Dealing with lick sores

The following is a question that might be asked about any dog breed or age. Thought not extremely common, the problem is seen with enough frequency to warrant discussion, especially because it is highly frustrating.

Q: My 5-month-old yellow lab will chew all of the hair off of her [lower] forearm joint. I have talked with the vet and she said that it might be boredom. I don't see how it is since she is in a crate with all of her toys; I take her out for 15 min. every two hours and then for an hour at lunch. Do you have any suggestions on how to get her to stop chewing her hair off?

Does that sound familiar? Maybe your dog is older, or maybe he's an outside dog, whatever the case, lick sores are hard problems to deal with.

Lick granulomas

Lick granuloma is the proper name for these sores that frequently crop up on the lower extremities of dog's limbs. They are called so because of how they look when biopsies are examined. The constant licking causes inflammation in the area and results in a cycle of itch-lick-itch.

The initial cause of such a problem is usually never known. Sometimes there is a traumatic event to the area, sometimes the dog suffers from a generalized allergic condition, but most of the time the stimulus remains a mystery.

Because why these problems happen is such a mystery getting them healed is also somewhat of an art. Sometimes drugs alone work (the simplest cure), while other times the most extreme measures must be taken and the area removed surgically. However, most problematic areas will resolve using measures somewhere in-between, but frequently not without much hair pulling on the dog owner and veterinarians part.

The answer

I gave this owner the following advice; maybe it will help others as well:

Although it is not as common in a young puppy, you may be dealing with a lick granuloma.

Although they are rarely a result of an infection, they can easily become infected due to all the itching. Because of this I will usually give a round of antibiotics as the first mode of therapy.

The next step is to use a medication, which provides an antihistamine and/or anti-inflammatory combined effect. Sometimes an antihistamine alone will do the trick. A good one to try first is simply Benadryl. If successful this can help decrease the inflammation and pruritis (itchiness) so that the pup will stop chewing at the area. Other, and stronger, anti-inflammatories are needed if antihistamines are not successful, but the real problem is when the licking or chewing as become a habit.

These cases may require physically preventing the dog from having access to the area, such as wearing a device to prevent chewing, in order to allow them to heal. You can buy a collar, called an Elizabethan collar (the ones that look like a lamp shade) or you can make one yourself. The E-collars are relatively cheap, but they flare out so much that sometimes it is hard for the dog to eat, drink, and even walk through doors.

To make a homemade device take a plastic bucket, at least as big as your dogs head, and cut all but a rim out of it. Then punch holes in the rim. About eight usually do. Run string through the holes, and tie the bucket to the dog's collar after sliding the bucket over the dog's head. The dog should still be able to drink and eat but not chew at the site, and the bucket will not be as wide as the other collar.

In unresponsive cases surgical removal of the area may be needed. Hopefully not in this case since it is such a young pup, but I would recommend that if it doesn't resolve you have it re-examined by your vet.

Good Luck!