Licking is a dog’s love language, but why do dogs lick their paws before bed? For some of this, it may just be an idle, though. But for noise-sensitive dog owners, the relentless slurping noises our dogs make at night while they lick their paws and legs can be a little much to bear.
And paw licking can be more than just a little annoying, and sometimes, our dogs seem to do it excessively. Then the question arises, are there more serious underlying reasons dogs lick their paws? When is it normal for a dog to lick its paws at night, and when is it something to worry about? Finally, should we stop them licking?
Why Do Dogs Lick Their Paws And Legs?
Dogs lick their paws and legs at night because the action of licking releases feel-good hormones and neurotransmitters like oxytocin. It makes them feel relaxed and gets them ready to sleep. Mother dogs lick their puppies and adult will usually develop the same impulse to lick themselves as part of grooming, clean wounds, and help themselves relax.
However, this doesn’t mean that paw-licking is always a good thing.
What your dog is trying to warn about when they lick their paws
Usually, a dog licking their paws is only doing so to relax and settle down. Sometimes, they are just grooming themselves. However, excessive licking often indicates that a dog is bored, anxious, or has a health issue such as overgrown nails, infections, or allergies.
Be aware of when your dog takes to licking their paws to have the best idea of the cause.
Why Do Dogs Lick Their Paws At Night?
Dogs like to lick their paws at night as it helps calm them and settle them down for sleep. In the wild, getting ready for bedtime would have involved digging a warm bed and grooming youngsters or other pack members. Without youngsters or another pack member to groom, dogs will lick their own paws to relax.
This is also one of the reasons they may dig a hole in your couch.
But, as with anything, there may be more to that. So the primary reasons include:
1. To relax
As stated, dogs will lick their paws and other body parts at night to groom themselves before bed. The action of licking releases the same hormones that made them feel safe and loved as puppies when their mother licked them. It is also a standard part of doggy self-care to clean and soothe themselves by licking.
2. Nail & Paw pad problems
An extremely common reason dogs lick their paws at night is because of painful or aggravating nail problems or dry paw pads. Dry paw pads must be thoroughly moisturized with a good doggy paw balm to avoid becoming painful or aggravating.
Make sure this is a product specially formulated for dog paw pads, rather than using the nearest bottle of vaseline.
Equally important is good nail care, as overgrown nails may cause toe pain, which will cause licking. So keep those nail trimmers handy.
Nails can also be infected or otherwise painful, another reason for paw licking at night when the excitement of the day is over and your dog becomes more conscious of aches and pains.
3. Injuries, foreign objects, or infection
Many dogs have an exceptionally high pain tolerance and will simply ignore pain and discomfort in their paws during the day when more exciting things happen. But when they settle to sleep, they may suddenly feel injuries, mats, thorns, burs, or painful infections between their toes more acutely. This can lead to licking more at night than during the day.
Parasites such as mites, fleas, or ticks in the toe may also be to blame. If you notice your dog licking their paws, examine the paw pads, nooks, and crannies. Look for:
- blood or injury
- bumps, lumps, and inflamed hair follicles
- redness or discolored fur
- matted hair between the toes
- burs and thorns
- Signs of infection such as moisture, swelling, and red fur.
If your dog is constantly licks one paw more than the other, it is likely because there is an injury of some kind.
Itchy skin is the bane of every dog owner, and it often causes dogs to lick and chew on their paws. Often it is caused by allergies. This could be environmental allergies such as dust mites or pollen, contact dermatitis such as if your dog steps on lawn fertilizer or food allergies. It can be a lengthy process to identify your dog’s allergens and remove them.
However, there are many causes for itchy skin and other dermatitis symptoms, such as inflammation. Endocrine and hormone issues sometimes cause dry skin, leading to itchy paws. As can insect bites or nutritional deficiencies, such as zinc.
5. Pain or discomfort
Older and sick may take to licking their bodies, including their paws, if they are in pain and discomfort. Dogs who are unwell or in chronic pain from problems like osteoarthritis may lick the area that bothers them.
However, they may also simply lick their paws because the action is soothing and helps them cope, even if the paws aren’t the source of their distress.
6. Anxiety and Stress
You may be dealing with separation anxiety if a dog licks their paws right before you leave for your night shift. Since paw-licking is soothing and helps dogs calm themselves or regulate their emotions, they often do it to settle their feelings of anxiety and stress.
7. Boredom or frustration
Dogs will do many things when bored, but it’s usually pretty obvious, such as relentless barking or destructive chewing. However, a bored dog may do something more innocuous, such as lick their paws to distract itself.
If you find your dog starts licking their paws after being inactive for a while, it may be a sign to take them for a walk or have some playtime.
8. Behavioral problems
Since licking is pleasurable behavior, or at least a relaxing one, it is self-rewarding. Simply doing it and feeling better can lead a dog to do it more.
For some dogs, licking the paws may start as something they do to relax before bedtime, cope with some irritation in their paws, or because of anxiety, but it can escalate. When dogs begin to lick their paws compulsively or obsessively, they may develop a disorder such as Canine Compulsive Disorder.
Older dogs will also often lick their paws more at night if they develop Canine Cognitive Decline or doggy dementia.
Should I Stop My Dog From Licking His Paws?
If your dog is only lightly licking their paws before bedtime, this is perfectly natural, and you should not try to stop it. It is simply your dog winding down and going to bed. If the sound annoys you, try playing calming music or white noise for a little while until your dog falls asleep.
However, if your dog is licking their paws to they point that they are developing infections from the constantly moist environment, it’s time to intervene. It’s also time to intervene if the licking becomes obsessive or compulsive.
Dr. Valerie Tynes states that licking is compulsive if the dog goes straight back to doing it immediately after an interruption and can’t seem to stop. So if you were to shout or make a scary noise and your dog barely pauses in their licking, it may be a compulsive disorder, and in these cases, your dog may need medication.
If your dog’s licking has moved from normal licking to settling down at night to an excessive issue, then you can use the following steps to stop the licking.
How To Stop A Dog Licking His Paws Excessively At Night
Remember, only stop your dog from licking their paws if it has become an extreme problem behavior.
- Consider applying a safe but bitter anti-chew spray to your dog’s paws.
- Step up the grooming on the paws. Check the nails are clipped short, the hair between the pads is trimmed, and the paw pads are moisturized.
- Take your dog to the vet to check for underlying issues such as a splinter, infection, allergies, or other conditions that can cause discomfort in the paws.
- Ask your vet for a prescription if your older dog has symptoms of dementia or if your dog has a compulsive disorder.
- Step up exercise and activity to eliminate boredom and frustration.
- Manage any chronic pain problems such as osteoarthritis with the appropriate medication, diet, and healthy weight.
- Keep up with parasite control treatments.
- Remove stressors from your dog’s life and enlist a professional to help your dog cope with any anxiety problems.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Why do dogs lick their paws after they eat?
A mother dog typically licks her puppies right after or during a meal. This instills a lifelong instinct to groom after a meal. It is also part of a dog’s natural “rest and digest” pattern. When a dog is satisfied after a meal, it signals to their brain that it’s time to settle and engage in soothing activities such as licking, grooming, and napping.
Why does my dog lick the bed before sleeping?
Dogs typically lick themselves before bed, but since the action is more soothing than what they are licking, dogs may just lick anything within reach. Licking their bed or the cat is just as soothing and relaxing as licking their legs and paws.
Why do dogs lick their private areas?
Dogs lick their private areas as a natural part of their cleaning process. As puppies, their mums will lick their groins and bums and clean up after them. As they grow older, they learn to do it themself as a natural part of their grooming process.
Why do dogs lick you?
Dogs lick you to show respect and love. Amongst each, dogs will lick one another to groom and care for each other. When they lick you, it is one of their most expressive display of affection. While even a tail wag can sometimes be a sign of stress, a lick rarely means anything other than affection or a sign that a dog sees you as a pack member.
Dogs lick their paws at night to settle down. The action is soothing and helps them relax. But when it becomes excessive, it can signify anxiety, boredom, and frustration. It may also indicate health issues such as allergies or that your dog’s nails and paw pads need more attention. Always pay attention to your dog’s behaviors, as even innocent ones sometimes indicate a bigger problem.
Tamsin De La HarpeAuthor
Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions.
Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.