Why Do Dogs Bite or Chew Their Nails? 8 Common Reasons

Dogs use their teeth to get to the bottom of many issues, as that’s their only resource to relieve itchiness or other discomforts on their body. When you see your pup biting or chewing on their nails, it’s usually indicative of something bothering them around their paws. If this becomes a chronic problem, it could be a sign of something brewing.

Anytime your dog has odd behavior, it should be something you should keep an eye out for.  If they are biting or chewing their nails, it’s also important to watch out for any other behavior that’s out of the norm, like eating less or not being as energetic around their family.

So what could cause a pet to have discomfort on their paws? While there are many possible issues, in this article we will cover some of the most common reasons your dog may be chewing at their nails!

Biting and Chewing in General

A dog’s teeth are like our fingers to us. If you imagine not having your fingers available, and experiencing itchiness throughout the day that you aren’t able to relive, that would understandably cause insanity.

Since dogs don’t have hands and fingers like we do, they rely on their teeth and mouth to scratch places they cant reach with their paws. A dogs biting and chewing is the same action as a human’s scratching and picking.

A dog that is biting and chewing at their nails are trying to tell us that something in this area is causing them some form of discomfort. So what are some reasons behind this behavior?


It’s Time To Visit The Groomer

Dog Grooming

If a dog is chewing at their nails or paws, it could simply mean that they are in need of a nail trim! When a dog’s nails get too long, it can make their daily activities more difficult. When they’re nails are overgrown, long nails can put pressure on the paw pad, causing discomfort when they walk.

Severely overgrown nails can even begin to dig into their skin, causing severe pain and infections. Long nails can also increase the chance of nail injury, which can be incredibly painful. Regularly trimmed nails help to prevent any complications and keep your pup feeling their best.

In some cases, extremely fluffy dogs will be bothered by hair overgrowth on their paws. Some dogs have thick feathering around their paws and legs, which can become wedged between their toes. This could be comparable to the feeling of a thick string bothering your foot inside of your sock. It’s not unbearable, but it’s definitely annoying!  This can also be managed by regularly deshedding your dog.

If you see your furry friend licking and chewing at their nails, the first thing you should do is check and see if it’s their way of telling you to make an appointment with the groomer, or find a way to DIY at home! This is usually the least painful and cheapest thing to remedy, so make sure to start here first.


Allergies

Dog Allergies

Allergies can cause incredible discomfort for your canine friend. Allergies of the skin are known to cause itching, swelling, redness, and pain in more severe cases. Some allergies your pup can experience include:

Grass allergies: Some unfortunate pups are known to have allergies to the grass they are exposed to each day. Pups will come in from their time outside and experience severe itchiness and resort to biting and chewing their paws for relief. Just as the itching begins to subside, they are exposed to the grass once again on their next trip outside. Dogs can become truly miserable from grass allergies.  You can typically help remedy this by using a pup shampoo for sensitive skin, or a dog shampoo made of oatmeal.

Food allergies: Food allergies can often present as skin redness and itchiness. While most pups will experience itchiness all over their body, they will bite at their paws as well in an attempt to relieve their symptoms.

Outdoor/seasonal allergens: Just like in humans, some pups experience seasonal allergies depending on the allergen that is present in the environment. These pups will often seem fine one day, and become overcome with itchiness at certain periods throughout the year. Their feet can become especially itchy if the allergen is present in your grass.

If you think your dog is experiencing minor allergies, you can add Benadryl to their daily routine after speaking to your vet about its use. Benadryl is an antihistamine used to relieve the symptoms from minor allergies, so it has brought comfort to many pups experiencing itchiness from seasonal allergens.

The recommended dose for Benadryl in dogs is 1mg per pound. (Example: 25mg for a 25 pound dog)


Skin Infections

Dog Skin Infection

The area between a dog’s toes are the perfect environment for an infection to brew. If you add moisture to the mix, such as licking of the paws and nails, its a recipe for disaster. Once dogs experience itchiness or discomfort in an area, they will lick and bite at the area in an effort to “relive the problem.” The more they bite and chew, the more damage they actually cause to the affected area.

This action will often lead to severe skin irritation and wounds on the paws that easily become infected with their exposure to dirt and germs on the ground. If the area around your dog’s nails and paws look red and irritated, it’s best to pay your veterinarian a visit before the situation gets worse. The vet will often get your pet started on antibiotics, send home a topical spray for the affected area, and an E-collar that will prevent your pup from any additional licking.

Another factor to consider is the possibility of foreign material in the paw or around the nail. Blades of grass, foxtails, or any other plant or stick material can easily become lodged in your dog’s paw. This will often be accompanied by chewing at the paws, swelling, redness, and limping. If you notice any of these symptoms from your dog, have them seen by your veterinarian ASAP.


Anxiety

Dog Anxiety

Chewing and biting of the nails can be a sign of anxiety or boredom in your furry friend. Humans often bite their nails or fingers when anxious, and it is no different for an anxious pup. Whether its due to your absence, a change in their surroundings, or out of boredom; it can become a compulsive problem that can cause complications down the line.

If it seems like this always happens when your pup is left alone or without entertainment, you can try to offer them stimulating toys and activities. This may include a kong toy with treats inside, a food bowl that entices them to search for the kibbles in hidden compartments, or a healthy bone to chew on while you’re away.

If your pup is displaying other signs of anxiety such as destructive behavior, urinating in the house, pacing, panting, or any other concerning symptoms; it can be related to more severe anxiety disorders. Dogs can sometimes develop an obsessive-compulsive disorder with paw chewing, so if this is a chronic problem that you cannot seem to find relief for, give your vet a call. They can help you implement new actions to relieve anxiety, and prescribe anxiety medication if needed.


Fleas and Ticks

Dog Scratching Nails Because of Fleas & Ticks

Fleas and ticks like to hide out in dark crevices on our beloved pups. Ticks especially love the spot between the toes on their paws, and can cause great discomfort by doing this. If you see your dog chewing at their nails or toes, make sure to check in between their toes and on their paw pads for any unwanted fleas or ticks! If you do see any ticks or unwanted pests in between their toes, it’s best to visit your vet for proper removal. Ticks can be tricky to remove completely, and parts of their bodies are often left behind on the skin in the removal process. Your vet can show you how to properly remove these unwanted friends.

Another condition that can cause itchiness is flea dermatitis. This is characterized by red and itchy skin with the presence, or previous presence of fleas. Fleas can trigger an allergic response that results in severe skin irritation and itchiness all over the body. If your dog has fleas and is chewing at their nails and paws, it could be due to this itchy condition.

Keeping your pet on monthly flea and tick prevention can avoid any secondary conditions from these pesky skin critters!  There are many different routes you can utilize to treat fleas, and topical solutions are some of the most common treatment avenues for Fleas & Ticks.


Nail Injury

Dog Nail Injury

Dogs are not exempt from broken nails. With how active our dogs can be, they often experience nail injury at least once throughout their lives. This can easily happen from getting their nail caught on something, or nails getting cracked from force of some kind. This can often be incredibly painful, leading a dog to lick at the affected nail in an effort to soothe the pain. Some other signs you may see associated with a nail injury are:

  • Licking the paw and nail
  • Swelling around the nail
  • Redness around the nail
  • Blood on the paw, or on the carpet where they have stood.
  • Limping
  • Paw sensitivity
  • Not allowing you to examine their paw

If you think your dog may have a nail injury, it’s important to have them seen by your veterinarian right away. These injuries are known to get infected quickly, and can result in severe pain for your pup.  If infections go untreated, they can be harmful to the overall health of your dog, or even fatal.  This is especially true of the dog’s archnemesis – the foxtail plant, when it gets lodged in their paws.


Skin Conditions and Mange

Dog with Mange

There are a list of different skin conditions that can present around your dog’s paws and nails that can result in chewing or biting at the paws. One of these common skin conditions is demodectic mange, which can often to be localized on the paws. This will often present as hair loss on the paws and legs, chewing at their feet, and possible secondary infections on the feet from chewing.

In order to properly diagnose this condition, your vet will perform a skin scraping. This involves the scraping of the skin with a small blade, and looking at the skin tissue under a microscope. Once diagnosed, your pup can receive medicated baths, oral medication, or injections to help resolve the condition. It will depend on the severity of your pups case on which method of treatment they will choose.

Some other skin conditions in dogs that can result in nail and paw chewing are allergy dermatitis, yeast overgrowth on the skin, bacterial infections and Ringworm.  Some of these conditions can make your dog very smelly, so they are a little easier to point out.  It’s important to get your vet involved right away if you anticipate your dog has Mange.


Growths on the Paw

Dog with Nail Issue Due to Growth on Paw

One of the less common reasons for chewing at the nails and paws is the presence of any growths or masses on the paw. Occasionally, dogs can develop interdigital cysts (cysts between their toes), masses around their nails, or abscesses on their nails from previous injury. While lumps and bumps are less common, it’s important to be aware of. If you see any concerning lumps on your pups paws, have your vet take a look ASAP.


Final Thoughts

Overall, your pups urge to chew and bite their nails is a way of telling you something is up. Whether it’s their time for a simple nail trim or a hint at something more, this action shouldn’t be ignored. While these 8 common conditions represent a good chunk of the reason your pup may be chewing repetitively, there are other reasons that should be examined by a veterinarian.

The first step to diagnosing your pup’s issue is to take careful inventory of what their symptoms are.  Whenever there’s any concern you can’t address, your next best option is to head directly to see your vet. The next time you find your canine friend chewing their nails or paw, consider these possible reasons above!

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