Dogs lick their own paws and other parts of their bodies for a variety of reasons. Licking can be an instinctual response to something they find disgusting and a way to self-soothe when they’re afraid or stressed. It can also be a sign that your dog is in pain due to an injury, heat or irritation. Or, it can just be a part of their natural cleaning process. Dogs have sweat glands all over their body except for the palms of their paws and the tops of their ears. They tend to sweat more in the summer than the winter and lick those specific areas to keep them clean. Their saliva has enzymes that help prevent infection from dirt or cuts, so licking helps heal those wounds as well as prevent new ones from forming. Not all licks are created equal, however, which means you should know what type of lick your dog is giving you before proceeding further with anything romantic. Here are some common ways that dogs lick themselves and why they do it:
Dogs have more than 100,000 scent glands on their skin, so they’re constantly licking themselves to groom themselves. They use their saliva to remove dead skin cells, excess oil, dirt and other foreign particles that can get stuck in their fur. Dogs also have a vomeronasal organ in their nose that helps them detect chemicals in other beings’ scents, including pheromones. When they’re grooming, they’re removing pheromones as well, so they don’t attract as many other animals. Grooming also helps keep dogs cool during the summer and prevents them from overheating. When the weather changes, their metabolism speeds up to keep them warm, which causes them to sweat more. The more they groom themselves, the less likely they are to overheat.
Dogs lick their paws and other parts of their bodies to soothe themselves when they’re anxious or stressed out. If you see your dog doing this after a vet visit or after a bad dream, it’s possible that they’re just picking up on your anxiety. If you’re stressed or anxious about something, your dog can smell that and may start to do the same thing to calm themselves down. This is why dogs who lick after a vet visit are sometimes misdiagnosed with separation anxiety. If your dog starts licking themselves more than usual, it’s a good idea to take them to the vet to make sure they don’t have an injury they’re not aware of. Scratching themselves too much can cause sores that get infected, and licking them can actually spread the bacteria to other parts of their body. If your dog is licking excessively with no visible sign of a wound, it’s time to schedule a check-up with the vet to make sure they’re not having an allergic reaction or stress-induced anxiety.
Dogs often lick plants and trees to mark their scent and make them part of their pack. This is an instinctual behavior that lets other dogs know that they’re in the area. When they lick the plants, they leave their scent behind and the plant becomes part of the dog’s pack. Dogs can also mark people by licking them. This is usually a sign that they’re comfortable with that person and trusts them. In rare cases, it can be a sign that they see you as part of their pack and want to show ownership over you. If you notice your dog licking people a lot or you see them licking plants and other inanimate objects, there may be other reasons for this. It’s important to note that just because most dogs do this, it doesn’t mean that it’s normal for your dog.
Healing and injury prevention
Dogs lick their wounds and injuries to help them heal. When they lick, their saliva has enzymes in it that help clean the wound by breaking down dead tissue and bacteria. This helps speed up the healing process so your dog doesn’t get an infection. If your dog gets a cut or scrape, you should clean it with warm water and antibacterial soap before putting a bandage on it. Keep the wound clean to prevent an infection and remember that dogs lick to heal. If they lick the wound and it’s not fully healed, they can make it worse and cause the area to get infected. If your dog gets a large cut or scratch and it’s not fully healed, you may want to consider keeping them away from other pets and people until it’s fully healed so they don’t pass any bacteria to someone else.
Dogs lick their paws, feet and other parts of their bodies for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it can be a sign that they’re in pain or stressed out, but for the most part, it’s just a part of their natural grooming process. When your dog starts licking something or someone new, it’s best to take them to the vet to make sure they don’t have an injury or an infection. It’s also a good idea to clean the area regularly so your dog doesn’t spread any bacteria to other parts of their body.