In my house, we start the day with a vigorous leg-chewing session.
Excessive chewing can be a sign of skin allergies, or a reaction to insect bites. Keeping your dog on a monthly flea and tick medication like Frontline can help reduce bite problems! If your dog has other allergies (seasonal or food), the paws may be the first place they start to itch. If your dog is chewing himself nonstop — especially if he has chewed his skin open — call your vet and schedule an appointment. A cortisone shot may give him the relief he needs! Your dog may also need a prescription antihistamine or a conditioning shampoo to help keep the itchies at bay.
However, some dogs lick and chew for no medical reason at all. Compulsive leg licking is frequently seen in Labradors and German Shepherds.
When your dog is lying in what’s called the “Sphinx” position — on his belly, body in a line, front paws stretched forward — the foreleg is in perfect position for some recreational licking. Dogs learn licking as comfort behavior when they are puppies being cleaned off after birth by their mother!
Licking or nibbling isn’t bad, unless it becomes an obsession. A dog may lick his fur away! All that licking will cause the skin tissue to thicken, and eventually crack. Your dog risks infection if he licks himself open like this. Veterinarians compare it to obsessive compulsive disorder in humans. The dog is licking to satisfy a psychological need, rather than ease a physical problem.
Some over-the-counter remedies, like bitter apple spray, may deter your dog from licking the affected area. You can even try a smear of plain old Vaseline to protect your dog’s favorite spots. Then again, if he’s determined, he’ll just keep on licking. Your vet may prescribe medicine like what treats OCD in humans to give the skin time to heal. If treatment stops before the area is fully healed, your dog will most likely start the licking cycle all over again.