Welcome to another installment of “Dear Maxine”, where my canine, feline (and occasional human) friends, write in for advice on immunizations, nutrition, behaviors and anything else on their minds. (Full disclosure, my human mom helps me type this.)
Letter number FIVE comes to us from a pup that can't holder their licker!
My name Jack and my best friend Tuffy, who is a mixed breed that is apx 5 years old, has an issue with licking his feet constantly. Tuffy will occasionally get a rash on her belly in the summer months, but the vet said that that is likely from heat and not allergies. We have tried changing foods, but that doesn’t help for very long, and before we know it, she is licking her feet again. Also, it isn’t just her feet, if she isn’t licking herself she is licking us. We cannot figure out if this is a true allergy issue or something else. Any suggestions?
Tongue-Tied in Tucson
You are right that excessive licking can be a signal that your pet may have allergies. But it can also be a sign of anxiety, boredom or pain. Many veterinarians would agree that behavioral reasons for licking far outnumber medical reasons. But if your dog is chewing, itching, scratching, and appears miserable, it’s imperative that you search for the source. But as you have mentioned this may take time and be a difficult process. Let's find out why.
Licking can be self-soothing. If your pet has anxiety, they may like the salty taste of skin or they may be showing affection. But if the licking becomes so much that it is leaving sores, hot spots or loss of fur, you may be in for some behavior modification. 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.
There are a few tricks that they may suggest. 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. If the licking is due to 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. . Instead of scolding or punishing your pet, try redirection or distraction. Try positive reinforcement and say something like “leave it” and reward the behavior of them stopping. There are also rubber bowls and lick mats that allow you to put peanut butter, yogurt or other pet friendly food on them to reinforce licking at appropriate times/places.
Medical reasons, as mentioned before, could be allergies or could be issues with your pup’s GI, an infection, or underlying pain. Licking a sore leg or body part would be similar to us as humans rubbing an aching joint or muscle. 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. More serious medical issues could include a hormonal imbalance, which may be due to a metabolic disease such as Cushing's, pain related to allergies, thyroid issues and more.
Traditional treatments involve the use of medications. Allergy medications such as over the counter Benadryl, or prescriptions from your vet can help with both food based and environmental problems. Infection treatment will vary, but can include pills such as antibiotics, or medicated shampoos to treat fungal and yeast infections.
Additionally, 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.
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.
Whatever methods you are thinking of starting with, you must make sure to consult your veterinarian and trainer first. They can help you through the process and offer recommendations to these suggestions as well. Just like us humans, it is absolutely necessary to consult professionals before starting down this road. Do not give your dog any medication without first consulting their doctor for dosage and frequency recommendations.
While all this may sound daunting, finding the source is the key to success. And in the end, lead a happy, healthier life for both you and your four legged bestie.
Good luck and thank you for reaching out Tongue-tied in Tucson.
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(1) “7 Home Remedies for Your Dog.” PetMD. Web. 02 May 2016. http://www.petmd.com/dog/wellness/evr_dg_home_remedies
(2) “Compulsive Licking, Biting and Scratching in Dogs.” Dogs and Compulsive Scratching, Licking and Chewing. Ed. Amy Flowers DVM. Web MD. Web. 02 May 2016. http://pets.webmd.com/dogs/guide/dogs-and-compulsive-scratching-licking-and-chewing
(3) Tynes, Valerie, DVM. “Help! My Dog Licks Everything.” DVM360, 1 Apr 2008. Web. 02 May 2015. http://veterinarymedicine.dvm360.com/help-my-dog-licks-everything
(4) “Excessive Licking in Dogs: Why it’s a Problem, and Four Ways to Fix Your Dog’s Itch! Bonnie & Clyde web August 2020, bncpet.com/blogs/news/excessive-licking-in-dogs-why-it-s-a-problem-and-four-ways-to-fix-your-dog-s-itch