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A lick granuloma, also known as acral lick dermatitis, is a skin disorder found most commonly in dogs, but also in cats. In dogs, it results typically from the dog’s urge to lick the lower portion of one of their legs. This condition can lead to secondary infections and chronic discomfort for your pet.

Acral lick dermatitis (also called lick granuloma) in dogs is a condition that develops as a result of excessive, chronic licking. It usually occurs on the front part of the lower leg, often over the carpus wrist top of the paw. However, the lower hind limbs, tail, and flanks can also be affected.

It is thought that the act of licking causes the release of endorphins (chemical substances which provide a sense of well-being) in the dog’s brain. The dog soon learns that licking brings about this pleasant feeling and keeps licking. In other situations, there may be an underlying cause for the licking, including allergies, skin mites, fungal infections, arthritis, foreign bodies, tumors and other phycological factors.

Lick granulomas are especially seen in large active dogs left alone for long periods of time. It is often considered to be a form of canine obsessive-compulsive disorder.

If you think your dog has a lick granuloma, then it is time to make an appointment with your veterinarian to have your dog examined. After examination, your vet may recommend some testing to determine why your dog is licking.

Causes if Lick Granuloma in Dogs

Lick granulomas are caused by a variety of factors. One common cause of lick granulomas appears to be psychological, which includes;

  • stress,
  • anxiety,
  • separation anxiety,
  • boredom, or compulsiveness.

Other causes include bacterial or fungal infections, ectoparasites, metabolic disease, neoplastic disease, trauma causing nerve damage, allergies, or joint disease. Hot spots may also lead to the formation of lick granulomas.

Symptoms & Signs

The constant licking causes inflammation in the skin which, over time, causes the skin in that area to become thickened. As a result of continued licking, the area cannot heal and may become red, raised, and ulcerated.

It is likely that the licking and the inflammation also cause the area to be itchy, which causes more licking, and starts an itch-lick cycle.

Treatment of Lick Granuloma in Dogs

The moisture from the licking can cause overgrowth of the normal skin bacteria which leads to infection. This can increase the itchiness.

Until the bacterial infection is resolved with antibiotic use, it will be difficult to get the dog to stop licking so that the area can heal. In these cases, long-term antibiotic therapy (up to 4 months) may be needed. For other dogs, anti-depressant medications or corticosteroids may be beneficial.

Therapy and behavioral drugs may be used if there is a psychological component to your dog’s licking. Behavioral drugs that have been used to treat psychogenic licking include antidepressants and dopamine antagonists.

Licking can be prevented by the use of Elizabethan collars, dog leggings, battery-enhanced wraps, bandages, anti-licking ointments (which are bad tasting), and anti-lick strips (which are either bad tasting or simply provide a barrier).


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