Treating canine neurodermatitis is one of the most frustrating conditions dog owners and their veterinarians can face. Typically there's no definitive cause, and treatment is often ineffective unless you treat the underlying cause. Also called acral lick dermatitis or lick granuloma, this disorder is characterized by painful skin lesions created by incessant licking. Understanding what it is and learning about the various causes can help.
What Is Neurodermatitis?
Neurodermatitis is an obsessive-compulsive behavior that manifests as continual licking of a spot just above the paw on your dog's front or rear legs. The constant licking rubs off the hair, causing the area to become raised, hard and insensitive to pressure. Eventually, the spot becomes an open sore called a granuloma. It occurs most frequently in large breeds, such as Labrador retrievers, golden retrievers, German shepherds, Weimaraners, Great Danes and Doberman pinschers.
What Causes It?
There are many theories on what causes neurodermatitis. Any one of them might be the underlying cause for any particular case. Some veterinarians believe boredom is the cause. Some believe it begins as a small itchy spot caused by allergies. Others say that stress caused by things such as separation anxiety, a new pet in the household or moving to a new home is the root cause. Joint pain may cause your dog to lick the area to relieve the pain, or a splinter or bee sting may start the cycle of licking.
How to Diagnose
Identifying neurodermatitis is done solely on the basis of history and clinical signs. You will see a hairless raised lesion with deep ulcerations. They can be less than a centimeter in size or cover the entire leg. Consult your veterinarian if you see these symptoms.
Treating the Problem
No single method of treatment works in all cases. You can try things to alleviate your furry friend's boredom, such as doggy day care, or try to remove the stressful conditions. Some veterinarians recommend bandaging the area or using an Elizabethan collar to stop the licking, but often the dog will move to another paw and start a new granuloma or resume licking when you remove the collar. Laser surgery to remove the lesion has had some success, but often the dog will simply start licking the spot again after the surgery. Long-term antibiotic treatments seem to have the greatest success. You may have to continue the antibiotics for as long as six months for any significant effect, though there is no guarantee of a cure. Most often veterinarians simply recommend trying to manage the disorder through constant intervention, topical itch and cortisone creams and a meat-based diet supplemented with omega-3 fatty acids. Until you eliminate the underlying cause, the condition likely will persist.