I have two dogs (a golden retriever mix and a pit bull mix) and they both show their anxiety in different ways. The pit mix will quietly lick at his paw all evening if I didn’t stop him.
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Luckily, he’s never broken the skin or caused a lick granuloma. However, I can see how easy it could happen and I definitely keep an eye on it.
The common-sense approach is to wrap off the area so the dog can’t get to it anymore. That would be easy, right? Unfortunately, it’s just not that simple with a persistent and anxious dog.
My dog has had other injuries that required bandaging and he just chewed it off within minutes.
An Elizabethan collar might work for a short time, but (in my opinion) would likely just frustrate the dog even more! There has to be an answer, right?
In this post, I’m going to show you what to do about lick granuloma in dogs before it gets to the secondary skin infection stage.
Dealing with Acral Lick Granuloma Isn’t Easy.
Acral lick granuloma doesn’t start out with such a big name. It actually begins as a little irritation on sore on the skin.
Dogs lick at sores as a comforting measure as well as a way of keeping the area soothed and groomed. Unfortunately, the obsessive licking keeps the area moist, and that moist skin breeds bacteria.
Eventually, the skin is simply damaged right down to the baseline, leaving the veterinarian with few options for treatment.
You may have noticed that the location of a lick granuloma is commonly found on the forelimb where the dog has easy access to it.
It starts out small and then quickly develops into a red, raised, mess. Keep reading to understand some of the reasons and treatments for this condition.
Acral lick granulomas (or acral lick dermatitis) could begin as an allergy. Certain dogs are more prone to allergies than others and the pinpointing the cause can be frustrating. You should suspect allergies if your dog has:
- Extremely itchy or scabbed skin
- Itchy eyes. You might notice your dog pawing at his face more often, or sliding his face across the grass, furniture, or your legs to stop the itching.
- Itchy tail. A dog with an itchy tail will suddenly spin around and try to catch it. He will dig at his hind quarters or over-groom the genital area in an attempt to stop the itching at the base of the tail.
- Itchy ears. One of my dogs has a particularly itchy ear that never shows any sign of real infection. She doesn’t have fleas or mites. Nevertheless, she frequently digs at her ears and the side of her face so much that I worry her nails are going to catch her eye. I’m keeping a close eye on this right now and intend to have the veterinarian check it out.
- Sneezing. Just like you or I, dogs will often sneeze as a result of the irritants that cause allergies.
Of course, these are just a few signs of allergies that might lead to lick granuloma. For a full list of allergy symptoms in dogs, read my post on Dog Pyoderma Research Using Low Level Lasers 2018.
Any time your dog seems out of ordinary, please bring him to the veterinarian for a full check-up. I am not a veterinarian and I would not want you to interpret anything I’ve written here as gospel.
Have a look at this image I found on Twitter. It doesn’t look nearly as bad as I’ve described, but this might be the time to start treating…before it gets much worse.
2. Dog Food Quality is a Must
Dog food that isn’t nutritionally balanced and appropriate for the dog breed could create prime breeding ground for an over-abundance of yeast growth, dry skin (causing itchiness) or any number of other systemic or external conditions.
I’m not saying that a good bag of dog food is the full answer to lick granuloma in dogs. However, you might be surprised at just how far good nutrition can go.
Different dogs have various nutritional needs depending on any other underlying conditions, their weight, breed, food tolerance, etc.
I started using Royal Canin Weight Management for my two dogs and I’ve noticed a big improvement in their bowel movements, energy levels, and general health.
I only recommend products that I’ve actually used for my dogs, and this is a product I really like. You should see an ad for Royal Canin at the top of this post. If you click on the link, you won’t be charged or obligated to anything, but it does help me by paying out a small amount of money. That money enables me to keep writing posts about dog health.
3. Royal Canin – Improved Health & Veterinarian Approved
My veterinarian carries this in the clinic, but I can also get the same thing at the pet store. There’s very little difference in the cost no matter where I buy it.
Yes, it’s a lot more expensive than grocery-store kibble, but the added fiber and lack of filler makes my dogs stay full longer.
The type of Royal Canin I use for my dogs might be completely different than what your dog requires. That’s why I always recommend talking with a canine nutritionist, or your regular veterinarian.
Just because a product is expensive, doesn’t mean it’s good.
4. It Might be Time to Address Separation Anxiety
Separation anxiety also plays a role in the development of lick granuloma. Some dogs find great comfort in repeatedly licking one spot over and over again. The process of licking their skin releases serotonin in the brain, the feel-good hormone. You could say that this obsessive licking is a form of self-medication for the dog. I always recommend books by Cesar Milan for tips on behavioural modification.
Cesar focuses a lot of attention on what you, the dog owner, can do to improve the situation. I’ve read all of his books and have no hesitation in suggesting them to you.
The trick to these books is that you have to be open to the suggestions and willing to carry them out over the long-term.
5. Boredom is Just Another Word for Trouble
Bored dogs quickly become anxious and restless and that anxiety is often the catalyst to begin obsessive licking.
What was once normal, healthy skin, becomes raw and inflamed and at risk of serious infection. Hey, we all have to work and it’s impossible to bring your dog everywhere you go.
The best cure for boredom is fatigue. I don’t mean the kind of sickly fatigue that comes with poor health, I mean the type of mental and physical exhaustion that comes with healthy exercise and human interaction. See below for more.
6. Psychiatric Medications
Rescue dogs can sometimes bring a variety of conditions with them to their new home, and separation anxiety seems to be fairly common. I admit I have no formal statistics to back this up. This kind of data is not easy to find; however, there are plenty of anecdotes all over facebook forums that tell me I am not way off base.
The problem with any kind of anxiety in dogs is the progression toward compulsive behaviour. Believe it or not, that constant licking can be comforting to the dog and that sense of well-being is something they want more of! Unfortunately, it’s not something that psychoanalysis is going to stop.
Dogs who fall under this category may require a trial of antidepressants or other dog-approved anti-anxiety medications. It seems extreme, but sometimes it’s necessary.
The last thing you want is a dog with severely infected skin. Staph infections are serious and sometimes deadly. Suddenly, what was once a tiny bite or other anomaly has morphed into a medical emergency.
If your veterinarian suggests this type of treatment for a lick granuloma, don’t be afraid to give it a try. It might not be the cure-all that you were looking for, but in some cases the medication can relax the dog’s mind enough to be able to instil new behaviours.
You might want to work with a canine behaviourist while your dog is on medication to facilitate new behaviour in your dog. Later, when the antidepressant is weaned off, the hope is that you and your dog will have had time to effectively work with the dog to bring about change.
7. Nutritional Supplements and Anti-Anxiety Vests
Nutritional supplements are used for a number of conditions including joint, eye, immune, and bone health. However, they can be expensive and a shot in the dark if you don’t know exactly what you need.
In my opinion, the best person to ask is the veterinarian. He/she may have supplements available for sale in the clinic. If you find they’re too expensive, don’t be afraid to ask about other brands that might offer the same value for less money.
If the veterinarian feels the cause of your dog’s lick granuloma is anxiety, consider trying a snug anti-anxiety vest. Personally, I’m not entirely convinced they work, but I think the trick is to get one that fits properly.
It must be relatively tight in order to stimulate pressure-points. If you’ve ever had a therapeutic massage, you know how calm you feel afterwards. Your dog is no different. Patting him is calming, but an anti-anxiety vest provides a much longer and more therapeutically calming state.
8. Laser Therapy
Some veterinarians will use lasers to treat the tissue. The laser light passes over the destroyed and diseased tissue. There’s little to no pain, however, because the laser effectively seals off the nerve endings at the site.
Daily brisk walks, swimming, or running with other dogs in a dog park are all great ways to exercise your dog.
The importance of regular exercise in dogs is often underrated when, in fact, it could actually be the number #1 way to avoid a number of problems including separation anxiety, obsessive licking, and other general signs of distress in your dog.
Exercise works the same way on a dog as it does for a human. It promotes stronger cardiac function, better lung capacity, improved mood and behaviour, and it tires the dog’s mind so that those deep-seated feelings of anxiety and compulsion can’t quite make it to the surface.
In other words, dogs need lots of activity. When you tire out the body, you tire out the mind as well.
10. Appropriate Play Interaction
I’ve been in the company of dogs who, although loved by their family, wasn’t actively engaged in anything. Nobody got on the floor with him and looked him in the eye. They expected the dog to either entertain himself, or “go outside”. Of course, when he acted up, they couldn’t figure out why.
I know you’re not that extreme, but it’s so easy to get wrapped up in our busy days that we forget to toss the ball for the dog, or get on the floor and play with him/her. I’m guilty of it myself sometimes. We all work, have other family responsibilities, and even try to do some things for our own health now and then!
The bottom line with dog ownership is the responsibility to keep him/her healthy and that means engaging the body, mind, and spirit. Trust me, when you take the time to play engage with your dog, it’s worth every minute.
Some veterinarians may opt to start out with an antibiotic in combination with other therapies including creams, ointments, and any interference necessary to keep your dog from continuously licking the hot spot.
Veterinarians will be the first to admit at just how frustrating acral lick granuloma can be. However, they all say that there is hope so long as the dog owner is willing to put in the time, testing, and follow-through necessary to regain the dog’s healthy skin tissue.
Long-term antibiotic use isn’t ideal, but it may be necessary in particularly stubborn lick granuloma.
I hope you got a lot from this post and – most importantly – that you’ll let me know if you think something is wrong. Don’t worry, I can take constructive criticism, especially when I know it helps to keep our dogs safe!
It’s super easy to find me. Just insert a comment below (scroll down)!
Have a look at this great infographic from a contributor to Visual.ly. This talks about reasons dogs lick.