A little bit of licking is considered normal for dogs. But if you start to notice that your dog's licking is becoming excessive, it could be the sign of a problem.
Acral lick dermatitis, also known as "lick granuloma," is a condition that develops as a result of chronic licking and causes inflammation in the skin. Because the dog continues to lick, the area can't heal and may become red, raised, and even ulcerated. The inflammation can also cause the area to be itchy, which leads to more licking, creating an itch-lick cycle.
Causes of excessive licking
Why do dogs lick themselves, often to the point of creating "hot spots" or sores on their skin? The factors that are causing excessive licking cannot be determined in many cases. However, here are some of the conditions that may cause lick granuloma in some dogs:
Allergies. While allergies cause humans to get itchy eyes, dogs get itchy skin. Licking can help relieve the itching.
Stress and fatigue. Just as humans bite their nails or twirl their hair when they're nervous or bored, dogs lick. This compulsive self-licking can also cause dogs to lick the carpet, furniture, or their favorite toy.
Contact dermatitis. This allergic reaction can be from metals, rubber, wool, plastic or irritants such as dyes, deodorizers, or poison ivy.
Atopy. This condition is an allergic dermatitis caused by something your dog inhaled, such as pollen, dust mites, and mold. Signs include licking the feet, inflamed ears, and itching.
When to see your vet
If you notice that your dog is doing a lot of licking on his feet or legs, look closer and see if you find an area where the skin is starting to look red and irritated. If you find a spot like this, have your dog examined by your veterinarian.
Your vet will probably ask you questions such as when the licking started, whether your dog licks all the time or only during certain seasons or under certain circumstances. Your answers will help determine the underlying cause. Whether it is biological or psychological, chances are your dog will need some type of treatment.
Treating chronic licking
The treatment your vet recommends will depend on the reason for your dog's licking. It's important to stop the lick cycle so that the area can heal. Medications may be prescribed, bitter- or hot-tasting liquids might be applied to the area, or an e-collar used to physically prevent licking. Distracting your dog by playing games or offering him toys and incentives to keep him occupied, can also help break the cycle.
Excessive licking can be difficult to cure once it becomes a well-established habit. The earlier the problem is recognized and treated, the greater the chances for a permanent cure.