Dog Symptoms: Licking

by admin on July 17, 2010

Every dog licks itself; and usually everything else too! However, what if that licking is confined repeatedly to a specific area or becomes excessive? Then your dog may have a health problem that is causing him/her to behave this way. That problem may be physical or it may in fact be psychological. Many dogs tend to lick themselves as a comfort mechanism and may do so more often when afraid or stressed. However, if the licking doesn’t pacify the dog, he/she may take this further and begin to gnaw at its paws or legs, causing any number of other problems.

Licking is most often simply a natural reaction to some circumstances, for instance, a bitch will lick her puppies seemingly obsessively in order to keep them clean. It’s also to stimulate their breathing and to make them pass feces and urine when they are newborn. All dogs tend to lick themselves to keep clean too but when this behavior becomes noticeably exacerbated, it could indicate some condition is present such as dermatitis or indicate the presence of mites for example.

Some people believe that behavior training will correct the problem of excessive unwarranted licking, but the majority of people agree that punishment is not the answer; rather, finding out why your dog is exhibiting this behavior is more likely to enable you to put a stop to it. Rewarding your dog for not licking something may take time and it could be a while before the dog understands the association between not licking and the reward, but some of the more intelligent breeds of dogs respond to this type of behavioral training quite quickly.

As mentioned at the beginning of this article, some dogs actually self-mutilate in response to stress or psychological problems, and this can manifest in excessive licking, biting or scratching of the dog’s limbs or tail. Acral lick dermatitis’ is the term used to describe repetitive, compulsive licking that leads to skin or coat damage, infections and lesions on the limbs or paws. Other dogs may compulsively chase their tails which, while it may be amusing at first, can become destructive and the dog may bite their tail so severely that it is damaged.

If you notice that some skin problems are resulting from excessive licking, you should always contact your veterinarian for advice. Many dogs will lick one particular spot until it’s completely bald, but you should seek medical treatment well before the situation is that advanced. It’s most likely that the dog has some skin condition that is causing it itching or discomfort, and in that case, parasitic infection is the likeliest cause. Early treatment is vital to contain the spread of the infection and to ease the discomfort and irritation.

It’s also important to differentiate between licking and retching. It can sometimes be difficult to spot the difference if the dog is trying to dislodge some obstruction in its mouth or throat by gagging’. Almost anything can become lodged behind or between a dog’s teeth and repeatedly replicating a licking motion may be the animal’s way of demonstrating the presence of some foreign body. Again, always seek medical advice if excessive licking becomes problematic or causes distress.

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