It has been about two years since we started making DermaPaw and we’ve learned quite a lot about the type of dog that usually has skin problems, the apparent causes, what helps, what hurts, and what doesn’t seem to have any effect on dog’s skin conditions and dog paw licking.
All of our information comes from what our customers tell us about their dogs. It represents thousands of dogs with skin problems including constant paw licking, night-time paw licking or chewing, and dog skin conditions that are accompanied by weeping or bleeding sores, pustules, cracks, flaking, bleeding, and swollen, red, black, rust colored or purple skin.
About 90% of our clients report that their dog is chewing or licking the skin on his paws constantly. Almost 95% have been to the veterinarian for skin tests, blood tests, thyroid tests, and various treatments. Most have been given steroids at least once and some have been on them long-term. Nearly all of them have tried Benedryl or stronger antihistamines with little significant effect.
Most have been told that the problem is allergies, either contact allergies or from an inhaled or ingested source. Among those who have been tested, there is a wide range of allergens including grains, grasses, and just about everything you could think of. About half of those suffer from allergies produced by an unknown source. Common irritants like mites, fleas, bacterial infections, fungal infections, diabetes and thyroid levels have generally been ruled out.
These dogs are usually licking and chewing because it itches and not from obsessive compulsive disorder. Nearly all the dogs chew on all four feet (obsessive compulsive lickers and chewers usually only lick or chew one paw or leg, usually the front, but sometimes the closest back leg when they lay down). Although there are many exceptions to this, the easiest way to tell OCD from genuine itching is whether the dog is licking or chewing all feet and not just the closest one. When DermaPaw is used to stop the itching, a large number of them stop licking, some within minutes. If it was strictly OCD behavior, then DermaPaw shouldn’t affect the behavior as quickly or at all. The only possibility is that the dogs have itchy paws. That’s why the dog is licking or chewing. By stopping the itchy paws, the dog no longer needs to scratch the itch, or chew it, or lick it.
That is not to say that a dog can become habituated to licking. It appears regularly in certain breeds and the most common trigger for obsessive licking is allergies. We think the genetics of herding dogs and other common breeds predisposes them to becoming obsessive lickers because of a difference in brain chemistry or frontal lobe anatomy. The point is that OCD licking is a secondary symptom, just like bacterial infections and sores are usually a secondary factor. The allergic reaction and histamine production start the itching, licking and chewing. The licking and chewing cause secondary infections and hair loss, and in some cases leads to obsessive compulsive, self-destructive behavior.
We compare it to a person with a mosquito bite. We know we shouldn't scratch it, but we can't help ourselves. This makes it worse. It itches more, often becomes infected, and as anyone who has had multiple mosquito bites can tell you, eventually drives you pretty crazy. It becomes hard to concentrate on anything but scratching the now infected, itchy, raw mosquito bite. It's a downward spiral that is difficult to break.
Virtually 100% of paw lickers are either purebred or a cross breed. Mutts with the genes of more than two breeds comprise less than 5% of paw lickers.
Remember, this is a sample of dogs that use DermaPaw and more than likely reflects the popularity of the breed more than the tendency to have paw licking problems, skin conditions or dog allergies. Having said that, there are a number of popular breeds that don't have paw licking problems and aren't on this list. Also, there are some breeds that have a tendency to lick their paws regardless of allergies or anything else. Luckily, this doesn't do much actual damage in many cases, but in some breeds, or as dogs become older, paw licking can get worse. We'll break down what we think are the causes by breeds toward the bottom of this page.
In no particular order, the breeds with the most skin problems are
Labrador Retriever, Jack Russell Terrier, Shih-Tzu, Pug, Chow, American Eskimo, Doberman, (miniature and large) Golden Retriever, Goldendoodle, Pomeranian, Pitbull, Corgi, West Highland Terrier, Chihuahua, Cairn Terrier, Lhasa Apso, Maltese, Dachschund, German Shepherd, Poodle, Australian Cattle Dog Pekinese, Border Collie, Boston Terrier, Boxer, Bulldog (English and American) Beagle, Spaniel, Bichon Frise, Yorkshire Terrier, French Bulldog, Weimareiner, Schnauzer, Rat Terrier, Great Dane, Husky, Mastiff, Greyhound, Sheltie, Shiba Inu, Wheaten Terrier, Dalmatian, Rough collie, Chinese Crested, Havanese.
We rarely see other breeds or mixtures, except crossbreeds with one or both parents being in the above group.
Primary Causes of Dog Paw Licking
About 70% of the dogs that have paw licking problems are seasonal in nature, which leads us to believe they are caused by contact allergies from grass, weeds or possibly inhaled pollens. We don't think it's food.
Most dog owners think the allergen is coming from weed killers or fertilizers sprayed in yards, parks, or neighbors' yards. At first, it seems like grass contact allergies, but people report their dog's symptoms visibly worsened when a nearby area was sprayed with chemicals. Many cases seem to be connected with bug spray and soil pollutants. Flea control and innoculation are often contributing factors.
Only two out of more than 7,000 owners have reported significant improvement with diet changes.
Despite all the attention devoted to food allergies, none of our clients' dogs have ever benefited significantly from a diet change, with the two exceptions we just mentioned. Of course, it's possible we don't see the dogs that were helped by diet changes, because they no longer have symptoms, but this seems farfetched.
At least 50% of our customers have tried hypoallergenic diets for long periods of time (usually at least two months) including cooking the dog's food every night and eliminating all grains, chicken, beef and other foods usually thought to be the culprits, or identified as allergens by their veterinarians.
Most dogs seem to be getting contact allergies from something on their feet.
In addition to the above mentioned allergens, carpet cleaners, fabric softeners and deodorizers could be a cause, but at least half of our customers have removed these items from the house and didnít notice any relief for their dog.
Despite some rather severe and gory reactions to flea medications, these are a small percentage of cases. Yes, flea control can be hazardous. It is after all, an insecticide, but from our experience, it isnít causing massive skin problems in dogs. The same is true for innoculations. But both of these seem to worsen the symptoms and sometimes cause severe reactions including skin burns, skin blistering and complete hair loss.
Overuse of Prednisone, Depo-Medrol, hydrocortisone and other steroids is among the common history of more than half of our clientsí dogs.
We believe long-term use of steroids does more harm than good. Steriods should be a last option, or if there are complications such as serious infection. Over months or years of steroid use, the dogís immune system becomes seriously compromised, leading to more severe allergy reactions and other auto-immune conditions as time goes on.
Vets are doing all they can with the tools they have available, but treating dog allergies is fundamentally different than treating human allergies. Dog's manifest allergic reactions most often in their skin and paws, while humans show allergy symptoms primarily in their sinuses, nose and eyes. This may be related to the fact that histamine affects their skin more severly than humans. It may be because dog's sweat glands are located in their paws (and the tips of their nose), or it may be a difference in the anatomy of their sinus cavity and length of nasal passage. We don't know and don't claim to. We do know that vets have to balance benefits versus side effects without being able to talk to the dog, which means owners must observe their dog's behavior and become as informed as possible to make treatment program decisions.
Human medical doctors have a larger variety of effective drugs to utilize: Many anti-histamines just don't work on dogs and people don't eat topical skin creams, so vets are limited in the tools they have to combat your dog's skin allergies. Having said that, a human doctor would almost never use an injectable or oral steroid to treat allergies, unless asthma or other complication existed. Instead, human doctors often use hydrocortisone or other steroid creams. The problem is that a dog will ingest hydrocrotisone cream by licking it off, which often causes intestinal bleeding, colitis, as well as long-term immune system suppression.
We don't claim to know the answer, there isn't a single answer. We're trying to help provide information collected from a very large group of dog owners (more than 7,000 at the time of this writing). Our studies are hardly scientific. They are distilled from our clients' feedback, opinions, their dog's breed, health and treatment history. The sources of dog skin allergies are countless, and in our opinion, virtually impossible to eliminate. We try to concentrate instead, on obvious patterns, symptom treatment, and most important -doing no harm.
We again want to thank our customers and their dogs for sharing their information. By passing on what we've learned from them, maybe we can help other dogs.
The Three Categories of Dog Paw Licking
Almost all dogs fall into one of three categories.
1. Dogs that have sensitive skin or allergies and lick their paws or skin because it itches.
These dogs require symptom relief. There is no cure for allergies, but by attempting to relieve their itching, and providing supplements, excercise, fatty acids and anti-oxidants to boost their immune system's response and keep their skin as healthy as possible, their problems can be managed and kept to a relatively low level. We compare this to eating healthy and excercising for a person with diabetes, rather than relying on insulin alone to control the disease.
2. Dogs that are prone to licking for psychological reasons including OCD.
This can be harmless, as it usually is in Chihuahuas, or it can lead to severe problems, as it often does in Australian Cattle dogs, German Shepherds and Great Danes. The more severe cases can include skin damage, secondary infections, sores, hair loss, etc. and can eventually lead to a habitual downward spiral involving more itching, more licking or chewing, more skin damage, and in the worst cases, lick granuloma.
3. Dogs that have sensitive skin AND are prone to licking for psychological reasons.
Most of these dogs can usually be helped through a treatment program that addresses both issues. Observing your dog's behavior is especially important in these cases. Since your dog can't tell you whether his skin itches or he's just licking because it makes him feel comfortable before bedtime, or he is addicted to licking, you'll have to do your best to figure out what's wrong by watching his behavior and going with your own instincts to decide a treatment program.
Dogs with sensitive skin or are prone to allergies.
Jack Russell Terriers, Shih-Tzus, Pugs, American Eskimos, Goldendoodles, Pitbulls, Corgis, West Highland Terriers, Cairn Terriers, Lhasa Apsos, Malteses, Poodles, Pekineses, Boston Terriers, Boxers, Bulldogs (English and American) Beagles, Bichon Frises, French Bulldogs, Shelties, Wheaten terriers, Dalmatians, Havanese, Yorkshire Terriers
These breeds typically fall into the category of lickers. They just love to lick.
Labrador retrievers, Jack Russell terriers, Shih-Tzus, Dobermans, (miniature and large) Golden retrievers, Pomeranians, Chihuahuas, Dachschunds
These breeds often exhibit obsessive compulsive behavior in the form of paw licking.
Australian cattle dogs Dobermans, (miniature and large) Chihuahuas, German Shepherds, Border Collies, Great Danes, Greyhounds, Shiba Inus
The more information you have, the better able you will be to make decisions concerning your dog’s health. We remind you to check your sources, including information from this site. The opinions expressed are not meant to be used without the collaboration and advice of your veterinarian.