Dogs do all kinds of things that puzzle humans on a daily basis. But, more often than not, there is a good reason for their behavior, whatever it may be. Pups lick, chew, and scratch themselves as part of their grooming techniques. There is an endless amount of reasons why your dog seems to have developed a habit of chewing on their nails, or anywhere else on their body, for that matter. Understanding the possibilities is the first step towards solving the case.
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What Causes Self-Chewing Behavior?
The most common cause is simply itching. Think of it like getting athlete’s foot, where a somewhat painful, burning, and extreme itch occurs on your feet for seemingly no reason. Dogs are prone to all kinds of things that make them itch like that, especially in certain breeds or individuals with sensitive skin issues.
Common Causes of Itching
Allergens of all kinds can cause severe itching anywhere on your dog’s body, but their feet seem to be the main spot that are affected, because of the allergens that are picked up when they go outside. Testing for allergies is a fairly easy thing your vet can do at their clinic. It isn’t always easy to pinpoint the exact allergen causing the reaction, but cheap and effective medicines are available to help with both the cause of the reaction and the symptoms of the reaction.
A dog’s allergies are easily manageable with the help of an experienced vet. Remember that pollen and seasonal allergens aren’t the only things that can give your dog an allergic reaction. Food, shampoo, laundry detergent, and other household items may be the cause of such bad itching. If all else fails, try switching out things that your dog comes in contact with one at a time to see if the condition changes.
Unwanted bugs are also a likely cause. Fleas and ticks love to make their homes within the fur of your beloved pup. They tend to hide in places that aren’t easily accessible by the dog, like their spine area, the back of their neck, their head, underbelly, and in parts of their legs. If you consistently give your dog flea and tick preventatives every month, then you probably don’t have to worry about bugs, but it is always good to check your fur buddy with a flea comb and a thorough search for ticks, just in case. This is especially important if you use a preventative that is cheap and not widely recognized.
Issues like chronic dry skin, forms of mange, mites, and other sensitive skin problems can also be the cause of their itching. Mites and mange could go into the parasite category, but there are good mites that help your dog have a healthy coat. Remember, most kinds of mites aren’t much bigger than some larger types of bacteria, so they aren’t a huge threat. But sometimes they can get out of control because of an immune system deficiency or when they are sick, which causes mange, which is a skin condition that causes hot spots, redness, itching, and in extreme cases, loss of fur, swelling, and lesions.
Dogs are exposed to all kinds of toxins like chemicals and plants. Household chemicals like insect spray and repellant can cause adverse reactions. Chemicals stored in the garage or shed could be the culprit. Or, you could possibly have some poisonous plants in your yard or near your home that causes itching and other problems. Dogs like to chew on things, taste them, sniff them, because that is how they explore the world. Chewing on a poisonous plant or tasting and sniffing some toxic chemicals can result in some serious issues, and in extreme cases, emergency surgery or even death.
As previously stated, dogs naturally use their mouths to groom themselves, which means they will chew on their nails if they believe they need to do so. When troubleshooting the reason why, take a look at the obvious choices by looking at their feet. Offer your pup some treats to let you look in between their toes, underneath their nails, the bottoms of their feet, in between the pads, and within the fur covering the area.
Dogs also instinctually dig and bite at their nails to keep them from getting too long. Some breeds to this behavior more than others, and some won’t bite their nails at all, unless they itch.
It is common knowledge that some dogs, not particular to any breed, can have issues with getting nervous, frantic, and panicky. Puppies are especially prone to these types of anxiety-related issues.
Anxiety can lead to dogs hurting themselves. A lot of problematic chewing behavior happens when a dog has increased anxiety. Even dogs that are being crate trained will chew on the metal bars and dig and chew their bed when they get nervous.
That being said, chewing on themselves is something that is common amongst dogs with anxiety. Every dog is different, and the behavior will manifest in many ways, but if you notice that your dog is a nervous one, and that they are biting their feet, try to understand their nervousness, what triggers the behavior, and talk with your vet about what you can do to ease their anxiety overall.
Even if your dog doesn’t have any of these problems at the moment, they could’ve suffered those problems in the past, and have since developed a habit of chewing on their nails. If you believe this to be the case, you first must rule out everything else, because training a dog not to groom itself is a bad thing.
A dog’s mental health is important to monitor when they get older. Dogs have been known to act quite strangely and do things that aren’t normal, or things they’ve never done before. Dogs can develop types of dementia, and other mental illnesses in their senior years. Also, brain trauma can also cause different behavior patterns that could be the cause of their self-chewing behaviors. These types of cases are extremely rare, though.
Talking to Your Vet
Now that you understand how you can determine the reason why your dog is chewing their nails, you should be able to troubleshoot the issue, and then talk with your vet about getting them in to be seen, getting a confirmation of your theories, and figuring out the solution. If you have a good vet, they should be able to give you a solution that doesn’t require you to buy expensive medicine, or even take them in to be seen, unless it is absolutely necessary.
Also, if you suspect itching is the reason for their self-chewing behavior, try to put some non-toxic itch relief cream on their paws. Be sure to rub it in gently until it begins to soak in and help relieve the itching.
But, before you do anything, always call your vet and talk to them about solutions. Ask them what you can give them while you are waiting to be seen by the vet to help your dog. Ask them if over-the-counter medications can help.
Another helpful tip is to gather any information about your dog that you can. Your vet will ask you a long series of questions in order to fully understand the dog’s life and environment to determine a cause for their self-chewing behavior. They will ask what your dog eats, what their skin and fur look like, if they have any parasites, if they are eating and drinking normally, if their potty behaviors have changed, if their poop is normal, if their overall demeanor or any specific behaviors have changed. They will also ask questions about your household. Like, what detergent you use, if there is anything in particular that your dog is exposed to that could give them a negative reaction, etc.
Keep Track of Lifestyle Changes
Do your best to track what changes you have made in your home a few weeks prior to noticing your dog chewing on their nails and feet. Changing your dog’s food is a big deal. Getting them a toy made from a material they’ve never been exposed to is something you should remember. Buying different laundry detergent, using air fresheners, and any other changes to their lifestyle need to be recorded. Keeping a wellness notebook is a great idea. Simply listing any type of changes to your dog’s home environment will give you and your vet the perfect evidence to solve the mystery.
Staying Happy and Healthy
This seems like it is a lot to take in, but it isn’t, once you understand how dogs can end up with itchy paws and behavioral issues that cause them to chew their nails. The cause and the solution are usually quite simple. Be sure to give your dog a parasite preventative like Frontline or Advantage every month. Make sure you get an allergy test done for them, too. That will help with diagnosing problems in the future. Also, make sure they stay up-to-date on all their shots. And, have an open line of communication with your vet. You should be able to call them- or an emergency line after-hours- at any time. It doesn’t hurt to call when you notice a problem. It’s always better to be safe than sorry. That way, you and your pup can be happy and healthy for years to come!