Why is my dog biting his nails and paws and how can I get him to stop?

Original Question: Tobi is a 2-year-old Tibetan Terrier and he bites his front paw nails. Like a toddler with a soother, when he is chilling out in his bed, he will bite his nails. His nails are always rough and the groomer said he has bitten them to the quick. No medical issue with his paws it is just a habit. Any idea of how I can help him to stop? - Penny

Why is my dog biting his nails and paws and how can I get him to stop? Jul 5, 2017

Hi Penny,

What a good question. There could be several things going on here. While it may not appear to have a clear underlying medical cause, I would recommend having a thorough work-up done before focusing on the behavioural aspects of this issue. Licking of the feet is often the first sign of an allergy – either environmental or food-related, so this is certainly worth considering. Your vet can help you look into this further, perhaps with a food trial or allergy medication trial. I would definitely recommend having your vet also do some testing of the skin to look for any evidence of infection. This would involve taking swabs or scrapes of the affected areas and looking for bacteria, fungi or parasites under the microscope.

If medical causes have been ruled out by your vet, then you can focus more on the behavioural aspects. It is possible for dogs to develop a behavioural disorder in which they lick a body part, almost obsessively, to the point of causing trauma. Thankfully, it is not terribly common. Patience, positive reinforcement training and possibly anxiety medications, may be required. Initially, you can try re-directing the behaviour to a food-filled toy or similar, especially during those times he seems to lick the most. As a shorter-term solution, you may consider covering his feet with dog boots or socks to provide a barrier.

I hope this provides you with a bit of direction for Tobi.

Dr. Kim Hester

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