Why Do Dogs Bite Their Feet, Legs, and Tail?

BY MOLLY | EVERYTHINGSHIHTZU.COM
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It's not uncommon to see a dog do things like lick its feet and chase its tail. Most of the time, they're simply cleaning their paws and having some fun.

But what if your Shih Tzu is biting their tail, feet, and legs?

Do you need to worry? Well, it depends.

Dogs bite their feet, legs, and tail for several reasons ranging from boredom to stress to allergies. In some cases, their frantic and excessive self-biting behavior could be due to an underlying health issue.

Grey and White Shih Tzu

So, it's always essential to monitor your pup's biting, mainly the frequency, and consult with your vet if it's an ongoing event.

Now, every dog is different, so they all have their reasons for doing the things they do. Therefore, don't just make assumptions about your pal; gather information and pay attention to your pup.

Then you can start to put two and two together to assess why your furry friend is biting their extremities.

Keep reading to why your dog is biting itself and what you can do about it.

Your Dog Could Be Biting Out of Boredom

Sometimes, your pet could simply be bored, and biting their paws is something to pass the time, often becoming somewhat of an obsessive behavior.

Tan and white Shih Tzu laying on the floor looking away

When you think about it, it's not as strange as it might sound.

After all, humans do all sorts of unhealthy things when they're bored, like constant snacking, sleeping too much, or texting exes.

If you think your pal's biting comes from boredom, perhaps they need more exercise or stimulation.

You can be more vigilant with walks and play sessions and also provide your pup with interactive toys like treat puzzles, a Kong, or an irresistible chew. 

Your Shih Tzu Could Be Stressed

Another possibility for dogs that frequently bite their legs, feet, and tail is stress.

Light-colored Shih Tzu

However, as with boredom, you'd likely notice more licking than biting if anxiety is to blame. Sort of like how people chew their fingernails when they're nervous.

Does your dog only bite itself during stressful situations, like thunderstorms or vet visits?

Providing your pup with some of the same items mentioned previously can help, as can a lick mat.

You can spread something tasty on the mat, like peanut butter, to encourage your pup to lick the mat.

The licking helps release endorphins and also helps to calm your pal.

They're really handy for those situations that cause your dog anxiety. Or perhaps your dog gets stressed out when they're alone and starts chomping away in response.

See our article on Signs of Stress In Dogs

What If Your Dog's Self-Biting Is from Separation Anxiety?

If separation anxiety is to blame, address the issue directly. Work with your dog on being able to handle when you need to leave home.

It's best to start with baby steps, like simply stepping out of the room for a moment.

Once your dog can handle that, you can move up to walking out the front door, then coming back in one minute, then two minutes, and so on.

Then, gradually increase the time you're away by running a quick errand until you're eventually gone for an average workday.

If you're struggling, it's worth bringing in a professional behavioral trainer to help you.

In the long run, you and your fur baby will be much happier.

Your Shih Tzu Could Have Allergies

If your dog isn't biting from stress or boredom, it could be allergies causing their discomfort.

In fact, allergies are one of the most common reasons for this type of biting behavior.

When your dog has an allergic reaction, it can cause skin irritation and itchiness, making your dog scratch and bite.

It's best to make an appointment with your vet to test for potential allergies.

Depending on the results, your dog might need a change in diet (if food allergies are to blame) or to be on medication.

If you notice your dog's biting increases along with a change in season, environmental factors could be at the root of their allergies.

Fleas and Ticks and Bugs, Oh, My!

Very much like we scratch at a bug bite, our dogs can bite at pesky fleas and other critters. This is especially likely if your pal isn't on any flea or tick prevention

If the biting is concentrated in one spot, it could also be something minor like a single ant bite.

You can talk to your vet about applying an anti-itch cream, or in some cases, your vet may recommend a safe dose of Benadryl.

Note: Never give your dog any medication before consulting with your vet. 

There Could Be an Underlying Health Condition

Tan and White Shih Tzu at a veterinary clinic

Besides allergies, other health issues can cause skin irritation and itchiness, including disorders of the liver and kidneys.

Although, you'd likely notice other symptoms as well, such as crusting or oozing of the skin and hair loss.

If your dog is primarily biting at the base of the tail, impacted anal glands could be to blame.

If you see your pal constantly biting at themselves, a vet visit is worth the trip, as early detection of these types of diseases is your best chance for treatment.

You'll notice your dog mainly biting at their legs, feet, and tail because, well, that's what they can reach the best. 

Will My Dog Stop Biting Their Feet, Legs, and Tail on Their Own?

Sometimes, if the biting is due to an isolated incident, like a bug bite, your dog will stop once the itching stops.

However, you need to pay close attention.

Some dogs become very dedicated to getting comfortable, while others just become obsessed with the biting behavior.

Either way, excessive biting, scratching, and licking can cause problems for your pup.

The skin can become red and raw, you might notice hair loss in certain areas, and in some cases, your dog can develop hot spots.

In extreme cases, dogs have been known to bite and chew so much, with no intervention, that they chew off their tail, although this would be rare.

The more likely scenario is your pup can cause some significant lacerations to their skin, inviting bacteria and infection.

I had a dog, Beau, that was obsessed with licking at one spot on his tail due to a bothersome sore, to the point where he had to wear a collar for a couple of weeks.

I had to apply antibiotic cream and wait for the sore to heal.

I'll never forget the vet saying we needed to leave the collar on until the issue was resolved; otherwise, Beau would likely chew through his tail. Luckily, that was not the case.

Basically, while your dog biting their feet, legs, and tail isn't necessarily a reason to rush off to the vet immediately, it's definitely something you want to keep an eye on.

If left unchecked, the biting itself can cause even more issues for your pup. So, play it safe and give your vet a call.

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