A number of situations can cause a dog to chew on their paws -- allergies, yeast infections, changes to the immediate surroundings, stress, dermatitis or simple boredom. For most, it is a temporary response to a physical or environmental situation. For others, it is a bad habit that can lead to balding, inflammation of the skin, and sore spots between the toes and on the pads of the feet if not corrected.
Determine the cause of the chewing. Take the dog to your veterinarian for an evaluation and be sure to take note of any recent changes, such as new food, new carpeting, or new bedding, which may be causing an allergic response. If the vet rules out a medical cause, the situation can be addressed through behavior modification and positive reinforcement.
Observe the dog to determine any pattern to the paw-chewing behavior. Look for specific situations or times of day that seem to trigger the urge to chew. These situations could be causing the dog excessive amounts of stress. If an obvious pattern is apparent, do what you can to remove these stressors from the dog’s world.
Distract the dog when the foot chewing begins. Take 10 to 15 minutes to play a game or otherwise engage the dog in a rewarding activity. Be sure to use lots of positive language and petting to encourage full participation. This extra mental stimulation can be all many dogs need to stop excessive paw chewing.
Take the dog for a walk twice a day. This will allow the dog to explore the neighborhood in a safe manner and increase the opportunity for social stimulation that may be missing. This is particularly important if your dog spends most of his day fenced in the yard or in the house alone.
Purchase a new chew toy and give it to the dog when you see her chewing on her paws. When she is finished playing with it, put it away rather than allowing her to have access to it at all times.
Coat your dog’s paws with bitter apple spray, if necessary. This can be purchased at most pet stores or ordered online. It is safe to use on the dog’s skin, and the unpleasant taste can be a strong chewing deterrent.
For dogs with open foot sores, an Elizabethan collar or other physical barrier may be necessary to allow the paws time to heal.
Lisa Parris is a writer and former features editor of "The Caldwell County News." Her work has also appeared in the "Journal of Comparative Parasitology," "The Monterey County Herald" and "The Richmond Daily News." In 2012, Parris was honored with awards from the Missouri Press Association for best feature story, best feature series and best humor series.