Steroids, antibiotics, and other allergy or infection drugs treat the symptoms not the cause. They may work temporarily, but in many cases they donít address the root cause. We advocate many of these types of drugs in acute cases, but only on the recommendation of your veterinarian. There are side effects to all drugs and they must be balanced against the benefits. Steroids and antibiotics are usually effective in the short-term, but be aware of the adverse effects when using them. Long-term use can be dangerous.
From a dogís perspective, anti-chewing devices feel like punishment. How would you like to wear an Elizabethan plastic collar around your neck? Or a muzzle on your face? To us, this brings Hannibal Lector to mind. Again, these devices might work for a while, but as soon as you take them off, the dog is now further confused and depressed, his self-esteem is damaged, and his natural instinct is to manifest his worry by obsessive licking. This compulsion is thought to be the origin of the phrase, ďto worry a wound.Ē
Bandaging, casting, applying bitter substances or other methods to discourage licking sometimes have the opposite effect. The dog wants to remove anything thatís pulling at his hair, irritating him, or tastes like a poison. These treatments often encourage the dog to chew or lick at the area.
Some of these substances contain alcohol, they sting, or can cause skin damage, making the problem worse instead of helping.
If an environmental or medical cause isnít found, psychoactive drugs or pain killers can be successful, but only while the dog is taking them. Pain killers make the dog feel better and we highly recommend them in serious cases. Anti-depressants can also help with symptom treatment, but since dogs canít tell you their feelings, we tend to think this isnít always a good way to go. Your dog canít communicate the possible emotional side effects, and there are plenty. Just ask a person who has ever taken them.
Regardless of the drug, the root cause isn't always addressed and once the dog is taken off the drugs, the paw licking can begin again. Short-term drug therapy can often really help but remember your dog can't tell you how he feels emotionally or physically so be very careful and do your research.
Although you may have pain killers or anti-anxiety medications around the house, they often act far differently on dogs, so please consult with your vet before giving any drug to your dog. If your vet doesn't bring up pain or anxiety drugs, don't hesitate to ask for them.
Identifying triggers and attempting to remove them should be the first part of any treatment plan. Allergies can be caused by any number of things from pollen, grass and other plants to flea collars. Yes flea collars. The insecticide in some flea treatments can be interpreted by the dog's immune system as pathogens. To put it simply, the dog has an allergic reaction to the insecticide. The same is true for pesticides used in the home. This can cause skin problems, which causes the dog to lick its itchy paws and the downward spiral begins. Of course fleas are a common cause of itching, so we will go into flea control in more detail later. Choosing the right flea control is essential.
Many common home remedies make the assumption that what's good for human skin is good for dog skin. This is simply not true. One example is colloidal oatmeal, often found in skin products for people and used as a treatment for everything from chickenpox to oily skin. The problem is that dogs need oily skin and colloidal oatmeal, either dissolved in bath water, or in pet skin conditioners absorbs all the fatty acids and oils right out of their skin. Oatmeal baths usually do more harm than good, drying out your dog's skin and causing more itching, peeling, cracking and flaking.
The same caution should be used when selecting "natural skin remedies." Many are toxic to dogs, including eucalyptus, tea tree oil and other common ingredients in pet remedies. Eucalyptus and especially tea tree oil are natural pesticides and herbicides produced by those trees to kill insects and competing plants. If your dog ingests enough, it can kill him too.
Hydrocortisone cream will cause intestinal bleeding among other serious side effects. You might be trying to help, but remember that your dog will figure out a way to ingest just about anything.
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Above all, let your dog know you understand and want to help. Dogís have an incredible ability to sense your emotions. Nothing makes your dog happier than showing her you love her. We know you love your dog and your frustration comes from wanting to help, just make sure she knows it too.
Donít allow your frustration to give her the impression you are mad. Increase your attention and interaction with your dog. Smile and increase your ďhappy talk.Ē
Any activity you can think of will make your dog happier. Remember, dogs are pack animals and you and your family are his pack. The more you interact with him, the better he will feel.
If your dog isnít trained, learn how. Teach your dog tricks, give him duties, give him a job to focus his intellect. His self-esteem will go up because he wants to please you, and he is exercising his mind. He will be proud of learning new things, and he will enjoy every second of your training time together. Your dog will have a purpose in life. He will know his job and will receive positive reinforcement for doing it.
This takes patience and time, but it will be well worth it to both of you. Dogs that are prone to obsessive paw licking also happen to be the most intelligent, trainable dogs. If your dog chews his paws, he should also be easy to train.
The old adage about teaching old dogs new tricks is also not true. Any dog, at any age, can learn just about anything you have the patience to teach him. Once he gets the idea of training time, he will look forward to class, and his ability to learn new things will accelerate.
The first two weeks are the most difficult, but you only really need to devote about twenty minutes a night. Very quickly, he will begin to anticipate your every wish, and you wonít believe how smart your dog really is. There are many training philosophies, but we advocate only positive reinforcement. Your dog is a learning sponge, just like a child. If you teach him new things, he will love you for it.
Exercise, exercise, exercise. Dogs were meant to be active. When they donít get enough exercise, their endorphins, or natural pain killers, fall below normal levels. This can lead to depression, obsessive-compulsive behavior and, you guessed it, dog paw licking.
If you are able to walk your dog, great. If you donít have the time, energy, or are physically challenged, then give your dog the opportunity to exercise himself. If you donít have a back yard, hire a kid to walk your dog. If you can, take him to the dog park so he can play with others. If you do have a backyard, either play with your dog until you are both tired out or get him a self-play device. Some owners canít say enough good things about a product called Go-Dog-Go. It shoots tennis balls so your dog can play by himself without you having to play too. The dog learns to fetch the balls and deposit them in a hopper all by himself. All you have to do is watch.
There are many dog play toys on the market. Our dog likes to catch a stinky old stuffed Santa Claus in the living room. It doesnít matter what your dog does for exercise, just make sure heís worn out by the end of the day. Maybe he will be too tired to lick his feet.
Did we mention massage? We donít mean petting, or patting or scratching his ears. We mean a true massage. This not only feels good, it stimulates their brains to produce endorphins and other neurotransmitters that act as natural anti-depressants. Massage every inch of them, from the tips of their ears to the tips of their tail. Dogs love to have their shoulders and the large muscles of their rump and legs massaged. You know you hit the spot when they close their eyes and sigh or smack their lips.
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.