Are your Boxer’s paws making her miserable and the sound of incessant licking driving you nuts?
Excessive paw licking, sometimes to the point that it creates sores, is often misdiagnosed as “allergies” but is more often a reflection of a poor diet.
Alternatively, dogs may lick their paws because of referred pain from a neck injury or chemical irritation from lawncare chemicals and herbicides.
This post is for general informational and educational purposes only. I encourage readers to see my full disclaimer here.
Causes Of Paw Licking In Boxer Dogs
As veterinarian Dr Peter Dobias says, the reason that dogs often don’t respond to the typical allergy treatment for paw licking is that the cause is not allergies.
Paw licking and itchy paws can be a sign of many things, such as:
- Fat overconsumption or overfeeding
- Yeast overgrowth caused by improper diet
- Chemical irritation from walking on sprayed grass
- Pain from overgrown nails, muscle sprain or footpad wound
- Abnormal neurological sensation like pins and needles or itching in the paws due to neck or back injury caused by the dog’s collar
- Embedded grass seed
- Detox after a course of drugs or after improving the diet
- Acid reflux
- Psychological disturbance
None of these require allergy medication, which has been associated with harmful side effects including cancer.
Fat Overconsumption / Overfeeding
Dogs evolved eating lean game meats for over a million years.
Now, the average pet dog is fed highly processed, shelf stable, dry dog food that bears no resemblance to a natural canine diet.
Is it any wonder it affects our Boxers’ health?
Other signs of fat overconsumption or overfeeding include:
- Scooting the butt along the ground especially after pooping (often mistaken for a sign of intestinal worms or anal sac compaction)
- General itchiness
The one piece of advice humans are consistently given is eat less processed food.
The same applies to our Boxers.
Apart from its numerous other problems, kibble contains a level of fat for which the canine body has no biological precedent.
Unfortunately, even raw-fed dogs consume too much fat if they’re fed pre-made grinds.
It’s not profitable for companies to trim excess fat from meat – so it’s all just minced in.
When you see how much fat is on the average chicken or cow, compared to how little fat is on a rabbit or a deer, you start to understand why this is a problem.
Even dog food sold as “low fat” contain far more fat than a dog would consume in a natural setting.
Deceptive labelling practices are used to present the per cent fat by weight, giving a much lower number than when you convert the fat into per cent fat by calorie, which is what matters.
Excess fat in the diet creates an overburden of waste in the body.
When the primary eliminative organs of the kidneys and bowels (pee and poop) are overwhelmed, the body enlists another organ, the skin, to act as a pressure-release valve, rapidly ejecting those wastes.
The same process goes on in human bodies.
The fat content of chocolate, for instance, is thought to be part of the reason it can cause breakouts.
Metabolic wastes are acidic, and when they’re excreted via the skin, they cause irritation and itching, producing the paw licking symptom you’re observing in your Boxer.
The problems caused by fat overconsumption are compounded by the fact that fatty tissue is where animals store toxins.
So, unless you’re feeding organically reared meats, your dog will be not only getting too much fat, but consuming a load of toxins in that fat.
Cattle drenches, antibiotics and hormones given to chooks will leave residues in the fatty tissue of those animals, toxicity that is passed up the food chain in the same was as mercury from ocean pollution accumulates up the food chain.
This is why it’s recommended not to eat larger, longer lived fish like tuna too often.
To know how much fat is truly in the pet food you might be currently feeding your dog, you must first convert the fat content to per cent fat by calorie.
Then, you can use integrative veterinarian Dr Karen Becker’s guide to see whether it’s really low fat.
Dr Becker says:
- Low fat = less than 17% of calories from fat
- Moderately fatty = 17-23 % of calories from fat
- High fat = more than 31% of calories from fat
If you want to do the math on your Boxer’s food:
1 gram of fat contains 9 calories.
So, to work out how many calories are in a certain weight of fat, you take the grams of fat and multiply them by 9.
You then have to do similar calculations to work out how many calories in the food come from carbohydrate (1g of carbohydrate = 4 calories) and how many calories from protein (1g of protein also = 4 calories).
Finally, divide the calories from fat by the total calories (fat + protein + carbohydrate), multiply it by 100 and you have the percentage of calories from fat.
If your dog’s paws are not only itchy, but have a rust-colored tinge to them, there may be an overgrowth of yeast.
Yeast is a single-celled fungus that lives naturally on your dog’s skin.
It feeds on the skin secretions.
For yeast to overgrow, there has to be an overabundance of food… which is exactly what occurs when a dog is fed a highly processed diet, causing the body to push out wastes and toxins via the skin.
So what’s the cure?
Don’t bother trying to kill the yeast with antifungals.
It will die back to normal levels once you fix the diet, and doing so will avoid more serious health problems developing down the track.
The skin is the first warning light.
Our dogs are constantly exposed to contaminants and chemical irritants on the indoor and outdoor surfaces they walk on.
Imagine how covered in contaminants your feet would be if you went everywhere barefoot.
If you exercise your dog in public (as opposed to own your own land), chances are your dog is walking on herbicide-treated grass whether in parks, on sports fields or even footpaths and roadside verges which councils typically spray with weedkiller.
Your neighbors likely use weedkiller and lawncare chemicals on their grass.
In winter, salt and snowmelt chemicals can burn a dog’s paws.
Even indoors, our dogs are asked to walk on floors cleaned with chemicals.
Because dogs sweat through the bottom of their feet, their paw pads can be moist and prone to collecting particles from the environment.
Pain from Nails That Are Too Long
Overgrown nails are painful, cause postural problems and interfere with the gait.
Your Boxer’s nails shouldn’t touch the ground when she’s in a standing position.
Abnormal Neurological Sensation Due To Neck Injury
Dr Peter Dobias says a common, and overlooked, cause of paw licking is that the dog is experiencing an abnormal neurological sensation in the paws as a result of a neck or back injury.
He says neck injuries are most often caused by collars.
If your Boxer pulls on the leash, you may want to consider this as a cause of her paw licking.
Dr Dobias says most dogs’ paw licking dramatically improves when owners replace collars with harnesses and avoid tugging games and retractable leashes that can jolt the neck.
Paw licking may indicate something as simple as a grass seed stuck between the toes.
Check between your Boxer’s toes regularly for grass seeds, so you can remove them before they become more deeply embedded in the skin.
Paw licking can occur as part of detox as the body rids itself of toxins via the skin.
You might notice onset begins as you discontinue a course of medication or after you improve the diet.
Unlike paw licking due to misfeeding, paw licking related to detox will pass on its own.
In this case, the symptom is “productive” in that it is serving to purge the toxin, furthering healing.
As long as the underlying conditions for health are maintained, namely proper feeding and the avoidance of toxic inputs, the body will eventually clear the backlog and the itching will subside.
If your Boxer is licking not just his paws but his fur, his bedding and other fabric, it might be acid reflux or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
This difficult condition can be caused by damage to the GI tract from drugs like prednisone particularly when taken at high dose for extended periods.
Air licking is a classic sign of acid reflux.
Other symptoms of acid reflux include:
- Air licking
- Drooling (a sign of nausea in dogs)
- Jaw Snapping (like your dog is trying to catch flies)
- Trying to eat leaves or specks of dust off the floor
- Neck stretching
- Loud swallowing or gulping
- Throat gurgling
- Harsh coughing
- Dry retching
- Sometimes vomiting (either food or clear fluid)
Sometimes obsessive licking can develop as a result of psychological factors including boredom, anxiety or frustration.
How To Fix Paw Licking In Your Boxer
How to fix paw licking depends on what’s caused it, but misfeeding is a common culprit.
Optimize The Diet
The first thing to ask yourself if your Boxer is licking her paws chronically is: am I feeding my dog properly?
Here is a good starter guide for how to feed a fresh, natural canine diet to your adult Boxer or how to raw feed a Boxer puppy the right way.
If you are already feeding a properly home-prepared raw diet and your Boxer is showing signs of fat overconsumption, double check you are trimming excess fat.
Next, consider whether you are feeding lean meats but just feeding too much.
If your Boxer is overweight, it’s time to cut back on quantity.
Fast Your Boxer
Fasting is the single most powerful, natural and side effect-free way to treat any dis-ease in the body.
It is a dog’s instinctual response to illness, one that we humans often try to override by convincing a sick dog to eat.
There is now a considerable body of scientific evidence to support the enormous benefits of fasting to both prevent and heal disease.
Fasting for several days has been shown to accelerate detoxification and even counteract the toxicity of chemotherapy in cancer patients.
Rinse Your Boxer’s Paws
Rinse your Boxer’s paws off after walking on roadsides or in public parks to remove any residues of herbicides or other chemicals that may have been used to treat the grass.
It’s critical to remove these poisons before your dog licks the paws, as ingestion of the chemicals can lead to even more serious, internal problems.
Do what you can to avoid exposing your Boxer to green spaces that are likely to be sprayed with weedkiller or had fertilizer applied.
This describes basically all public parks and roadsides, so avoiding exposure is very difficult in built-up environments.
This makes optimizing the diet and avoid all other chemical exposures in the home, ingested in parasite control and injected via vaccines, doubly important.
Toxins accumulate via a stacking effect until eventually you reach the straw that breaks the camel’s back.
If you minimize the toxic load your Boxer’s body is carrying, you give her liver a chance to keep up with its detoxification pathways, reducing the chances that incidental, unavoidable exposures will tip her over the edge into crisis.
Inspect Your Dog’s Paws
Make sure your Boxer’s nails aren’t overgrown.
Look between each toe to check there’s no grass seed, rock, shard of glass or splinter stuck between the paw pads.
Check for ticks while you’re at it.
Use A Harness
Don’t allow your Boxer to develop neck strain or worse by pulling on the leash while wearing a collar.
Harnesses spread the pressure across the chest and keep it off the sensitive neck region.
Clicker training can transform your Boxer’s behavior where other methods have failed.
Keep A Non-Toxic Home
Avoid the use of chemicals in your home.
Opt for dog-safe methods like warm soapy water or vinegar to clean the floor.
Steam cleaners are a highly effective, nontoxic way to clean, using nothing but superheated water.
Minimizing chemical exposure is about more than curing your Boxer’s paw licking — exposure to toxins is a known cause of ageing and disease in both dogs and humans.
Attend To Your Boxer’s Mental Health
Proper nutrition, plenty of attention, physical exercise, mental stimulation and training combine to produce a happy, well-adjusted Boxer.
Raw meaty bones are not only nutritional gold, but the experience of chewing on a bone has been shown to soothe carnivores, conferring deep psychological benefits and a sense of satisfaction and wellbeing.
How Not To Treat Paw Licking In Boxers
If your vet is conventionally trained, you may have been told your dog’s paw licking is “allergies” or a yeast “infection”.
Medicating For “Allergies”
Approach any diagnosis of “allergies” with skepticism.
Unless you optimize the diet and eliminate chemical exposures, it’s impossible to know whether your dog is having a true allergic reaction (which is rare) or merely having a normal reaction to the ingestion of poor quality ingredients and toxic substances.
If you address your Boxer’s diet, parasite control, general care and environment … you will likely find the so-called allergies evaporate.
You will have avoided exposing your dog to the additional risk of drugs like Apoquel and other dangerous immune suppressants like prednisone.
Topical Foot Soaks, Creams And Potions
It’s easy for owners to get caught up in foot soaks and to go down the path of topical application of creams to sooth the itch or in an effort to kill yeast “infections”.
The trouble with this approach is that it does nothing to identify or remove the cause of the problem… which is why the itch and the licking typically returns when the remedy is stopped.
External treatments might be less harmful than administering systemic drugs, but in both cases all the intervention has done is temporarily suppress the symptom.
Far better to get to the bottom of what’s causing the paw licking — usually the diet — and address it once and for all.
Bitter Tasting Sprays
Never use a deterrent spray on your dog’s already irritated paws in an effort to stop her licking them.
The added chemicals will only complicate the issue and you don’t want your Boxer ingesting the spray when she licks, even if it’s marketed as “non toxic”.
And again, this approach does nothing to alleviate the source of the itch.
If your dog is licking her paws and you feed kibble, there’s every chance that’s the source of the problem.
Fix the diet as a first port of call and you’ll likely see the itching disappear.
Other causes of paw licking include irritation from stepping on grass sprayed with weedkiller chemicals or referred neurological pain from neck injuries.
Rinse the paws when returning from walks and replace collars with body harnesses.
Karen Becker, DVM, Your Dog Will Love This 2-Minute TLC Treatment, Mercola Healthy Pets, 2018
Julie C Bond et al, Carcass feeding of captive cheetahs: The effects of a naturalistic feeding program on oral health and psychological wellbeing, Applied Animal Behavior Science, 1990
Peter Dobias DVM, 5-Step Holistic Approach To Paw Licking In Dogs, Dr Dobias Naturals, 2020
Deva Khalsa, Apoquel: Vet Says Beware The Side Effects, Dogs Naturally Magazine, January 2021
Nora Lenz, Dog Nutrition 101, 2021
Juliette de Bairacli Levy, The Complete Herbal Handbook for the Dog and Cat, Faber, 1991
Richard Pitcairn, DVM, PhD, Dr Pitcairn’s Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs and Cats, Random House, 2017
CJ Puotinen, Hot Spots and Lick Granulomas, Whole Dog Journal, 2019
The Natural Vets, Raw Chicken Necks?