Why dogs lick or bite at their paws?

By Dr. Josée Gerard, Certified Animal Chiropractor

As your vet will tell you, dogs that constantly lick or bite at their front or back paws may be dealing with food allergies, environmental or chemical sensitivities or a combination of these. In such cases, recommendations for treatment can range from a simple change in diet, to changing your dog’s shampoo, limiting exposure to common allergens such as mold, and in extreme cases, allergy medications and shots may be prescribed.

However, if your veterinarian determines that none of these is the culprit, there is something else that may be causing those pesky symptoms — a pinched nerve. This can happen when the spine or joints are jarred by activities such as rough play, an injury or simply jumping on/off a high deck, couch or bed.

As a result, the joints or vertebrae can put undue pressure on some of the spinal nerves. For example, a pinched nerve in the lower neck or upper back can result in numbness or tingling to the front legs. Similarly, a pinched nerve in the low back can affect the hind legs. The numbness and tingling create a weird sensation (think pins and needles) that dogs are not sure how to deal with, resulting in constant licking and sometimes biting or gnawing at their paws.

Definitive diagnosis of such a condition can be difficult without an MRI, and x-rays can reveal some information, but not the complete picture. Although not definitive, a chiropractic examination, which includes some neurological and orthopedic tests, can help determine the likelihood of a pinched nerve.

With gentle adjustments, the vertebrae or joints causing the pinched nerve can be returned to their proper anatomical position, while restoring normal range of motion and removing any undue pressure on the nerves.

How we do know if it’s working? Well, just as in humans, once we take the pressure off the nerves, that “pins and needles” feeling eventually subsides, and in your dog’s case, the licking and biting will also subside. It is important that any guardian seek the advice of a veterinarian first, in order to rule out more serious issues.

—Dr. Josée Gerard, BA, DC, CVSMT, Certified Animal Chiropractor practices at Kiro4Pets, serving Calgary, Airdrie and area: www.kiro4pets.com.