Cricket is a clean freak, but only in one particular way. She could be covered in eye goop and mud and poop and feel light and easy, but if her feet are anything less than pristine she has to gnaw them clean. She can sit on her dog bed, or on the couch, or on my bed (damn it), chewing at her paws for what seems like hours. I worry that she will chew off one of her toes, but it hasn’t happened yet, thank God.
It’s possible that she is less a clean freak than a dirt aficionado, removing and examining the precious layers of dirt out of a gourmand’s obsession with each new flavor, or a scientist’s passion for discovery, or she could have obsessive compulsive disorder. Whatever her purpose, she takes her work very seriously, until her leg is almost shaking with the effort of holding it up to her teeth for inspection.
I have never seen Butterfly do this. She doesn’t chew her feet. She didn’t even try to chew on her surgical stitches, and she only scratches her ears on the floor because they itch, and not out of some desperate need to see what was hiding in there. Butterfly even tolerates it when I hold her paws in order to wash them in the sink. Cricket would bite my hand off if I tried to touch her toes. They are sacred.
I met a small white-haired dog recently who chews his paw (only one paw) so much that it has turned rust-colored from all of that saliva. So far, Cricket’s paws have remained white.
I decided to research the issue, in case I was neglecting an important health issue, and one site said that the chewing can be a sign of an unhealed puncture wound, or foreign bodies lodged between the toes, like burrs or grass, or it could be a sign of an allergic skin disease, or a tumor, or an autoimmune disease of the nail beds or paw pads. It could be itchy dry skin because of a diet low in fatty acids, or she could be anxious or depressed from separation anxiety or lack of exercise, she could have arthritis, or there could be a parasite in her feet and this is her brilliant idea for how to get rid of it.
I’m pretty sure the vet would have mentioned a tumor over the years, if Cricket had had one, and she would have screamed to high heaven if she’d punctured a body part. The foreign bodies lodged between her toes sound like a real option, though. Sometimes when her sister, Butterfly, is limping, it turns out that she has a piece of kibble between her paw pads and didn’t realize it, this would never happen to Cricket. Cricket would always notice. It’s possible that Cricket keeps a collection of the things she’s found between her toes, but I’m grateful that she hasn’t shared it with me.
Finally, on the fourth or fifth web page of my research extravaganza, the experts said that moderate paw chewing is actually normal, so unless there are other signs of trouble, like hot spots, loss of fur, or bleeding, it’s probably nothing to worry about.
I wish they’d told me that from the beginning. But at least now I know about all of the horrible things that could happen to Cricket’s and Butterfly’s paws. I’m sure that will help me sleep better tonight.