Itching, scratching, biting, chewing. Some days your dog appears miserable as he digs at his feet, chews on his legs, or scratches endlessly at his ears. Excessive licking can be an itchy, habit-forming problem but there is relief! Learning the causes behind excessive licking and using four great methods to stop it will help your dog feel better and keep you from going crazy over the issue!
Excessive or compulsive licking is the repeated licking of an area on the body over and over until the skin or hair is gone. Your dog may also obsessively scratch or chew at the spot. Excessive licking can lead to the formation of hot spots, or red raw spots where the skin and fur is now missing. Your dog may grunt uncomfortably if the area is painful or very bothersome, or you may see your dog start to lick the area almost constantly even if it appears nothing is wrong.
Excessive licking may also take the form of licking objects rather than your pet licking himself! Dogs may lick objects such as the same spot on the floor, couches, bedding, flooring, toys and more over and over again until the object loses its fabric or a bald spot is formed . This behavior may also extend to the repeated licking of other people or pets.
There are quite a few causes of excessive licking, so finding the underlying problem may be difficult at first. For dogs that are intent on licking, chewing or scratching themselves only, the cause may be easier to find. There are six major causes of why your dog may obsessively lick . These include: allergies, boredom, dry skin, hormonal imbalance, pain, and parasites.
Allergies may be environmental or food-based. Environmental allergens tend to cause problems only where your dog comes into contact with the allergen, such as the legs or belly, or may present with full-body itching, redness, or rash. Food-based allergies may have the redness and itching, but may also have a digestive component such as bloating, excessive gas, diarrhea or vomiting.
Dry skin may be caused due to nutrient deficiencies in the diet, too-frequent of bathing, changes in weather, or allergies.
Hormonal imbalance and pain may be due to a metabolic disease such as Cushing's, pain related to allergies, thyroid issues and more. Pain may also be present if there is an infection from bacteria, fungus or yeast on the skin. This usually requires a medical exam to determine the underlying cause.
Parasites such as fleas, ticks and lice may all cause excessive itching along the entire body, or in key spots such as the legs, base of tail or back of neck. Mites and lice may also reside in the ears, leading to excessive scratching of the ears and licking of the paws in an attempt to relieve the itch.
Boredom and behavioral issues can cause a number of different forms of excessive licking. Boredom licking most commonly leads to obsessive-compulsive behaviors such as licking the same area even if the original underlying cause has been treated, and may be the main cause behind licking objects other than the self. Stress can also play a part in obsessive licking, as a stressed dog may attempt to lick objects or themselves to help calm down.
(A Hot Spot)
Hot spots have already been mentioned above, however there are quite a few other reasons why letting your dog continue to lick himself or other objects can be a problem. Hot spots themselves can lead to the introduction of fungus or bacteria, causing a secondary infection that may spread from the original site and even become systemic.
Hot spots that don’t heal or that become chronic are considered acral lick granulomas, and over time can lead to a wound that refuses to heal, with edges that thicken and hair that does not grow back. The continued licking of the area can make the hair follicles and sweat glands breakdown and rupture, leading to increased itching and a continuously repeated cycle .
Itching and licking secondary to an underlying problem can be problematic not from the licking, but from the progression of the issue itself. Untreated medical problems such as metabolic disease or parasites may lead to chronic skin issues, organ damage and more. Repeated injury to the skin may cause the hair follicles to stop regrowing hair, causing bald patches on the body that do not recover.
Licking from boredom, stress or psychological issues can also cause secondary problems of infections, as well as further stress to both owner and dog. These problems are often found after ruling out the more common underlying causes, and do require the help of a behaviorist, trainer and your veterinarian to solve.
(Fish Oil may be one way to help!)
Once the underlying cause behind your dog’s increased licking behavior is found, treatment can begin! Luckily, there are quite a few treatments available, both natural and traditional to help break your dog’s habit, heal the underlying problem, and get him feeling better! Here are four ways you can help relieve the itch and heal your dog’s skin.
Traditional treatments involve treatment with regular medication. This can be beneficial if the cause of your dog’s itching and chewing is due to allergies, external parasites, or infection due to fungus, bacteria or yeast.
Allergy medications such as over the counter Benadryl, or prescriptions from your vet can help with both food based and environmental problems. External parasites may be treated with a monthly topical product, pill or medicated collar. Infection treatment will vary, but can include pills such as antibiotics, or medicated shampoos to treat fungal and yeast infections. Ointments placed in the ears or on the skin may also help with mites and infections in the ears or located on just one part of the body.
Non-medicinal treatments are treatments that don’t use medications to help your pet find some relief. These may be used in conjunction with medications or natural supplements, or may be used on their own. Non-medicinal treatments are often used when the cause of the obsessive licking is due to a behavioral issue rather than an underlying medical one. This includes boredom, stress, and anxiety.
No-lick strips are becoming very popular in the veterinary world, and have a myriad of uses. Traditionally, they were used to prevent patients from licking or chewing at IV lines or bandages to keep them in place. No-lick strips are now being used to help deter licking of a particular area of the body. They deliver a static charge when your dog places his tongue on it, doing enough to deter the licking without causing any harm. Dog boots are also being used to prevent access to licking feet, while Elizabethan (cone) collars and inflatable donut cones can be used to stop access to other parts of the body.
For stress and anxiety, pheromone sprays and diffusers are increasing in popularity. These help provide a calming pheromone that can decrease stress and anxiety, and lower your dog’s obsessive tendencies. These sprays are often used with another no-lick method to decrease anxiety while the behavior is changed. Additional sprays to deter licking of objects may also be used with the above treatments.
Natural supplements are an excellent way to treat some causes of excessive itching without harmful medications or deterrents. The most commonly used natural treatments include Vitamin E, Fish Oil, and Diatomaceous Earth.
Vitamin E and Fish Oil are amazing supplements that can help to reduce dry skin , improve the coat and skin’s overall health, reduce inflammation and even decrease pain . Vitamin E and Fish Oil are great to use when the cause of the itch may be due to dry skin, hormonal imbalance causing dry skin as a secondary problem, or to relieve pain and inflammation from allergies or parasite bites. Used with traditional medications, these supplements can help provide extra relief.
Diatomaceous Earth has been used as a natural parasite remedy for a long time. It is non-toxic and made up of crushed fossils of freshwater and marine life. It works by dehydrating the outer “shell” of parasites, causing them to die, without being harmful to people or pets . Diatomaceous earth can be placed directly on the body to kill fleas and ticks, can be used in the environment to prevent and kill them in bedding and carpeting, and can even be given orally to stop internal parasites!
Last, but not least, a change in your dog’s diet can make a world of difference in chronic itching and licking! Food-based allergies can be a big problem leading to pain, inflammation, scratching, chewing and secondary infection. Identifying the ingredients your dog is allergic to can help you change his diet appropriately and stop the problem. Most dogs are allergic to ingredients such as corn, soy, and wheat products, however some dogs may be allergic to certain protein sources such as chicken or beef. You may need to work with your vet to find the exact cause.
Switching to a grain-free or novel protein diet can help improve your dog’s skin and coat, and stop allergic symptoms of redness, rash, itching and pain. Adding in a probiotic supplement may also help with chronic itching if the behavior is due to an infection where antibiotics are needed. Yogurt and other probiotic supplements can help keep the natural flora balance of the body both internally and externally, helping deter secondary itching.
Excessive licking can be a major problem for you and your dog, but it doesn’t have to be. Knowing the possible causes, problems and ways to treat your dog’s issues can be a great way to solve the problem. Your dog will thank you for it when he no longer feels uncomfortable in his own skin, and the two of you can enjoy a happier, healthier life together.
All images provided by Creative Commons/Pixabay.
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