The majority of pet owners are familiar with the smacking sound of their dog licking a particular patch of skin. In fact, it may have made you wince just now at the very memory of it. You probably tell your four-legged friend to knock it off before you carry on living your life.
However, what many pet owners don’t realize is that the obsessive licking can be a sign of something much more severe.
As cringe-worthy as it may be, in this article, we’re going to examine just how important it is for pet owners to not ignore their dog’s constant licking.
What is Lick Granuloma?
Lick granuloma is when the dog excessively licks one area to the degree that it causes injury to the skin.
With Lick Granuloma, the area of skin becomes an inflamed sore spot that is unable to heal due to the dog continuing to lick the area and agitate the wound. The wound becomes itchy from the bacteria from the dog’s saliva and day to day toxins that come into the contact with it, which makes the dog continue to lick.
It becomes a self-perpetuating cycle of itching and licking causing the wound to stay open and susceptible to all types of infections.
A granuloma is a mass of tissue that the body typically produces in response to inflammation, an infection, or the presence of a foreign substance.
Your veterinarian may refer to lick granuloma as acral lick dermatitis or acral lick granuloma.
Regarding acral lick dermatitis, the word “acral” solely pinpoints where the granulation tissue is occurring: a distal limb or another extremity.
Regarding acral lick dermatitis, the word “dermatitis” refers a skin condition that arises from direct irritation. It results in the area becoming red, swollen, inflamed, and sore. The irritation from dermatitis can also cause small blisters to form.
Why is My Dog Licking Excessively?
The exact cause of lick granulomas is unknown although there are a number of theories surrounding why a dog may lick itself to the point of causing a wound.
One theory may be accurate for one dog while an entirely different theory may be accurate for the next dog.
- Perhaps the most common theory behind the cause of lick granulomas is boredom. Dermatologists theorize that obsessive licking is merely a way to pass the time.
- Another theory is that a foreign body such as a splinter, foxtail plant, or bee stinger may have become launched in the dog’s skin, drawing attention to the area which thus leads to the constant licking.
- Allergic inhalant dermatitis is yet another theory behind the cause of lick granulomas. Allergic inhalant dermatitis causes stress in the skin which leads to inflammation and itching along with, you guessed it, licking.
- Joint pain and aching bones may also be at the root of lick granulomas. The dog may lick at the surface of the painful joint in an attempt to alleviate the discomfort. This pain may be from post-surgical discomfort or a fractured bone as well as chiropractic conditions such as nerve impingement or referred spinal pain.
- In some cases, particularly in black labs, hypothyroidism is an underlying cause of lick granuloma.
- Some veterinarians believe that psychological stress causes the dog to lick excessively. This stress could be from separation anxiety, new people in the house, or moving (among many other reasons).
Self Harm / Self Mutilation
Let’s talk a little more about reason #6 above.
It may come as a surprise to learn that canine obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a real, diagnosed condition in dogs. Studies show that the excessive licking may lead to a release of endorphins that the dog then associates with a positive sensation. Therefore, self-harm becomes something that feels good.
Breeds Prone to Lick Granulomas
Lick granulomas primarily affect middle-aged, large breed dogs.
Veterinarians commonly diagnose lick granulomas in the following breeds:
- Doberman Pinschers
- Great Danes
- Labrador Retrievers
- Golden Retriever
- Irish Setters
- German Shepherds
However, it is important to realize that although Great Danes may be more prone to developing acral lick granuloma, so could your chihuahua. Lick granulomas do not discriminate; they are just more commonly seen in certain breeds.
Diagnosing Lick Granuloma
First, in diagnosing lick granulomas, your veterinarian will want to rule out any potential allergic disease. For example, dogs may have an underlying general allergy to its food or something in their day-to-day environment that needs to be addressed so that another lick granuloma doesn’t occur once the current one heals.
Additionally, your veterinarian may perform a radiograph in order to make sure that arthritis isn’t present. Again, this is to ensure that once the current granuloma heals it doesn’t resurface due to an underlying condition.
A skin biopsy and fungal cultures may be necessary if the skin lesions don’t respond to treatment and to rule out and/or treat a secondary infection as most lick granulomas involve some sort of bacterial infection.
Secondary Conditions Resulting from Lick Granuloma
Additionally, pet owners should be aware of secondary conditions that may arise in their dogs as a result of lick granulomas and require treatment with antibiotics.
These conditions include:
- Bacterial infections
- Yeast infections
- Furunculosis (aka ruptured hair follicles)
- Ruptured apocrine glands (a sweat gland)
Treating the Lick Granuloma
Lick granuloma treatment can be frustrating for a pet owner. No matter what you do, it may seem like the granuloma is only getting worse with no end in sight.
Veterinarians may prescribe a long-term antibiotic therapy and topical and oral anti-inflammatory medications to ease the symptoms of the condition and begin the healing process. Depending on the severity of the granuloma, your veterinarian may recommend low-wattage laser therapy and psychoactive drugs.
Some pet owners may cover the irritated skin with a bandage or sleeve. However, most of the time this only causes the dog to begin licking another area which is why determining the underlying root of the granuloma is so important in skin granuloma treatment.
Apoquel for Dogs
Your veterinarian may prescribe Apoquel in order to manage skin itching and inflammation caused by flea allergies, food allergies, contact allergies, and atopic dermatitis in dogs.
Apoquel Side Effects
Side effects of Apoquel include:
The drug may also increase the susceptibility to infection.
The medication is prescribed per tablet and costs around $2.50-$3 per tablet.
Naturally Treating Lick Granulomas – Apoquel Alternatives
Thankfully, there are natural ways to not only treat existing lick granulomas but ensure that new irritations don’t form in the meantime that don’t involve a slew of antibiotics.
Diet is an incredibly important factor in reducing dermatological problems in dogs. Making sure that your dog has an optimum diet and adding supplements such as omega-3 fatty acids can make a huge difference.
Here are a few natural options to check out:
Manuka honey – Applying Manuka honey to the skin three to four times a day can help with the healing process as well as decrease the itchiness and desire to lick. Pet owners should have an E-collar or No Bite collar in place before applying the medical honey.
Willard’s Water – Spray directly onto the wound six to eight times a day.
Bee propolis salve – Apply twice a day.
Fresh aloe gel – Apply three to four times a day.
Calendula or hypericum tincture or gel – Apply three to four times a day.
Essential oils – Mixing five drops of lavender oil and five drops of myrrh oil with one teaspoon of coconut oil* and applying two to three times a day can ease agitation.
*Essential oils have wonderful healing properties, but make sure to dilute them with a carrier oil such as coconut oil.
Determining Psychological Causes of Lick Granuloma
If the lick granuloma is a result of boredom, pet owners will need to increase stimulation and interaction. Lots of physical activity can prove to make huge differences in your dog and decrease the “need” for excessive licking out of boredom.
When anxiety is at the root of the lick granuloma, your veterinarian may prescribe an anti-anxiety medication. While these may help with the healing of the current granuloma, pet owners shouldn’t rely on an anti-anxiety medication to entirely prevent granulomas from occurring. (Also, who wants their fur buddy on constant mood-altering drugs when there are other options?)
Again, physical activity is so important for your dog. Ensuring that your pup has brain stimulation, exercise, and a well-balanced diet will be an absolute game-changer.
Obviously, we always strongly advise consulting with your veterinarian in order to figure out the best treatment plan for your individual dog’s conditions. However, before jumping headfirst into a heavy medication, we recommend evaluating all the options available.
Keep Fido Free of Lick Granulomas
At the end of the day, we know your dog’s health and happiness means the world to you. It is imperative for pet owners to recognize certain behavioral issues and realize that they may be a consequence of something much more serious.
The most effective way to prevent lick granulomas is to deal with the first sign of it. Due to the fact that granulomas can develop in a matter of hours, whenever possible, check your dogs for wet spots (especially down the front legs). Stained fur is a sure sign of licking.
At the first sign of licking, wrap the affected skin with a bandage so that the granuloma doesn’t grow or get infected. Pet owners will still have to uncover the underlying reason of the licking but in the meantime can ensure that the current granuloma won’t worsen.
Be alert and aware of the signs! In their own way, your dog may be trying to tell you something isn’t right.