As a pet parent, it’s natural to worry about your dog when you notice strange behaviors. If your dog is pawing at their mouth, it can be quite unsettling. It’s important to determine the reason they are pawing at their mouth, so you can help them fix the issue.
Why is my dog pawing, scratching or itching at his mouth?
Does your dog suddenly spend time pawing at their mouth? Are you worried they will hurt themselves with their paw? If your dog is pawing their mouth, something is irritating it. It may be itching or painful. It’s also possible there’s a foreign object in their mouth.
Allergies are a common problem for pooches. Your dog can have environmental or food allergies, or both. Environmental allergens include grass, pollen, and dust. Food allergies include dairy, lamb, chicken, eggs, soy, and gluten. Unfortunately, these are common dog food ingredients.
Either type of allergy can cause your dog’s mouth to itch. Food allergies typically cause skin issues, but they can also cause a reaction in your dog’s mouth, because the sensitive skin of the mouth comes into direct contact with the allergen.
Environmental allergies can cause your dog’s mouth to itch if it’s exposed to them as well. Dogs explore the world with their mouth and nose. They will frequently sniff and mouth objects to inspect them. If the dog is allergic to what it puts in it’s mouth, it can cause a rash or mouth irritation.
Allergies most commonly affect the paws and ears. They can also affect the underarms and belly. If allergies are the issue, you may also notice other signs.
Other signs of allergies include sneezing, runny nose, watery eyes, wheezing, and gastrointestinal upset.
You’ve probably experienced contact with irritants before. Have you ever gotten poison ivy? Used cleaning products without gloves and ended up with itchy irritated skin? Perhaps, like me, you once mixed the wrong cleaning products and severely irritated your lungs. Not a fun experience.
This same type of irritation can happen to your dog. Again, dogs will put nearly anything in their mouth to get more information about it. All it takes is a lick of the wrong substance to cause an issue.
A munch on a poison oak leaf or a lick of a household cleaner can cause your pooch some severe mouth irritation.
The pain and itching associated with the irritation will then cause them to paw or itch their mouth.
Mouth trauma will also set your dog to pawing or scratching their mouth. You may think of serious injuries when you think of trauma, like being hit by a car. However, there are many ways minor trauma can occur.
Chewing a stick can cause a cut in the mouth. Playing roughly with another dog can lead to a scratch on the gums. Even chewing a rough bone can cause mouth abrasions. These are all types of trauma that can affect your pooch.
Tumors of the mouth can drive your dog mad. Imagine how you would feel if you suddenly developed a lump or tumor in your mouth. It would affect your eating, talking, and cause a lot of discomfort.
A dog with tumors of the mouth has a similar experience. You may notice them pawing particularly after they eat. They may also lose their appetite, or refuse to eat dry food because it is painful for them.
Other signs of tumors include bleeding gums, excessive drooling, and bad breath. Tumors are typically visible as small lumps in your dog’s mouth. If you notice these areas, you’ll need to bring them to the vet. Not all tumors are cancerous, but they do require prompt testing and treatment.
An infection in the mouth causes itching or pain, which will cause your dog to paw their mouth. Often, an infection starts with an abrasion or cut. Bacteria enter the wound, causing a secondary infection. In other cases, gum disease leads to infection.
Because dogs like to put things into their mouths, they are at risk of getting a foreign object lodged into their mouth. Of course, this causes discomfort at best, and pain at worst.
This leads them to paw at their mouth. They may also use their paws to try to remove the object, just as a human would use their hands to remove something from their teeth.
Stress or Anxiety
Stress or anxiety can also be the source of the pawing. It’s possible for feelings of stress to cause your pooch’s face or muzzle to itch. In other cases, they are hiding their face because they are upset.
Humans will often cover their face with their hands when they are stressed or embaressed. This behavior isn’t limited to humans. Dogs and monkeys are also known to hide their face in the face of anxiety. Perhaps, like a small child, they think if they can’t see the object of their fear, it won’t hurt them.
It’s more likely that this is a form of communication, however. When your dog paws or covers their face due to anxiety, they are letting you know they are upset.
Another way dogs are like small children is boredom. A bored dog will find a means of entertainment, and it will likely be something you don’t want them to do.
Scratching without an apparent physical cause is a sign of boredom. Essentially, they scratch simply to have something to do. They may also lick excessively for the same reason. Bored dogs often become destructive. They may chew your possessions or furniture. They may pee and poop in the house as well.
Other signs of boredom include panting when they aren’t exercising, pacing, and excessive barking.
Why is my dog pawing at his mouth after eating?
If your pooch only paws at his mouth after eating, this narrows down the potential causes significantly. The most common causes of this are allergies, mouth problems, and indigestion.
Food allergies can cause your pooch’s mouth to itch immediately after eating. Some reactions begin within a few minutes to a few hours after ingesting something they are allergic to.
Mouth problems can also cause your pooch to paw their mouth after eating. If they have an infection, tumor, or abrasion in their mouth, eating can be painful. After they are done eating, the mouth may still be irritated, itchy, or painful. This leads them to paw at their mouth.
Indigestion is another reason dogs paw at their mouth. At first, the two might seem unrelated. Indigestion rarely causes pain or itching in the mouth. However, the mouth may be as close as your pooch can get to the source of the discomfort.
Indigestion can cause pain or burning in the stomach and throat. Even though the pain isn’t directly related to the mouth, your pooch may paw at it because they can’t put their paw down their throat!
What to do about my dog pawing at his mouth?
If your dog is pawing their mouth, there are a few things you can do. It’s important to deal with the problem as soon as possible, because your dog can injure themselves pawing or itching their mouth.
The first thing you should do is take a good look at your pooch. Examine their mouth. Look for signs of trauma or bleeding, swelling, wounds, and tumors. You should also look for red areas or signs of a rash, and foreign objects.
Most vets advise not attempting to remove a foreign object from your dog’s mouth yourself. If you do choose to do so, be sure that you get it out of their mouth so they don’t swallow it.
It can be helpful to have a partner hold your dog’s mouth open so you can get a good look. If their mouth is bothering them, they probably won’t be particularly happy about you having a look.
You’ll also need to observe your dog’s symptoms and behavior. Do they paw at a certain time, like after meals or at night time? Does anything seem to relieve their urge to paw? When did the pawing start? Were there any changes to their diet, the household, or their routine around this time?
It can be helpful to write all these observations down, so that you can remember it when you speak to your vet.
If you see something abnormal, you’ll need to call your vet. If you don’t see anything, your dog may still need a vet visit to determine the cause and any potential treatment.
Don’t ignore the pawing just because there’s no visible cause. If your pooch is scratching frequently, something isn’t right.
The cone, or e-collar, can prevent your pooch from pawing their face. It’s a cone that goes over their head. They are typically used to keep your dog from biting or licking an injured area or surgical site, but they also create a barrier that keeps their paws from their face.
Dogs generally hate cones, so distraction can be a much kinder option. When you notice your pooch pawing, get them to pay attention to something else. Take them for a walk or play with them.
Giving them a treat isn’t a great idea, because it can seem like they are being rewarded for pawing. In fact, distraction should be used sparingly to avoid accidental positive reinforcement.
Why does my dog keep pawing at his face?
If your dog seems to constantly be pawing their face, there are a few potential explanations.
The most obvious and common reason a dog paws at their face is because it itches. Itching can be caused by allergies, fleas or other parasites, and skin conditions. Your dog will understandably scratch when they have an itch, which can worsen the problem.
Dogs will also paw their face when they are afraid. As mentioned earlier, a dog who is scared or anxious will cover their face as a way of showing they are frightened.
Dogs have a hierarchal structure. When in groups or packs, the top male and female will be the alpha. Below them in rank are betas. These dogs submit to the alphas only. The omega dogs are at the bottom of the ladder. They submit to both alphas and betas.
Dogs have several ways of showing submission. These include pawing or covering their face. Other signs of submission include bowing and rolling over to expose their stomach.
Dogs aren’t known for being the fastidious groomers that cats are, but they also work hard to keep themselves clean. A dog will lick the areas they can reach. For other areas, they lick their paws, and then use their paws to clean themselves. It can be a bit amusing to watch your pooch clean themselves this way.
If they are pawing their face and licking their paws, they are probably grooming themselves. Check their fur for dirt or other substances that they may be trying to remove.