Compulsive Licking

Q.  My wife and I have the most beautiful short coat Chihuahua, he started licking his front legs 5 months ago.  At first we thought he had some sort of seasonal allergy that wouldn’t go away, but not only has it persisted, it’s gotten much worse.  He has terrible sores on both legs and won’t stop licking.  We were going to take him for allergy testing but our neighbour suggested that he may have an obsessive-compulsive disorder.  Is this a physical or a mental problem?

A.  It sounds like your dog has acral lick dermatitis, or A.C.D.  The question of whether his problem is a physical or mental one is complicated.  What kicks off A.C.D. is often completely different from what ends up maintaining the problem.  A Classic case gets up and running when the dog has some physical condition such as a skin allergy, fungal infection, tingworm, scabies, demodex, nerve inflammation, arthritis or local tumours.  Then, even if the primary physical condition is treated, it is considered a compulsive disorder.  (Since it’s not known whether dogs have obsessive thoughts, it’s just called “compulsive disorder,” rather than obsessive-compulsive disorder.)Compulsive disorders can be the end result of dogs trying to cope with frustration or conflict.  In the frustration department, consider the life of many dogs: a fairly steady stream of not being able to access things they see behind fences ad beyond the end of their leashes.  A dog may seem simultaneously  curious and afraid at the same time.  Another example is a dog that is sometimes greeted and sometimes punished by his owner in similar situations.  The dog feels the urge to both greet and avoid, which, if you think about it, could make anyone a little crazy.

Some dogs lick out of pure boredom and need a lot more attention from their owner.  Licking calms their nerves.  They need to have their mind stimulated.  To help them stop licking you, make sure they are kept busy.  You could put bad tasting cream on the area that the dog likes to lick.  This may help stop them from this annoying habit.

Should you have this problem, see your Veterinarian as soon as possible and they can help determine the reason your dog is licking.