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Paw Licking Golden Retriever

Paw Licking Not Always An Allergy

We have a two-year old, male golden retriever that about once every four or five months licks his paw until it is balding and slightly red. It always heals over but we are puzzled by what is causing this paw licking behaviour.

He gets exercise and plenty of mental stimulation. He does not seem to have separation anxiety. He does not have any allergies or other skin issues to our knowledge.

Should we be worried, or just accept this occasional behaviour as habit?

Thank you,


Dear J.C.

More often than not there is no physical explanation. I’ve seen this triggered by puberty and other times by a change in the dog’s lifestyle. Sometimes the trigger is a bug bite or an allergy but lots of dogs manage to cope without self-mutilation when similarly afflicted.

Some obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) dogs lick, others stare at flies that aren’t there, others are fixated by shadows or can only calm themselves by carrying something. As bizarre as it may see from the outside looking in, the way these dogs are wired it feels better to do it than to not do it.

Paw licking that results in Acral Lic Granuloma is usually considered a symptom of a physical problem but I think that’s because veterinarians get first crack at the diagnosis. In their line of work when presented with a physical problem they look for a physical reason and lucky for dogs and dog owners for a lot of issues they are right.

However, when the only tool you have is a hammer after a while every thing can start looking like a nail. Often with no more evidence then the raw spot, dogs are put on special diets and/or given medications for potential physical causes.

Some veterinarians have put a few extra tools in their tool bags and are looking to a dog’s mind as a factor in their diagnosis and treatment recommendations.

If I were your vet I’d want to do an evaluation to assess your dog’s stress threshold. At your dog’s age the signs can be subtle, so the right questions have to be asked.

I’d be looking for other anxiety triggers, separation, loud sounds, soft temperament, and while they may not be obedience stars generally want to get it right more than most dog. These are all common traits of dogs suffering from OCD.

There’s a genetic component that factors in and breeding practices particularly in the breeding of Golden Retrievers is pretty loosey-goosey. Too few breeders are really looking at long-term physical and mental stability in what they are producing. You just have to ask yourself when the last time you heard from your breeder? It should be at least once a year for every pup they produce.

You’re on track with the physical and mental stimulation but there are psychological medicinal treatment paths available as well. How well they work depends a lot on the dog’s genetics. With some there’s some wiggle room and medication keeps the worst of the symptoms at bay.

See if you can tweak your veterinarian into considering coming at this differently and maybe referring you to someone specializing in a dog’s “software” because these things almost always get worse not only as far as the intensity but the number of symptoms as the dog matures.

Pawsitively yours,

John Wade
[email protected]

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