Self-Licking Habits In Dogs – Acral Lick Dermatitis

My dog, jake, frequently licks the elbow of his right foreleg. It doesn't appear to be damaged. Why would he do this?

This is a fairly common habit in older dogs that may also be overweight. As pets age and arthritis and obesity make them less mobile, they spend more and more time grooming themselves – an activity that requires less energy. Often they concentrate on a very specific area (in this case the elbow), and often there is no apparent reason why this area was chosen. Some possible causes of the licking behavior include, trauma, itching, peripheral nerve irritation, boredom, allergies, skin infection, arthritis or other joint problems. Boredom, confinement, loneliness and separation anxiety have also been implicated. The danger is that if this habit becomes obsessive, a condition known as Acral lick dermatitis can occur. Acral lick dermatitis is also called lick dermatitis or granuloma of dogs. As the dog continuously licks the area, hair is lost, the area becomes firm and raised and superficial staphylococcal infections often set in. With time the skin of the area thickens and either gains or looses pigment. The resulting wound is called a granuloma. The center of these lesions may become ulcerated. These wounds are often unsightly but never life-threatening.

The most effective way to eliminate this problem behavior and prevent Acral lick dermatitis is to bandage the area with a light dressing. If your dog manages to remove this, then an Elizabethan collar can allow the skin to heal, although the behavior might resume after removal. The good news is that this condition is generally no more than an unsightly blemish. The bad news is that veterinarians rarely cure it once it becomes a well-established habit. Again, the earlier it is recognized and treated the more hope there is for a permanent cure.