Why dogs lick their paws - natural approach to treatment

by Dr. Peter Dobias, DVM
Why you should beware of hypoallergenic diets and Metacam

I must have heard this a million times: “My dog licks his paws and feet and he was put on a hypoallergenic diet.” This brings me back more than 15 years, when I too thought that paw licking was one of the signs of allergies because this is what I was taught.

The problem is that when paw-lickers are treated as such, the issue usually doesn’t improve and many dogs start showing serious signs of deficiencies because they are put on hypoallergenic mono-diet of highly processed and denatured food.

For example here are the ingredients in Hill’s Hypoallergenic diet :

Starch, Hydrolyzed Chicken Liver, Soybean Oil (preserved with BHA, propyl gallate and citric acid), Hydrolyzed Chicken, Powdered Cellulose, Lactic Acid, Dicalcium Phosphate, Calcium Carbonate, Glyceryl Monostearate, Potassium Chloride, Iodized Salt, Choline Chloride, vitamins (Vitamin E Supplement, L-Ascorbyl-2-Polyphosphate (source of vitamin C), Niacin, Thiamine Mononitrate, Vitamin A Supplement, Calcium Pantothenate, Biotin, Vitamin B12 Supplement, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride, Riboflavin, Vitamin D3 Supplement, Folic Acid), DL-Methionine, minerals (Ferrous Sulfate, Zinc Oxide, Copper sulfate, Manganous Oxide, Calcium Iodate, Sodium Selenite), Taurine, preserved with Mixed Tocopherols & Citric Acid, Rosemary Extract, Beta-Carotene.

Doesn’t it make you wonder, why starch is the first ingredient and hydrolyzed chicken liver is second? Anyone with basic knowledge of nutrition knows that starch is one of the major factors in obesity, diabetes and research also shows the connection of high carbohydrate diet with cancer occurrence.  When it comes to liver, it is common knowledge that chicken is fed large amounts of antibiotics and hormones and chicken livers are the last thing I would like to feed my dog because liver is a detox organ that accumulates toxins in the highest concentration.

BHA is another ingredient that frightens me. It is a known carcinogen that should have been banned from pet food a long time ago and when it comes to soybean oil, as of 2009 91% of all soybeans produced are GMO. I could go through the ingredient list for a little longer but that would be too depressing. Obviously, there is enough wrong with the formula to stay away from it unless you would like to fall for the rosemary extract and beta-carotene at the end of the list which is obviously  supposed to make you  feel good about feeding this toxic concoction called “hypoallergenic diet.”

The biggest paradox is that a majority of dogs that are put on this food do not even have allergies and this is what I would like to share with you today.

There is a small percentage of dogs that lick their paws because of obsessive nervous licking, long nails, contact with a chemical agent and secondary bacterial infection because of the skin trauma caused by licking.

However, what I have found out over the years is that the majority of dogs lick their paws because they have an abnormal sensation in their feet.  If you have ever had a neck injury or pain in the neck (the physical one), you may have also experienced tingling or a "pins and needles" sensation in your hands.

Dogs suffer frequent neck injuries caused by collars because they pull on the leash and people use damaging choke chains, prong or shock collars. It may be a surprise to you but even the regular extension leash that winds up can cause serious neck injuries especially when a dog runs and hits the end of a leash.

Neck and back injuries cause muscle tightness which affect the nerve supply to a particular area of the body. Here are a few examples:

  • front feet licking is frequently caused by a neck injury

  • forearm licking is caused by tightness in between the shoulder blades (often caused by a fall, neck trauma, excessive digging or swimming)

  • hind feet licking can be caused by tightness in the region of lumbar spine.

Here are a few steps to follow if your dog licks his or her feet:
  1. If your dog licks front feet, attach your leash to front attachment harnesses and do not connect a leash to a collar especially when your dog pulls.
  2. If your dog licks the hind feet, stop him/her from sprinting, jumping up, leaping in the water or intense ball retrieving for at  least a month and reduce this activity on an ongoing basis.
  3. Chiropractic, physio or osteopathic examination is highly recommended to assess and treat your dog’s neck injury and muscle inflammation.
  4. Ideally do not play tug-of-war or if you do,  let the rope or leash gently slide through your hand and definitely do not lift your dog in the air while tugging.
  5. Feed a species appropriate diet and nourish your dog with whole food, all natural supplements for better cellular, muscle function and detox.
  6. If your dog  has suffered a more serious neck injury, see your veterinarian for further evaluation, however, remember that most vets have not been trained in musculo-skeletal assessment as well as chiro’s, physio’s or osteopaths have.
  7. Never use harmful anti-inflammatory drugs such as Metacam which causes serious side-effects unless you think that stomach ulceration, blood clotting disorders and kidney damage are a good idea. I recommend Zyflamend as a healthy alternative that I have used for three years in many dogs with great results and no evidence of side effects.
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With gratitude,

Dr. Peter Dobias, DVM


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Dr. Dobias is a licensed doctor of veterinary medicine and lives in Vancouver, BC, Canada. He has more than 20 years of practical experience in conventional and holistic veterinary medicine and his big passions are natural healing, dogs and living a healthy lifestyle...

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