Wednesday, April 13, 2011


Sometimes dogs start licking their legs or feet, and then they just keep on doing it over and over again, and their skin gets all icky in the place where they've been licking, and this is called a lick granuloma.  Another name for it is acral lick dermatitis.  Mostly it's dogs who get this condition, but sometimes cats do, too.

The word acral refers to the outer parts of the body like legs or toes or ears.  And a granuloma is where a bunch of immune cells get together and make a wall to try to keep bad stuff out of the body, such as bacteria or fungi.  But a granuloma doesn't really look like a wall.  It just looks like pink, moist skin that  has an inflammation.

Granuloma cells under a microscope
There are a lot of reasons why a dog might start licking itself obsessively on the leg.  Sometimes it's because the dog has something that makes it feel itchy, like for instance demodectic mange or allergies or a flea bite.  Or maybe there is a sore spot there because of a splinter, bee sting, or a joint that hurts.

But other times there isn't really any physical reason why a dog starts licking.  Instead, the dog has a psychological reason, like maybe the dog is bored or stressed or has separation anxiety.  This especially happens to large dogs who need a lot of exercise, but they are not getting it, and maybe they are also being left alone all day.  So they start licking themselves, and this gives them something to do to pass the time.  And just the act of licking can make a dog feel better, like he is sort of comforting himself.  The breeds that most often get lick granulomas are:  Dalmatians, Dobermans, Great Danes, Labrador Retrievers, Irish Setters (and other setters), Golden Retrievers, Border Collies, and German Shepherds.

Anyway, when a dog does all that licking, it opens the skin up, and then bacteria can get in and cause an infection.  Which makes the granuloma worse.  So one way to treat this condition is to put the dog on antibiotics.  And then you have to figure out if there is a problem such as allergies or hypothyroidism that is making the dog want to lick itself.  Also the dog might need to take antidepressants for a while.  And another thing that helps is if the dog gets more exercise and mental activity.

The sad part about lick granulomas is that they are really hard to get rid of.  If you can keep your dog from licking the spot long enough for it to heal up, then it's likely the dog will go back to licking it again later on.  The best thing to do is to catch the granuloma when it is still very small and before the dog has formed a habit of licking there.  Because, as you know, old habits are really hard to break.

Sometimes surgery is done on a lick granuloma, but then you have to keep the dog from licking the stitches.  And another thing that can happen is that if you keep a dog from licking one leg, he might just start licking another one.  Or another part of the first one.

I am happy to say that none of the dogs in my family have any lick granulomas.  But whenever Mel has to have his leg shaved so a catheter thing can be put in, he will start licking that leg and making it all pink and hairless.  So Mom has to watch him, and when he starts doing all that licking, she has to put a muzzle on him for several days until the place is healed up.

Okay, well, that's it for today.  There only seems to be so much you can say about lick granulomas, and I think maybe I've said it all!


  1. Piper - thank you so much for writing about this "licking" problem. It can certainly be serious and I think it's admirable of you to think about warning all the dogs/cats out here about it. While living in CA, a Rottweiler attacked my Vizsla (Nellie) and caused Nellie to have lots of stiches. Yep - she kept licking and licking...anyway, it finally turned out ok, but it was a long process for her to heal and to stop the licking. As a side note, can you believe that Rottweiler knocked down a large privacy fence to get to Nellie? It was scary! Thanks again, and it's great you're back online!
    Love, AP

  2. Dear Piper,
    Interesting blog today! It sorta scares me though! How does a toungue open up skin? Are animal toungues sharp?
    You number 1 fan, Tas
    P.S. I am so sorry I didn't comment on your blog, atleast I read them!
    I remember that when you posted "Riding Cows in Germany" you also changed your backround to leaves! You must be tired of ur old one!

  3. Dear Aunt Patty,
    I think it is really, really scary that the rottweiler knocked down a whole fence in order to attack your nice vizsla, Nellie. I am sorry that happened, and I'm glad Nellie healed up finally, even though she wanted to lick all her wounds. I hope the rottweiler's owner paid the vet bills!
    Love, Piper

  4. Dear Tas,
    The way a tongue opens up skin is that it just wears the skin away, kind of like people's shoes sometimes wear their skin away, and then they have a blister.

    I'm glad you noticed my new, leafy background. I got tired of the other one, so I changed to this one. I think it looks like summer, which is supposed to be coming pretty soon.

    Love, Piper

  5. Our rat terrier has a LICK GRANULOMA on his fore leg. He can go months at a time with no licking, then a little scratch and off we go. We take double faced velcro that we buy at walmart in the crafts section, cut off the bottom of a baby sock we puchased at walmart, then put the sock over his leg, hold it there with the velcro (be sure not to cut off dog circulation in his leg by putting velcro too tight), and the dog stops licking and in a matter of days it is over. We cut off the sock so he still can put his paw pads on the ground, the sock gets filthy if you leave it whole, we can apply antibiotic cream if we need to, and we can also roll up the sock so that he can go potty with out getting the sock wet. this is the only thing we have been able to do ever to stop this problem. We shared it with the vet and she is now carrying socks and velcro in her clinic if anyone wants to try it.

  6. This is very good information about how to keep a dog from licking, so thank you for posting it.
    Sincerely, Piper