Licking, Chewing, Biting Own Body

Repetitive licking is a serious problem. For some dogs management is simple but lengthy; for others it’s more complicated. Skin disease, internal disorders or pain can masquerade as compulsive licking or tail chasing. But whether the origins of your dog’s problem are behavioral or physical, his habit can quickly become deeply engrained.

Start by getting a thorough exam done on your dog.

  • Infections, allergies, arthritis, tumors, minor fractures, or nerve pain from a spinal disorder should all be ruled in or out first.
  • Dogs who hurt themselves because of major anxiety or panic may have liver disease, distemper, or psychomotor epilepsy.
  • A neurologic evaluation, lab profile, and possibly x-rays are necessary first steps. Severe self-inflicted wounds can be treated surgically (amputation of a tail or skin lesion) to get healing started but the underlying condition will still require long term care.

Incessant licking, most common in large breed dogs, can create a red, weepy sore called a lick granuloma.

  • For many dogs these wounds are manifestations of anxiety while others have truly compulsive disorders.
  • Antibiotics plus an antianxiety medication like clomipramine usually help these dogs but they are at high risk of a relapse later if they don’t have structured social and play activities plus tailored behavior modification.
  • With injury to the skin, the pain itself can be the underlying cause or it may simply be the reason for the dog’s continued licking.. This makes pain medication important for some dogs.
  • An Elizabethan collar (plastic cone) can prevent licking but it can also add to the anxiety and worsen the behavior.
  • Dogs who are prone to developing lick granulomas are a life-long challenge.

Some highly anxious dogs hurt themselves directly while others panic when left alone and get injured trying to escape.

  • They can rip and tear at the crate, fence, or door frame trying to escape and cut their lips and break their teeth and nails.
  • If left outside some frightened dogs jump the fence and hang out near the front door until their owners return.
  • Simply bolting through an open door can be a sign of a panicked dog.

Any frantic, anxious, or compulsive dog can benefit from more and better environmental stimulation.

  • This means strenuous exercise plus interactions with other dogs, agility or obedience training at structured times every day.
  • If the fundamental problem can’t be corrected the times when your dog might lick his leg can be anticipated, allowing you to train him to a more acceptable behavior.
  • Dogs with debilitating fear of thunderstorms, fireworks, or being left alone can be patiently “desensitized” to their trigger events.

Panic and self mutilation are not simple problems but I always encourage treatment. Most dogs can improve and enjoy better lives. I’ve known some big successes. But even with the most careful treatment there have been failures. An overwhelmed dog’s best hope is a caring owner and early intervention.