When a dog constantly licks an area of skin, they can create a bald, red and often thickened patch of skin that we call a lick granuloma.
Lick granulomas develop from excessive licking and chewing. Like hot spots, they are the result of the dog damaging its own skin. This causes the skin to change in such a way that the patient cannot stop licking. They occur most commonly on the paws and lower legs since that is an easy place to reach. They are traditionally associated with itchy skin conditions, but I have seen them happen because of a skin growth or even arthritis of the underlying joint.
Whatever the initial cause, the constant abrasion of the tongue wears away the fur and irritates the skin. That area of skin then thickens to protect itself. Now that it is an abnormal area, the dog is even more prone to bothering it. This forms a cycle that can continue long after the original cause has gone. Owners will notice that this licking becomes habitual, often occurring when the dog is at rest or left alone. Sometimes the lick granuloma becomes infected. These can break open and bleed, and usually require immediate veterinary care.
Management is aimed at breaking the lick cycle and sorting out what started it off in the first place. Many times we have to resort to using a ‘cone’ or elizabethan collar to physically restrict the patient from accessing the lesion. Other treatments include topical ointments to soothe the skin, bitter tasting sprays, anti inflammatories, and antibiotics. The key is to get to it before it develops into a full blown granuloma. Watch for a reddish-brown staining of the fur. The colour change is caused by saliva and will highlight an area of licking or chewing. If you start to see sparseness or bald areas, contact us for a consult. The sooner we intervene, the better the chances of avoiding this frustrating condition.