Most dog owners are used to the occasional dinging sound they hear when their dog decides to scratch itself behind its ear in the middle of the night, however, leg biting is far more discreet and much less common. Though head, neck, and ear scratching are completely normal and a natural way for dogs to get rid of an annoying itch, what does it mean when a dog bites its legs and should owners be concerned about the behavior? As it turns out, many dog owners believe the behavior is adorably innocent and compare it to dogs chasing their tails. Unfortunately, the nibbling can be a symptom of an underlying health problem and therefore should not be ignored.
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The Root of the Behavior
While it is perfectly normal for dogs to scratch and chew on their limbs from time to time as a way to relieve an itch, owners need to watch out for excessive biting that can be harmful. This usually means that your dog is either scratching and biting himself more frequently in general or is paying a suspiciously great deal of attention to a certain part of his body, like his leg. Depending on the other factors, you can try to determine what the underlying reason may be, however, it is always best to leave the diagnosis to the veterinarians.
If you notice your dog biting himself more frequently during the winter time, the cause for his urges might possibly be dry skin which can get quite itchy. Cold, dry weather can cause your dog’s skin to get irritated, become flaky, and develop dandruff. Consider brushing your dog’s hair more frequently during the winter season to stimulate the skin’s oil production and spread it along the fur to prevent the dryness. More importantly, consult your veterinarian about possible changes in your dog’s diet or including essential fatty acid supplements in it.
Another common reason dogs bite their legs is because they have fleas or ticks. This is especially more likely in the warmer seasons but can also develop throughout the whole year. Fleas and bug bites will be harder to spot but owners can definitely check for ticks and get them removed if discovered. Owners should pay special attention to redness and any “hot zones” or “hot spots” which are simply the sore and irritated areas caused by the persistent biting.
Allergies are another potential cause of the scratching and biting. While some dogs are genetically predisposed to developing allergies, some can be triggered by the environment. Around 10% of dog allergies are food related so make sure your furry friend has recently gone through the trash can or ate anything outside his regular diet. Common food and environmental triggers are things such as wheat, dairy, pollen, or mold thus your dog should stay clear of them but consult your dog’s veterinarian in case of any concerns.
Encouraging the Behavior
Periodic tail or leg biting should not be scolded or even paid attention to as most often it is just an instinctual way for your dog to alleviate an itch when it can’t be scratched. Even if the collar jingle gets your attention, it should not be annoying to you unless your dog is scratching too frequently. If it’s an infrequent occurrence, let your dog scratch or bite himself if he needs to because as we all know itchiness is uncomfortable.
However, if the biting behavior becomes constant or even obsessive it should be discouraged and prevented. This can only be accomplished by properly diagnosing the cause and treating the underlying reason. Remember that if your dog has been biting his leg or tail excessively, he might be in pain and biting the irritated area will only make things worse in the long run. As soon as you notice the irregular behavior consult your dog’s veterinarian and run a few tests to rule out any medical conditions. In the meantime, you should be discouraging your canine from chewing or scratching the irritated area by diverting his attention with his favorite toys and treats. Patience is key here as dogs don’t always understand that what you’re doing or stopping them from doing is often for their own good and safety. Don’t yell at your dog if he bites his leg. Instead, play games such as tug-of-war and follow the veterinarian's treatment plan and recommendations.
Other Solutions and Considerations
After your dog’s veterinarian has ruled out any skin infections, ticks, or dryness as reasons for the biting, inquire about other causes and consider further blood tests to determine the source of your four-legged buddy’s troubles. It is possible that your dog is biting his leg as a way to soothe himself due to pain (even if it is not skin or allergy related) or anxiety. If you notice your dog bites his leg every time you pull the vacuum cleaner out of the closet or find your furry bestie biting away when you come back from work, it could mean stress biting. Some dogs bite themselves or inanimate objects as a way to overcome noise anxiety or to deal with their owners' absence if they’ve developed separation anxiety. Both of these should not be ignored and instead be treated with the help of a veterinarian and the support of a professional dog trainer. Lastly, dogs can bite themselves from boredom and loneliness or as a way to get your attention. Make sure to be spending plenty of time with your canine companion and that there’s enough exercise in both of your lives on a daily basis.
Though there are a multitude of different reasons from physical and medical to psychological and situational why your dog might be biting its leg as if there was no tomorrow don’t get discouraged. Be patient, observe the circumstances and help your dog feel better with the support of professionals. Depending on the situation, it might just take a different dog shampoo or more exercise to cure your furry friend’s obsession.