The following is an excerpt from Petfinder’s FurKeeps Kickoff Live Facebook Q&A.
Q: I am fostering a female Schnauzer who was a breeder in a puppy mill. She has come a long, long way. We’ve had her seven months and she is just now letting us pet her. The only thing she’s doing now is licking her feet. This is something she’s done since the beginning.
It’s not an allergy, she’s been through the food allergy trials of removing foods. She’s been in different environments, so it’s not an environmental allergy either. I think it’s just a habit. Her feet stay orange.
Is there anything that can be done about it? I thought about acupuncture. What would you suggest?
A: Chewing feet is typically an itchy dog thing to do, although I have seen the occasional dog who seemed to develop a behavioral component to it that caused him to continue licking/chewing after the original cause was taken care of.
When you did the food trial, was that the only thing she ate for eight weeks? And was it a diet that had an ingredient list with no overlap to her previous foods?
Although you say you have moved around it could still be an environmental allergy (known as atopy). Atopic dogs are frequently allergic to pollens so if you move geographic areas that might help, but many are also allergic to things like dust mites — no matter how much you clean and vacuum, these are everywhere. I even knew one dog who was allergic to human dander — his poor mom was beside herself that her precious pup was actually allergic to her!
One last medical reason that could cause your dog to chew/lick is a nail-bed infection. Dogs can get a yeast infection of the nail-beds. If your dog’s nails are clear you will notice that they have a dark red discoloration to them at the base, and often the skin around the nails looks red and irritated as well. The fur turns reddish from the saliva staining. These nail bed infections can be itchy and uncomfortable, leading to the chewing and licking. I have been through this with my own dog a few times.
If there is truly no underlying medical cause you might need to consider behavioral medication. There are topical products like bitter apple that can be a strong taste deterrent for many dogs, but if there is an underlying anxiety component, simply providing your dog with a bad taste in her mouth won’t address the underlying cause of the problem.
Hope that helps a bit,
Dr. Stephanie Janeczko
Animal Care & Control of New York City