Dogs that lick... a lot
July 13, 2014 10:51 AM   Subscribe

I have two Jack Russell Terriers, both sixish years old, and both with odd licking issues. One licks the exposed skin of people: legs, hands, feet. If you push him away, he will lick the couch. He has done this since he was a puppy, and though I think it's odd and slightly embarrassing when he goes to town on an unwitting friend's shin, it doesn't concern me. Our other dog has started licking his own front legs, above his paws (what his forearm would be if he were a person), so much that they are stained pink. He's done this for a few months now. When I took him to our vet for his yearly checkup, I asked whether she thought it was allergies. She said no, that it could be anxiety or arthritis. She didn't get into much depth (she is new to our vet office, and I don't know that I love her). He walks and runs just fine, so I don't think he is in pain. Does anyone out there have experience with compulsive canine lickers? Do I try to stop them (and if so, how?), or just let them be weird? Or do I change to a new vet who might be a bit more forthcoming?
posted by hippychick to Pets & Animals (11 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Our Jack Russell, ~8 years old, does the same thing, though maybe not to that degree. She doesn't lick everyone; the closest thing to a guess I have is that she likes salty/sweaty skin. She does it more to people in the summer when they've just come indoors. She also licks her front paws for no clear reason, more often than licking people; could be related, since I think dogs have some sort of sweat-like gland on their paws. She is anxious, but it doesn't seem to be related; seems like she just enjoys it.

The noise bugs me when I'm trying to sleep or read, so I tell her to knock it off. She doesn't mind terribly, at least not that I can tell; she usually just goes to another room.
posted by supercres at 11:00 AM on July 13, 2014

My dog (bichon and poodle mix) has done this since she was a puppy. Her mid left front leg is stained dark red from it and we get comments everywhere we go about it. In her case, I think it's anxiety and she uses that like a pacifier or a kid sucking her thumb. I can tell her to stop and she will for a minute or two, then she goes right back to it.

At my vet's suggestion, over the years she has been on Prozac, Benadryl, and most lately melatonin for anxiety. I think they helped a little but nothing helped so much that I left her on it long-term. I've also tried a few physical barriers such as a baby sock, and some gauze-type wrapping, that she had off within 10 minutes or so. I'm not willing to make her wear an E collar day in and day out for something that's not really physically hurting anything.

I, too, will be watching this question to see if any great suggestions are forthcoming.
posted by SweetTeaAndABiscuit at 11:09 AM on July 13, 2014

My dog (chihuahua mix) does this (licking forearms/paws and human skin). We've ruled out food allergies (tried all of the crazy expensive low-allergy food). He was on prozac for a while, which did help a bit, but I think mostly because it made him more sleepy overall. The new vet to our practice thought it might be airborne allergies (pollen, dust, etc). So we have him on 5mg of loratadine right now (i.e. claritin) at her suggestion. This actually does seem to help a lot, without the accompanying sluggishness. Fish oil also helped him but no matter how small the dose it always gave him soft stool, so that was a no-go. To the extent it's behavioral/habitual now (rather than just medically-based), combining a method with wearing a cone (I recommend the comfy cone) for a bit to break the habit.
posted by melissasaurus at 11:26 AM on July 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

For your dog who licks people and couches and whatnot, does he ever exhibit any gastrointestinal signs (such as belching, gas, diarrhea, bloating, vomiting, drooling, etc.)? Has he been tested for parasites? It may not be a behavioral problem, but rather an indication of GI disease.

For your dog who licks his legs, licking is most often due to a physical cause, although it can be behavioral. Physical causes could include allergies (food or environmental) or an as-of-yet undiagnosed underlying disease (orthopedic, neoplasia, tick-borne disease, etc.)

I would explore this further with your vet. If you didn't get a good vibe from your new vet, move on, but make sure you get records of everything she tried. With dermatological issues, it is extremely helpful to know what has worked and what hasn't.

Keeping a journal of the behavior (when it occurs, does it happen in your presence or absence or both, how long bouts of licking lasts, what causes it to stop, stimuli that seem to correlate with licking, etc.) will help you figure out the underlying cause with your vet.
posted by Seppaku at 11:44 AM on July 13, 2014 [2 favorites]

Our greyhound sometimes get a hotspot and lick that. It can be an anxiety thing, but also a boredom thing. Do your dogs need more mental stimulation? Longer walks, or walks in new places, classes, toys around the house that dispense treats? Also, are their coats dry? Adding fish oil to the diet can help relieve itching due to dry skin.
posted by canine epigram at 11:59 AM on July 13, 2014 [3 favorites]

The white fur that has turned pink probably signals that the area has been staying moist and has a yeast overgrowth. The yeast is itchy which leads to more licking. Check with another vet on that part of it.
posted by littlewater at 12:28 PM on July 13, 2014 [3 favorites]

The white fur that has turned pink probably signals that the area has been staying moist and has a yeast overgrowth.

Yes - I second this. Our licky pup got a yeast infection/overgrowth in between his toes (nailbeds turned bright red; more licking ensued). It took the third vet I asked in our vet office to pinpoint the issue. She prescribed these medicated wipes that we had to apply to the area twice per day for 30 days. It started improving after about 10 days. Definitely look into this angle.
posted by melissasaurus at 3:15 PM on July 13, 2014

My dog will go on benders where he does this. I think it starts as a boredom thing and then blossoms into a licking the irritation caused by licking thing. I try to break the cycle by cleaning the area with soapy water then catch my dog as he start to do it and toss a blanket over his paws. For my dog, this works, your mileage may vary.
posted by Foam Pants at 11:14 PM on July 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

One thing that has worked for my fosters is using Desitin (diaper paste) on the pink/red yeast areas. It keeps the area dryer and seems to keep the yeast at bay.
posted by answergrape at 1:14 PM on July 14, 2014

using Desitin (diaper paste) on the pink/red yeast areas.

I would be hesitant to use topical zinc oxide in an area a dog is interested in licking because it can cause gastrointestinal signs (or even hemolytic anemia!) due to zinc oxide toxicosis.

And because treatments using chlorhexidine, ketoconazole, and miconazole are so much more effective in treating yeast dermatitis.
posted by Seppaku at 1:46 PM on July 14, 2014

My Boston terrier got a grass seed stuck in his right forearm when he was a puppy and the small wound it left has been a constant lick spot since then (12+ years later). I believe it's an anxiety thing — the area never grew back hair and it's not yeast-y, but he licks it ALL THE TIME. He also has allergies and gets hotspots, which he'll lick if they've flared up, but this spot is different. It's like he's sucking his thumb. I'm not concerned enough about it to put him on meds but the laplaplaplaplap at night does get pretty damn annoying.
posted by Brittanie at 10:23 AM on July 15, 2014

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