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Chewing, Licking Paws

Shih Tzu is Licking, Chewing at Paws

Overview

While dogs will lick at their body to some extent, if a Shih Tzu concentrates on one specific area such as the paws, this can cause quite a few problems. It is not uncommon for owners to fail to identify the root cause or only see partial improvement; and meanwhile the effects of continual licking focused to one area compounds each day.

Clinical Signs of Excessive Paw Licking and Chewing

When a Shih Tzu focuses actions such as licking and/or chewing to the paw region, the continual friction from licking and/or persistent gnawing from using the teeth can lead to the following problems:

Sores – Areas on the paws can become quite raw, leaving circular sores that are tender to the touch. 

Bleeding - When licking or chewing continues, the sore(s) can crack open. This is due to exceedingly dry, vulnerable skin. This often only serves to cause a Shih Tzu to lick more due to ‘wound licking’ which is an instinctive response to lick an injury. 

Infection - Once the skin has been broken, it is vulnerable to bacterial infection. The paw(s) may appear red, swollen in an area, may have discharge and will be sore. 

Hair Loss– An inevitable part of this issue is eventual hair loss on the areas. 
Shih Tzu on bed
Brayden, 8 months old
Photo courtesy of Kenisha
Behavioral Signs of Paw Licking and Chewing- Shih Tzu with this affliction often will:
  • Target Certain Paws – When due to stress, licking and/or chewing may be focused on one particular paw. If licking at the paws is due to other issues, the dog will gnaw at both paws and at other parts of the body that his mouth can reach. 
  • Appear Restless - This is often a common symptom regardless of the trigger because when it all boils down, a dog that compulsively licks is disturbed and uncomfortable. 
Reasons for Paw Licking and/or Chewing - There are several reasons why dogs do this:

1) Allergies- This is perhaps the most common reason. While with some allergies, a Shih Tzu will have other signs and symptoms other than just licking his paws, consisting of a wide range of issues including: itchy eyes, eye and/or nasal discharge, itching over the entire body, hair loss over other areas of the body, vomiting, changes to the stool including diarrhea, sneezing, and/or coughing and wheezing, with others it may be just the paws. 
When limited to his paws, it may be due to a contact trigger. If so, it is much easier to identify and treat; if you can remove the irritant, the licking behavior should cease (once paws are healed, more ahead). 

How to Treat This at Home - If this is due to simple contact allergies, that are causing an acute issue, you can try to fix this at home as long as there are no other signs of concern. If your Shih Tzu does have other symptoms or if the skin has broken open to the point of bleeding, you will want to have a veterinarian examine the paws. There may be an infection and also a need for prescribed medications and testing to determine an allergy. For acute issues, if the paws have minimal sores and there is minimal to moderate hair loss, and you suspect a contact allergy it can help to remove the trigger. 

In the spring, summer and fall, it is not uncommon for a Shih Tzu to lick at his paws or chew at his feet after being outside. Irritants in the grass and on the ground surfaces can attach to the paws and be tracked back into the home. In addition, if you have recently obtained new carpeting or have started to use a new carpet deodorizer or floor cleaner, it may be causing a reaction. In the winter, ice melt chemicals can cause intense itching and chemical burns to a dog’s paws. Even if you do not use these at your home, they are often used in other areas and cars can easily track them into your own neighborhood. 

It can help to:

• Thoroughly rinse off the paws before entering back into the house. For Shih Tzu with paw issues that are related to outdoor contaminants, wiping with a canine wipe or wet rag is not sufficient. Rinse the paws under running water.
• All people in the household should remove shoes before entering into the living areas.
• Floors should be vacuumed using a HEPA certified vacuum cleaner. These remove 99.97% of particles as small as 0.3 micrometers - these are the irritants that you cannot see but may be the source of intense itching and subsequent licking or chewing for your Shih Tzu. 
• Use products to offer relief and healing (more ahead)
2) Boredom or Stress - While boredom can certainly be factor in licking the paws until they are raw or chewing at the feet until there is hair loss, for this breed a stress related issue causing Acral Lick Granuloma is not uncommon. The skin of the paws can become severely damaged. Skin may be licked raw, causing tiny pockets of bacteria and broken hair follicles. This sort of severe condition will be deep enough to affect oil glands and capillaries. What can make a Shih Tzu so stressed out that he licks at his paws until they are bleeding and crusted with sores? Each dog has his own ‘‘line in the sand’ of how much stress will cause a tipping point of manifesting outward with self-destructive behavior. The most common reasons include:

Separation Anxiety - While some puppies and dogs will whine or bark, others will chew at themselves as a way of dealing with the stress of being alone. The longer a dog is left alone, the more likely he is to have trouble coping. To help treat separation anxiety, look to ‘Separation Anxiety’ 
Change in Environment - This includes the loss or the addition of a human family member or pet. Moving to a new home may also cause distress. 
fully black Shih Tzu
Rico, 9 years old, from Chattanooga, TN
Photo courtesy of B.J. Wright
3) Dry Skin - While dry skin can affect any part of a dog’s body, the paws are also exposed to the abrasions received by walking and are therefore more vulnerable to drying. Winter is the most typical season of dry skin issues due to the air being much more arid and the effects of cold winds. When a Shih Tzu licks his paws to relieve minor itching of dry skin, the moisture deposited on them only serves to exasperate the problem. If the paws are deeply cracked, are bleeding or you suspect infection this is your sign to have the veterinarian examine them. Otherwise, for general dryness that is affecting the paws, you may wish to follow a two-step process of combating the dry air and offering relief to paws. 

1- Humidifiers are the best option to add moisture to the home; though some methods such as adding houseplants and/or leaving doors open while showering will help to a small degree.

2- The use of quality paw wax along with proper moisturizing shampoos and conditioners can heal dry paws (more ahead).

4) Other Less Common Reasons- Sudden chewing at the paws/ constant licking may be due to less common triggers: Hormonal imbalances, pain from a sliver or pebble stuck in the paw, parasites (fleas, ticks, mites) or yeast infection (between toes). Very rarely a neck injury may trigger nerve pain that radiates to the paws & in some rare instances hip pain - including hip dysplasia- may cause discomfort that shoots down the leg into the paw(s). 
Treatment and Remedies to Treat Damaged Paws- Not all issues can be treated at home. Red flags that warrant the attention of a veterinarian include: Prolonged bleeding, deep sores that expose inner tissue, pain that causes limping or interferes with normal activities, pus or extreme redness, any other signs of infection, any signs of physical or emotional distress. 

1) It is important to first take steps to fix the issue that is causing the licking. If it is due to allergies, you can follow our above listed steps for acute contact allergies. If the allergy is more complicated and severe, you will want to have your vet run testing to identify the trigger, so that you can then remove it. Prescribed antihistamines and other medications may need to be given. If the licking is due to separation anxiety, stress or boredom, it’s important to take steps to resolve that

If the root cause is not resolved, at-home treatments and remedies will not work, as the Shih Tzu will continue to lick and irritate the area. 
2)This said, if the licking is due to a slight irritation OR if you have resolved the problem that started the licking, it is time to fix the paws! 

For peeling or minor to moderate cracking, you can often heal this at home by applying a quality paw butter. It will be important to use the right product that will heal the paws as quickly as possible, since this is such a difficult area to treat on a dog.

An effective paw butter will heal and then protect (as long as you routinely apply it). A thick effective healing butter should be applied each night at bed time, with a sock slipped on so that the Shih Tzu won’t lick the substance off. Even though quality products will be safe for canine consumption, the sock helps make sure that it seeps into the cracks and remains there overnight. 

And be sure to keep applying it regularly to prevent the issue from reoccurring (recommendations ahead). 

General Protection of Your Shih Tzu’s Paws

There are many things that you can do to protect your Shih Tzu’s paws. Of course, this only works if done on a regular basis.
little Shih Tzu puppy
Bobby, 5 years old, living in Rainham Essex UK
Photo courtesy of Gary Howell
• If your Shih Tzu gets any mud or dirt on the paws, wash this off as soon as possible.

• Outdoor elements (pollen and such) can attach to the paws and not only cause issues with drying skin but also the paws will bring those allergens into the home. While canine wipes can remove some of this, ideally you will want to rinse the paws off in the kitchen sink (which is not all that hard to do with this toy breed). 

• After taking your Shih Tzu for a walk, take a moment to check the paws for any small pebbles, cracks, sores, blisters or bleeding.

• When hiking or walking on rough terrain, stop every now and then to check your Shih Tzu’s paws. You’ll want to look for cuts, cracks or any other signs of injury. Dogs will usually only begin limping once an injury is severe and they can’t hold the pain in any longer.

• Trim any long hairs that grow out from between the paw pads. Do not snip hairs between the pads, but rather snip any that are growing out longer than the pads themselves. 

• Paws that stay wet for long periods of time can cause problems. After baths, time outside in rain or puddles or after swimming, dry off the paws and make sure to get the area in between the toes.

• If your Shih Tzu is stung by a bee or wasp on the paw, be sure to remove the stinger. Never use a tweezers. Use a credit card to scrape the stinger out.
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