Lick Maniacs & Canine Chewers

DobermanHas your dog ever lick-lick-licked himself raw? I have to watch Magic because he has a tendency to lick his paws or legs quite a bit, especially in the evenings when winding down for the night. My first shepherd developed ulcers on his paws and between the toes he continually licked. His were a consequence of severe atopic allergy, so I’m pretty sensitive to the tendency and interrupt the behavior.


Lick sores, technically termed lick granulomas, are pretty common and can develop from any minor injury from bug bite to a thorn. They can continue due to canine boredom. The affected dog incessantly licks a selected area, usually on a lower leg, which creates a raised, hairless ulcerative plaque — almost a callus that surrounds the never-healing sore. The constant licking makes the area itch and can cause secondary bacterial infection. This prompts further licking to relieve the itch, and a vicious cycle is created.

Any dog can be affected, but the condition most commonly affects older dogs. The syndrome is often seen in large active-breed dogs that demand a lot of owner interaction, such as Golden Retrievers, Labrador Retrievers, Doberman Pinchers, Great Danes, and–YEP–German Shepherd Dogs.

Diagnosis is based on the clinical signs, history, and microscopic examination of the lesion (biopsy). Treatment is difficult, and some dogs may never be completely cured. Infections may respond to antibiotics, and steroid injections may temporarily soothe itchiness.

There are some pain reliever/anti-inflammatory ointments that can help break the itch/lick cycle. Some newer “liquid bandage” materials may help. When the behavior stems from boredom, the best treatment is to give the dog something better to do with his time. Here are some tips for relieving doggy boredom.

The habit may be interrupted in some dogs through the use of veterinary prescribed drugs. Behavior drugs used in treating obsessive/compulsive disorders may be effective in certain instances.

Do your dogs lick or chew excessively? How do you manage the behavior? What successful treatment has your veterinarian prescribe? Please share!

This is a topic I’m covering in the future release of my updated PURINA ENCYCLOPEDIA OF DOG CARE. I’d LOVE to have your discussion/opinions for possible inclusion so fire away in the comments!


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Lick Maniacs & Canine Chewers — 10 Comments

  1. Chewers in what sense? My 2 year old Border Terrier is a very hard / strong chewer. But he only chews his toys. Never, I mean never, touches anything of mine. It’s never been a problem. GOOD boy!

  2. Hi Mary, Your Border Terrier sounds like a normal doggy. Good boy, indeed! I’m talking about self-chewing and licking. 🙂 Glad it’s no problem for your fur kid!

  3. Zore (the dog that I recently inherited) would lick and chew herself raw. She had all the fur chewed off her back legs and belly. She is now on meds while we try to determine what she is allergic to.

    • It’s such a frustration condition, Vicki, hope you figure it out! Our shepherd’s problems went away when we moved away from the Ohio Valley region to Texas and got away from the airborne mold.

  4. My dog, Jake, developed a large and persistent lick granuloma on his front paw. None of the treatments we tried were helpful, so the veterinarian removed it surgically. He also removed a second one that was starting on the other front paw. The problem went away for good! BTW, Jake was a 75 lb. German Shepherd Dog/Border Collie mix.

  5. The biggest key is to stop the behavior right in the beginning before it becomes a habit. Find something else to direct the dog to whenever it starts to lick itself. It is time consuming but it does usually work. My sister has had that licking thing twice but both times mom got it under control before much damage was done.

    • Hi Emma, that’s very good advice. Licking can start from one issue (itch/pain/etc) and then become a habit even after the problem goes away. Breaking the cycle is important.

  6. Hey Amy.
    Great post. It is a rather interesting syndrome as it may stem from an underlying allergy but then progress to a compulsive behavior. I have also seen dogs with painful joints that start to over groom or excessively lick the affected joints. The key is addressing the excessive licking as soon as it is noticed and before it spirals out of control.
    However, like you clearly stated, some dogs have an underlying compulsive disorder that may actually be the primary problem.
    The tricky matter is that you must go through a process of eliminating all possible causes e.g. food allergy, contact allergy, atopy, infection, joint pain, etc before you can assume it is indeed a compulsive disorder.
    I’m currently fostering a golden retriever that suffers from atopic dermatitis. It is quite interesting to see that she stopped itching completely when she suffered from a bout of gastro. Poor thing was feeling pretty blue but I couldn’t believe she completely stopped itching for 5 days straight without any anti-itch medication. It just made me really wonder about the relationship between itch and compulsive disorders.

    • Hi Rayya, Thanks so much for your comments! One time our clinic had a dog that licked a forelimb so much and ultimately was diagnosed with bone cancer of that limb…so pain certainly is a component.

      My first dog’s atopy had a lot to do with his toe-licking problems, too. It’s fascinating (and frustrating!) how the different issues interconnect and influence each other. Hope your golden foster has both the gastro and itch resolved soon!

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