Addressing lick granulomas

N.H. Sunday News - Dog Tracks Column - 10/26/08
By: Gail T. Fisher

A visitor to All Dogs Gym asked if I would write about “lick granulomas.” Lick granulomas are irritated sores, usually on the dog’s forelegs, but may also be on the hocks (the hind ankles). What starts as a small spot can quickly become a raw, oozing, thickened, scarred area that the dog keeps bothering.

There are many possible reasons that a dog will start licking his legs or feet, and once the lick granuloma starts, the dog is drawn to the spot to relieve the itching, and discomfort caused by the sore. This creates a vicious circle that is difficult to disrupt. Breaking the cycle involves both stopping the dog from repeatedly licking the sore, as well as discovering and eliminating the underlying reason the dog started licking the area to begin with. Without treating the cause as well as the sore, the cycle will continue. Here are some possible causes of lick granulomas:

  • Boredom – dogs confined for long periods of time with nothing to do may start licking at their legs.
  • Allergies causing itchy skin – such as an inhalant allergy, a food allergy, or even an allergy to a topically applied product such as flea preventives. Why the dog picks its front legs to lick may simply be because they’re convenient.
  • External parasites can cause a dog to start biting at or licking his skin.
  • A sore spot caused by an insect bite or sting, a scratch or some other seemingly minor event that the owner may not even be aware of that starts the dog licking a spot.
  • Bacterial or fungal infections may start the dog licking, or may be a secondary cause, perpetuating the cycle until the infection is addressed and treated.
  • Localized bone or joint pain that the dog tries to “massage” by licking the joint.
  • Hypothyroidism has been implicated in some breeds, in which case thyroid medication can help.
  • Some dogs suffer from obsessive/compulsive disorders, and will obsessively lick at themselves.
  • And finally stress, including such things as moving house, a new baby or a new dog, a death in the family, divorce or separation just to name a few changes that can affect our dogs’ psyches and cause them to start licking.
So what can a dog owner do to break the cycle once your dog has a lick granuloma? First, talk to your veterinarian. It may take a number of different approaches to get to the bottom of the issue, but even if you never discover the underlying cause, if the area is infected, it will require a course of antibiotics, possibly as long as several months.

While you’re treating the granuloma, you need to prevent the dog from continuing to lick the area. Topical products such as Bitter Apple may work for some dogs, but others may need to have the areas covered with wraps or even casts, as well as wear an Elizabethan collar to prevent the dog from getting to the area, or starting to lick another area. Your vet may recommend steroids to help alleviate the sensation in the area. Regardless of treatment, unless you treat the underlying cause, the dog will start licking again as soon as the treatment ends. So here’s some advice about addressing some of the causes.

The four possible causes that you can more easily address are food allergy, topical allergy, stress and boredom. I’ve written in the past about finding the best food for your dog, and I’ll write about this topic again in the near future (or visit my website and do a search for “diet” to find some of the past articles). Discontinue applying topical products such as flea preventives that your dog may be sensitive to (this is a good time of year for this).

If stress and/or boredom are possible causes, provide an outlet for your dog’s mental and physical energy and stress relief through training, walks and exercise. For a dog left alone all day, boredom or insufficient exercise might be contributing factors. A doggie daycare may be appropriate for your dog, or take a 30 minute walk together – good for both of you. And finally, engage your dog’s brain through training. If you don’t have a foundation of training, enroll him in a class that uses positive training methods.
Copyright © Gail T. Fisher, 2008. All rights reserved. For permission to reprint this article or suggestions for future topics, please contact us.