Why is my dog licking everything?
Original Question: Dexter licks everything all the time: paws, carpet, blankets. He is licking himself so much he is giving himself a hot spot. Help! - Sandra
Thanks for your question.
Interestingly enough this not all that uncommon and there is even a term used for it. It is referred to as ELS, excessive licking syndrome.
Most people will make the instant assumption that this is a behavioural problem. However, there are many medical reasons why excessive licking in dogs occurs. Causes include an intestinal parasite, a dental condition (broken tooth, gingivitis, tooth root abscess), oral pain (foreign body in the mouth, laceration, ulcer, tumour, oral warts, dental pain), nutritional deficiency, or other conditions that may upset the gastrointestinal tract (pancreatitis, gastric ulcers, bacterial infection, etc).
The first thing to do is to rule out the potential medical causes. Having a consultation and thorough physical examination with your veterinarian is the first step. They can use the exam and diagnostic tests to determine whether a medical cause is responsible. These tests can be performed one at a time in an order that is consistent with the most likely cause so that you’re not running an expensive series of tests all at once. These tests would include a fecal test, blood work, urinalysis, oral X-rays, abdominal X-rays, and a fecal culture which would be the common ones.
If all medical conditions are ruled out, you are left with the diagnosis of a behavioural condition. You could begin to investigate causes which may have stimulated anxiety, loneliness or boredom. These can be very hard to determine, especially if they originated weeks or months ago. You can discuss with your veterinarian various anti-anxiety treatments both nutraceuticals and medications. You can engage your dog more at home by playing more, exhausting them, providing toys, getting a dog walker, etc.
Lastly, it’s possible it could be something that the tests don’t reveal such as simple gastric irritation that is so subtle you really can’t achieve the diagnosis without extreme invasive and expensive effort (like a scope performed by a specialist and biopsies of the stomach). Some veterinarians may be comfortable just offering a gentle, safe treatment such as administering a canine antacid medication every other day. Sometimes a treatment trial can be started without the expense of the diagnostics but then you may just be covering up an issue with ongoing medication where the right test and treatment could have resolved it indefinitely. For example, if it’s because of a parasite and the antacid calms the GI tract enough to stop it, you’ll have to keep giving the antacid where one dose of an anti-parasitic medication could have resolved it permanently.
I hope this helps. Good luck!
Dr. Clayton Greenway
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