What are Acral Lick Dermatitis?
This condition can lead to secondary infections and chronic discomfort for your pet. In order to help your pet recover, it is important to seek veterinary treatment to treat the underlying condition. Stress, allergies, and trauma are just a few of the reasons that a canine may be licking excessively, warranting a visit to the clinic in order to find relief for your pet.
Acral Lick Dermatitis in dogs is also known as lick granuloma. These usually occur on the front of the legs, after excessive licking, caused by underlying conditions such as allergy, stress or behavior abnormalities or osteoarthritis. This condition leads to thickening of the skin, alopecia and irritation.
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Symptoms of Acral Lick Dermatitis in Dogs
The main behavioral symptom of acral lick dermatitis is obsessive licking. The lick granulomas often occur in the front of the legs and feet. Other symptoms may include:
- Thickened skin
- Secondary bacterial or fungal infections
- Ruptured hair follicles
Causes of Acral Lick Dermatitis in Dogs
There are many underlying causes of acral lick granuloma. The cause will affect the treatment for your pet so it is vital that your veterinarian receives a full clinical history from you including any possible injuries or other symptoms.
Psychological factors – These may include stressors such as separation anxiety, boredom or stress. In some cases, canine obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) develops, in these cases the licking causes the release of endorphins leading to the pet repeating the behavior.
Allergies – Allergies can be triggered by diet, parasitic reaction or environment. The itching can cause repeated licking for relief, leading to the acral lick granuloma occurring.
Pain – Pain from underlying conditions such as fractures, osteoarthritis or trauma may cause a dog to lick constantly as a form of relief.
Diagnosis of Acral Lick Dermatitis in Dogs
Your veterinarian will perform a physical examination on your pet. Your veterinarian will examine the affected skin and check for any other symptoms that may assist in diagnosis. The physical examination may highlight symptoms that suggest painful underlying conditions such as arthritis, these symptoms include decreased range of movement on extension, deformity, and swelling of the joints.
If your veterinarian suspects trauma or degenerative joint disease, they may take radiographs. Your pet will likely need to be sedated in order to have these performed. Bony changes seen on the radiographs may indicate arthritis.
Your veterinarian will discuss your pet’s history with you, especially around previous allergic disease symptoms such as recurrent itchy skin or ear infections that may indicate allergies being the cause. If allergies are suspected your pet may be placed on a special elimination diet to identify the allergen. Your pet’s psychological history may also assist your veterinarian in making a diagnosis as stress can be a cause for acral granulomas. If your pet has been showing signs of stress due to separation anxiety, loss of another pet, or changes to the household your veterinarian may suspect the cause is psychological.
Other diagnostic procedures your veterinarian may carry out are:
- Skin scraping to investigate mites
- Full blood chemistry panel
Treatment of Acral Lick Dermatitis in Dogs
The treatment your pet will receive is dependent on the underlying condition. In order to prevent further trauma and licking occurring your pet may require an Elizabethan collar, bandages or muzzle to provide a physical barrier.
If your veterinarian suspects a food allergy is the underlying cause an elimination diet may be given to your pet. Through the elimination diet, clinical symptoms should reduce by 14 days. If improvement occurs, new foods will slowly be introduced with careful monitoring of reactions to identify the allergen. It is vital during this time that all other food sources are excluded from your dog’s diet, including treats.
To treat your pet’s pain, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) may be given to your pet to reduce inflammation. Depending on the underlying cause these may be required for long-term pain relief for your pet.
If stress is suspected as the cause of this condition, medication such as clomipramine hydrochloride may be given. This medication, taken orally as a pill, is known to be effective in reducing the signs of anxiety. Due to it’s potential for cardiovascular effects your veterinarian will carefully listen to your dog’s heart prior to prescription. If secondary infections have taken place your pet, may need antibiotic or antifungal treatment.
Recovery of Acral Lick Dermatitis in Dogs
A guarded prognosis for full recovery is usually given, however this condition can usually be well managed. In cases of allergies, reducing your pet’s exposure to the allergen environmentally or giving a diet free of the causative allergen can assist in healing.
If your veterinarian suspects your pet is suffering from stress that is causing the behaviour, it is important to assess your dog’s environment and remove stressors if possible. Your pet may need to stay on clomipramine hydrochloride long-term, if this is the case regular blood chemistry tests will be necessary to monitor your pet’s health.
If your pet is suffering from arthritis, long-term NSAIDs therapy for pain management may be required; other ways to manage this condition may be gradual weight loss, soft bedding, massage and diet.