and the body loses its ability to rebalance. Prolonged periods of imbalance result in neurotic behaviour and the inability to function.
For many dogs, relieving stress and anxiety can manifest by way of the dog seeking to take action under their own control that allows them to displace the feelings of stress. In this case, that behaviour is chewing their feet. For other dogs it might spinning around or circling obsessively.
Stress is characterised as "positive" (manifesting itself in increased activity) and "negative" (manifesting itself in decreased activity). Picture yourself returning home after a hard day at work. You are welcomed by a mess on your new, white rug. What is your response? Do you explode, scream at your dog, your children and then storm through the house slamming doors?
Or, do you look at the mess in horror, shake your head in resignation, feel drained of energy, ignore the dog and the children and then go to your room? In the first example, your body was energized by the chemicals released into the bloodstream. In the second example, your body was debilitated.
Dogs react in a similar manner, and stress triggers either the fight or flight response. Positive stress manifests itself in hyperactivity, such as running around, bouncing up and down or jumping on you, whining, barking, mouthing, getting in front of you or anticipating commands. You may think your dog is just being silly and tiresome, but for the dog, those are coping behaviours. Negative stress manifests itself by lethargy, such as freezing, slinking behind you, running away or responding slowly to a command. In new situations, he seems tired and wants to lie down, or sluggish and disinterested. These are not signs of relaxation, but are the coping behaviours for negative stress.
Signs of either form of stress in dogs are muscle tremors, excessive panting or drooling, sweaty feet that leave tracks on dry, hard surfaces, dilated pupils and, in extreme cases, urination or defecation, usually in the form of diarrhoea and self-mutilation. Behaviours such as pushing into you or going in front of or behind you during distraction training are stress related.
Summary: Why Do Dogs Chew Their Feet?
If your dog is chewing his or her feet you have to find out for certain what the underlying causes are. It could be your dog is stressed about something, perhaps being separated from you - even for short periods - leads them to self mutilate.
The most common reasons to explain why dogs chew their own feet are:
- Dietary imbalance.
- Your dog may be suffering from allergies from external sources (fleas, worms, parasites, dust).
- Your dog may be experiencing periods of boredom and is unfulfilled mentally and physically.
Ultimately you need to seek the advice and insight of an expert, identify the cause of your dog's foot chewing and then put in place a solution that can disrupt the behaviour.
Rule out medical conditions, then get to work on using tried and tested behavioural modification to teach your dog that their are more positive alternatives to the self-medicating behaviour of foot chewing.