Owners who are concerned about a dog licking paws or other areas of skin usually want a simple solution to the problem of excessive licking, but this problem is rarely simple. Excessive self-licking behavior in dogs is a complex health issue with a number of potential causes. While all dogs lick themselves occasionally, dogs with certain physical and psychological conditions lick themselves to the point of hair loss and skin damage. This behavior can lead to a number of problems, including skin infections and lick granulomas. Treatment for the problem often requires patience, and effective treatment must begin with an accurate diagnosis of the cause of the licking.
Common Causes of Excessive Licking in Dogs
Dogs engage in excessive self-licking behavior due to some type of physical discomfort, a psychological issue or a combination of these two problems. Common causes for self-licking behavior in dogs include the following:
- Dry or irritated skin
- Metabolic diseases
- Pain, especially common in cases of licking confined to a specific location on the body
- Skin infections
- Fleas and other external parasites
Unfortunately, many dogs have more than one of these issues at the same time. The problem is also made more difficult by the fact that excessive licking can cause a number of serious complications, including a variety of skin problems. These problems include skin infections and the development of moist, thickened areas of skin known as lick granulomas.
How to Stop Excessive Licking in Dogs
Treating Excessive Licking in Dogs
Initial treatment of self-licking is aimed at halting the behavior and relieving the dog’s immediate discomfort. Common treatments for excessive licking in dogs include the use of special collars and wraps to prevent further trauma, medications to stop pain, inflammation and itching and therapy for any secondary infections that may be present.
The only real way to cure excessive licking in dogs is to diagnose and treat its root cause. For dogs with fleas or skin parasites, the best treatment is usually an anti-parasitic medication. Animals with skin infections need antibiotics. Dogs with metabolic diseases, such as Cushing’s syndrome and hypothyroidism, need medications to regulate their hormone levels. Animals with allergies need special diets, flea treatments or other therapies to address these allergies. Pets that engage in licking as a result of pain in a specific area need to have the cause of the pain treated, and those animals suffering from anxiety or boredom need appropriate environmental modifications and behavioral drugs.