Excessive licking can be a common, yet concerning health issue for dogs. Some licking is, of course, normal and part of your pup's personal grooming routine. However, if you notice that the licking is causing redness or thinning hair in a specific area, it's likely time to consult a vet. This can be done in-person, over telehealth or through a mobile veterinarian service. To find out more about the process, and potential reasons for excessive licking, we spoke to our resident "Ask a vet" expert Dr. Walt Ingwersen.
The most simple explanation for excessive licking is usually a topical irritant, says Dr. Ingwersen. This means that someone is on, or in, your dog's fur and it's causing discomfort. It might be itchy or painful. If you recently gave your dog a bath, the excessive licking could be caused by shampoo residue that wasn't fully washed away. Ensure that you're using a pet-friendly cleaning product and give your dog another rinse.
During the winter, Dr. Ingwersen says that dogs are more likely to lick their paws. "The hairs between their toes get wet and salt can get in there, or build up of snow." This is why boots are usually a good idea when the temperature drops below zero. For city-dwelling pets, more liberal use of salt on roads and sidewalks can cause issues that lead to excessive licking.
Just like people, dog have allergies and the effects can pop up on their skin. The two types of allergies are environment or food. Environmental allergens occur when your dog comes in contact with something external that causes a reaction. This might be on the tender skin of their belly, legs or face. It could also appear as larger problem all over their body. Other signs of environmental allergies include discharge from nose, eyes and/or ears. Some examples of environment allergens are dust, mold and pollen.
Food allergies, on the other hand, could appear alongside digestive symptoms such as bloating, diarrhoea, vomiting or a big ol' case of the toots. The most common food allergens are beef, dairy, wheat, egg, chicken, lamb, soy, pork, rabbit, and fish. According to WebMD for pets, most dogs are usually allergic to more than one item on the list. Check our tips for feeding dogs with allergies.
Dogs will develop allergies between the ages of one and five. Because they're caused by genetics, allergies usually don't go away and will likely require ongoing adjustments or treatment.
Dogs that lick over a joint could be experiencing underlying pain, says Dr. Ingwersen. Because your dog doesn't have many options for relieving that pain, they turn to licking in an attempt to soothe the flare-up. Pain can be caused by everything from thyroid issues to arthritis. Additionally, bacteria, fungus or yeast infections can cause immense discomfort. Your vet will need to do an examination to assess the situation. For some dogs, acupuncture or other alternative treatments could be an option.
It might be a trainer, and not a vet, who helps your dog curb an excessive licking problem. Boredom can definitely be a cause, says Dr. Ingwersen. Some dogs can have obsessive-compulsive behaviours when they're anxious or not properly stimulated. Dogs that are stressed have also been known to lick their fur as a way to calm down.
Dr. Ingwersen points out that some breeds, such as Dobermans, are known for "flank sucking." Dogs performing this behaviour will hold a piece of their skin in their mouth similar to how children will suck on their thumbs or blankets. It's suspected that flank sucking is genetically passed down between generations. The quirk is also associated with dogs that were weaned too aggressively and subsequently their suckling drive was interrupted.
There are many ways to treat excessive licking and the first step is contacting your vet. As Dr. Ingwersen explained, there are many reasons why a dog will lick its fur to the point where it causes balding, redness or infection. By identifying the "why," you can figure out the best course of treatment that will improve your dog's wellbeing.