Your Pet Question:
Our 13-year-old dog constantly chews the bottom of her paw or sucks on blankets and articles of clothing. How can we stop this behaviour? Is it dangerous to her health?
The Expert Says:
If this behaviour is new, then I would strongly recommend a thorough examination by your veterinarian. A sudden appearance of sucking and chewing could be indicative of dental problems, intestinal problems, pain from arthritis or other musculo-skeletal problems and even neurological issues. Never dismiss new behaviours, especially in elderly animals; they might be early warning symptoms of something medically serious. However, if she has been doing this all of her life, it’s likely to relieve boredom or stress.
How aggressively you approach stopping this behaviour depends on if she has actually damaged her paw. Punishing behaviours that relieve stress only escalate the stress. Distract and stimulate her with treats or toys that engage dogs in problem-solving to get the treat. To relieve stress, a product called a DAP (Dog Appeasement Pheromone) might be in order. You can disperse the calming pheromone from a device that plugs into the wall socket, from a specially designed dog collar or from a spray bottle. Most veterinarians stock these. If she is actually damaging her paw, then she may need a stronger anti-anxiety medication, so have her examined by a vet before taking any action.
Jennifer L. Scott, D.V.M., practices at Sundance Animal Hospital in Calgary, Alberta.