Obsessive Licking In Dogs

Obsessive Licking In Dogs

Chronic licking the skin to the point of injury is a form of compulsive disorder that’s fairly common in dogs, especially Akitas, Doberman Pinschers, Shar-Peis, Golden and Labrador Retrievers, Weimaraners, Dalmations, and German Shepards.

Types of Licking and Different Forms of Ocd  in Dogs

Favorite sites are a front leg or the tail, but a dog may obsessively lick any part the body he/she can reach. Doberman Pinschers, for example, are known for a variant of this behavior called flank sucking. Spinning in circles, tail chasing, obsessions with toys, and other unusual behaviors can also be manifestations of obsessive compulsive disorder if they are repeated, and virtually impossible to interrupt.

Obsessive vs. Something Else

It’s important to distinguish between licking that’s purely obsessive and licking caused by an injury or itch. Many dogs who have allergies lick both front paws or all four feet, often leaving them stained brown from saliva, because their skin feels itchy. This should be treated as an allergic skin problem, not a mental health issue. A fungal infection, bone pain, or foreign material embedded in the skin (such as a wool splinter or glass fragment) can cause a dog to lick obsessively, so a meticulous physical exam, x-rays, fungal cultures, and other tests should be done for approaching it as a purely mental problem.

Lick Granulomas

There is also lick granulomas, which are open sores, usually on the dog’s wrist (located on the foreleg) or ankle (located on the hind leg). They are common in many large dogs, including Dobermans, Labrador retrievers, and Great Danes.

Dry Skin

The licking and chewing brought on by itchy skin diseases such as atopy, demodectic mange, or bacterial or fungal infections is believed to be what precipitates a lick granuloma. As the dog licks at the itchy area, the hair comes off and the skin becomes red and eventually thickens.


When trying to determine why your dog is licking or chewing excessively, be sure to consider the possibility that something is making him physically uncomfortable. For instance, if you notice your dog biting his paw repeatedly, he could have a thorn or sharp stone stuck in his foot pad.  Compulsive chewing or licking can also be a response to orthopedic problems, including arthritis and hip displaysia.  Among the most common causes for compulsive dog licking, chewing, or scratching behaviors are fleas, ticks, and mites. Although ticks are often visible to the naked eye, fleas often go unseen until there is a large infestation, and mites are microscopic. So don’t assume that your dog isn’t suffering from parasites just because you can’t see them.

What Can Happen If Your Dog Doesn’t Stop Licking Himself

Hot spots have already been mentioned above, however there are quite a few other reasons why letting your dog continue to lick himself or other objects can be a problem. Hot spots themselves can lead to the introduction of fungus or bacteria, causing a secondary infection that may spread from the original site and even become systemic.  Hot spots that don’t heal or that become chronic are considered acral lick granulomas, and over time can lead to a wound that refuses to heal, with edges that thicken and hair that does not grow back. The continued licking of the area can make the hair follicles and sweat glands breakdown and rupture, leading to increased itching and a continuously repeated cycle.

Steps You Can Take To Stop Obsessive Licking

1. As always, give your dog at least one hour of vigorous exercise each day.

2. As always, work with your dog on obedience commands (come, sit, sit-stay, down, down-stay) for 15 to 20 minutes each day.

3. Provide your dog with a rotating stock of delightful things to chew on, such as toys appropriate to your pet’s size, such as

a Kong ball filled with peanut butter.

4. Don’t reprimand your dog or focus a lot of attention on them when you see him/her licking. Your response can be a part of your dog’s positive feedback.

5. A DAP diffuser or collar may help relax an obsessive dog.

6. Ocd is the one canine mental health issue that almost always requires drug treatment. Clomiprmine (clomicalm) or fluoxetine (Reconcile, Prozac) or valium are commonly used as an anti-obsessive drug. An opioid blocker such as naltrezone is sometimes used in addition, in order to blunt the “high” that an obsessive licker gets from the behavior.

It is important to intervene to lessen or stop this behavior before the dog licks off all of its fur (usually confined to one site on the body, such as a leg or the abdomen), which can lead to skin infection (hot spots) and acral lick granulomas (which are masses that occur secondary to chronic abrasion with the tongue and inflammation to the area). These infections and granulomas can be painful to the dog.

If there is trauma to the skin, your veterinarian will treat the skin infections and/or granulomas caused by the excessive licking and then determine if the licking is a medical disorder or something that can be alleviated with behavior training.


If the underlying cause is determined and treated, the itching will go away, but it’s still necessary to break the dog’s habit of licking the area. This can be done by putting an Elizabethan collar on the dog so he can’t reach the spot to lick or covering the spot with Bitter Apple ( a widely used commercial chewing deterrent that comes in spray or paste form) or a similar bad tasting substance. Providing the dog with extra companionship and playtime can take his/her mind off licking.

End Of Obsessive Licking

Here, I have laid out how to recognize and treat several different types of licking disorders. Whether it’s obsessive licking, granulomas, anxiety, or another physical cause of licking, you should be more prepared to end of it for good. Thank you for reading, and please feel free to leave a comment at the bottom.


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7 thoughts on “Obsessive Licking In Dogs”

  1. Learn something every day. Very informative. When I had my dog, I did not pay any attention to how he licks. Not only my dog but other dogs in general.

  2. Great post, I haven’t had a dog in many years but it is opening my eyes to the many different mental and physical challenges that can manifest in a dog that a casual owner might assume has no cause. Thanks for the great information.

  3. Also you may want to re-evaluate the diet of the dog. Kibble could be bad and too many fillers in the food. That’s a whole separate article 😀😀🐶🐶


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