If Duff is passing time obsessively licking his ankle or wrist, he may develop an open sore, referred to as "lick granuloma." Most commonly seen in large shorthair breeds such as Labrador retrievers and Great Danes, granuloma progresses from an area of irritation and hair loss to an infected, open sore.
Lick granuloma, formally known as acral lick dermatitis, was originally believed to be related to inactivity or boredom. In theory, the affected dog had nothing better to do and licked one spot, making it a habit. Now, many cases are linked to physical causes. Regardless of the cause, the cycle is the same: continual licking leads to hair loss and irritation; the irritation becomes infected, causing it to itch; the itchy lesion prompts more licking. The most commonly affected location on a dog is on the front side of a front leg, between his elbow and toes.
Allergic dermatitis is a common trigger for granuloma, but other causes exist. If Duff spends a lot of time alone, incessant licking may help him pass time. He may have a bee sting or thorn irritating him, drawing his attention to the spot initially. Joint pain can have a similar effect, causing Duff to lick the painful area to comfort himself. If he suffers from separation anxiety or other stress, such as a new family member, he may act out by licking. Other potential causes include skin cancer, fungal infections, external parasites and occasionally serious illnesses.
The obvious sign Duff has granuloma is excessive licking of his front or rear legs. If the granuloma progresses, his skin can become infected, eventually causing lameness, lethargy, lack of appetite and even arthritis. Breeds prone to lick granuloma include the Doberman pinscher, Weimaraner, Great Dane, Shar-Pei, golden retriever, English setter, Labrador retriever, Dalmatian, German shepherd and boxer. Granuloma often begins appearing in dogs around the age of 5.
If Duff's licking, and licking more, he needs a visit to the vet. Repeated ear or skin infections, itching or hot spots, can indicate an allergic condition that requires attention. Allergic reactions can come from food, the living environment or fleas. If Duff is allergy-free, other tests such as blood work or X-rays, can be useful for diagnosis. Skin scrapings and cultures rule out conditions with similar symptoms and confirm infection. The vet will also consider your pets' behavior; if he's been acting normally -- aside from obsessive licking -- he's probably not suffering from an obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Treating granuloma depends on the cause. If fleas are the source of his irritation, he'll need a flea preventive. An oral fungal medication will address a fungal infection. Allergy shots help with environmental allergens; a change to a hypoallergenic diet helps a food allergy. Pain medication helps Duff's discomfort, and antibiotics address infection from granuloma. Laser therapy is gaining popularity as a treatment method.
The key to keeping Duff free of sores is to address his licking behavior as soon as you notice it. It's easy for a dog to develop the habit, and it's common for him to continue licking after the sore has healed. Thoroughly check Duff's legs and paws when he's returned from outside, paying attention for stickers and thistles that may cause irritation, and for wet areas that indicate irritation. If his coat is lackluster, try upgrading to a high-quality meat-based protein food, with the consultation of your vet. Ample exercise and attention is a good way to ease his stress. If he suffers separation anxiety, consider dog day care or having a friend drop by to give him a little TLC while you're gone.