Dog Health

Acral Lick Dermatitis

Acral lick dermatitis is a condition whereby a dog continuously licks at a specific area on its body, usually a leg, and creates a nasty sore, also known as a “lick granuloma”. The cause of this obsessive behaviour is a little difficult to pin down.
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What is acral lick dermatitis?

Acral lick dermatitis is a condition whereby a dog will continuously lick at a specific area on its body, usually a leg, and create a nasty sore, also known as a “lick granuloma”. The cause of this obsessive behaviour is a little difficult to pin down. However, boredom is highly likely to be contributory or perhaps a psychological or sensory nerve disorder. It occurs more often in intelligent breeds that are probably not kept stimulated and left without company for long periods.

What are the signs or symptoms of acral lick dermatitis?

The constant licking may produce an open weeping sore that ulcerates, won’t heal, and can quickly become infected.

How is it diagnosed?

If you notice your dog licking at a sore that won’t heal, you should take it to your vet for a diagnosis. This type of sore may not be a Lick Granuloma, and a skin biopsy may be necessary to rule out other possibilities.

How is acral lick dermatitis treated?

If your vet diagnoses a lick granuloma, you will need to get the sore treated, especially if it has become infected. Most importantly, try to discover the underlying reason for the licking behaviour to prevent any recurrence.

As boredom is generally the key, you will need to try and modify your dog’s environment. Try to give your dog more time with the family and the opportunity to play with other dogs. When you do go out and leave the dog alone, perhaps exercise it heavily so it will be more settled while you are away. Provide toys for it to play with – bones, food in a puzzle ball or “Kong” toy, and on hot days try giving it a water ice-block with a piece of rawhide or other food frozen in the middle. 

Provide stimulation by teaching your dog some tricks, or consider joining an obedience or agility club. These activities are likely to provide as much enjoyment for you as your dog. As the licking behaviour has probably developed over time and become quite an obsessive habit, it will generally take some time and effort to break, so be patient. The earlier you get onto it, the better chance you have of a quick result. If you don’t see progress with the above changes, then short periods of anti-depressant or anti-anxiety medications may help break the licking cycle.

How can you avoid buying a dog with acral lick dermatitis?

Evidence suggests that the condition may be hereditary, so responsible breeders will generally not breed with affected animals. When considering purchasing a puppy, ask the breeder whether there is any evidence of the condition in its ancestral lines.

References

Canine Inherited Disorders Database

www.upei.ca/~cidd/intro.htm

Kuhl, K.A. & Ackerman, L. (ed.) 1997. Dermatitis, Acral Lick. In: Tilley, L.P. &

Smith, F.W.K. The 5 Minute Veterinary Consult, p 498. Williams &

Wilkins, Baltimore.

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