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What is Flank Sucking?

Flank sucking is believed to have a genetic component, and is brought on by stress, anxiety or boredom. Usually is starts as a coping strategy, as the action releases relaxing endorphins. In some cases, it can become obsessive and chronic, creating a cycle of behavior, as anxiety relief is brought from the activity, and then the anxiety returns which leads again to the activity. Dogs with high anxiety might need only minor triggers once the behavior has become habitual. It can progress into the compulsion to hide objects or pica, and can compromise normal behaviors, such as sleeping, playing and eating. Flank sucking can be successfully managed by consistent therapy.

Flank sucking is a type of canine compulsive disorder (CCD) that is most often seen in Doberman Pinschers. It is characterized by a dog holding in its mouth, or sucking, a piece of its own flank skin. Also referred to as lick granuloma, it is a repetitive and functionless act that is related to other nonnutritive sucking behaviors, such as blanket sucking and pica. While seemingly harmless, it can lead to skin, hair, and behavioral issues.

Flank Sucking Average Cost

From 352 quotes ranging from $200 - $500

Average Cost

$350

Symptoms of Flank Sucking in Dogs

Symptoms of flank sucking generally begin before the dog reaches sexual maturity. The behavior can become fixed after the original cause is alleviated, and continue to occur without triggers. Symptoms include:

  • Obsessive sucking, licking or chewing of flank skin or hair
  • Skin irritation
  • Skin sores
  • Skin infections
  • Hair loss
  • Decreased eating
  • Decrease in playing
  • Aggression when approached during flank sucking
  • Pica, or the chewing and ingestion of inedible objects
  • Blanket sucking
  • Hiding to engage in behavior
  • Compulsive hiding or collection of objects
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Causes of Flank Sucking in Dogs

It is generally believed that canine compulsive disorders have a genetic origin, with mutations seen on a chromosomal gene and serotonin genes, which are believed to modify the severity of the condition. There are also environmental factors involved. Causes of flank sucking can include:

  • Genetic predisposition
  • Insatiable suckling drive aggravated by an early weaning
  • Stress or anxiety
  • Separation anxiety
  • Insufficient stimulation in environment
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Diagnosis of Flank Sucking in Dogs

A diagnosis of flank sucking is made based on the associated flank skin behavior, other symptoms present, the age symptoms began, triggers of behavior, frequency of behavior, duration of behavior, reaction when behavior is interrupted, and any other medical and behavioral factors.

Your veterinarian may need to rule out other disorders with similar symptoms, such as skin disorders, neurological disease, and pain causing conditions. As part of the diagnosis, medications for pain, itchiness or seizure control may be administered to gauge your dog’s response.

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Treatment of Flank Sucking in Dogs

Treatment for this disorder is the same as for other CCDs, and will involve both medication and behavioral techniques. Often, this condition requires lifelong management, but control of symptoms is possible.

Medication

Any underlying causes found that may have created or aggravated the behavior will be treated appropriately. A balanced diet is often discussed, and may be modified.

Medications can be used to treat compulsive disorders that control the symptoms by inhibiting the reuptake of serotonin, but they must be combined with environmental modifications and behavioral therapy. Drugs used to modulate serotonin are types of antidepressants, and can include fluoxetine and memantine. When these two medications are combined, they work synergistically for better results. Clomipramine could also be prescribed.

Behavior Modification

Behavior and environmental modifications include removing stress that causes the behavior and ensuring an enriching environment. First, review your dog’s lifestyle to determine what his stress triggers are, what frustrates your dog, what kind of structure is present in day to day activities, and if there are factors that reinforce the behavior. You may wish to speak with a behaviorist to help create a plan. Ways to accomplish these goals can include:

  • Create and consistently maintain a daily routine that includes feeding, playing, walking and sleeping
  • Provide social interactions on a regular basis
  • Create a restful area for times between social interactions that are include enriched items to maintain interest, such as stimulating toys, chew toys, and objects with hidden foods
  • Remove or avoid your dog’s stress triggers or frustrating activities, which can include crating or punishments
  • Remove any unintentional human reinforcement
  • Do not punish behavior, as it can lead to further anxiety
  • Give rewards when desirable behaviors are exhibited
  • Create distractions using counter-conditioning techniques when behavior is exhibited to redirect your dog’s attention
  • Ensure your dog gets plenty of exercise, at least 20 to 30 minutes per day
  • Try audio or video recordings to play while your dog is left alone if he suffers from separation anxiety
  • Stimulate your dog’s learning by using new commands, engaging in sports, and through obedience training

If flank sucking progresses into pica, your dog may need surgery to remove ingested inedible objects.

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Recovery of Flank Sucking in Dogs

Even if treatment is successful and behavior is stopped, reoccurrence of the behavior is always possible. Successful management usually needs lifelong attention. Anticipate and reduce your dog’s triggers, and learn how to recognize the behavior and redirect when necessary. Prevention of this condition can be achieved by not breeding affected dogs.

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Flank Sucking Average Cost

From 352 quotes ranging from $200 - $500

Average Cost

$350

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Flank Sucking Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Need pet health advice? Ask a vet

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Kylo Ren

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Doberman Pinscher

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2 Years

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Serious severity

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1 found helpful

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Serious severity

Has Symptoms

Licking & Sucking On Skin

My male Doberman is 25 months old & neutered. He licks his front legs repeatedly, to the point of leaving wet circles behind on whatever surface he was laying. He also sucks on the flap of skin between his hind leg and abdomen, always on the right side. He is beginning to leave suck marks on his skin, which is noticeable now because his fur is thinning in that spot. The odd thing is that he only does these things at night, while we are asleep. He is my mobility/counterbalance service dog, and stays by my side at all times unless we are asleep. Only then does he go to his bowls to eat and drink. The marks on his skin are so noticeable that I’m worried about taking him out in public for fear people will assume they’re bruises from being beaten. What can I do to fix this problem?

March 1, 2018

Kylo Ren's Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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1611 Recommendations

Thank you for your email. Kylo may have a behavioral problem, an allergy, a bacterial infection, or a parasite. it would be best to have him seen by a veterinarian, as they can see the behavior, see what he is doing, and suggest any treatment that might be necessary.

March 2, 2018

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smokey

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chihuahua mix

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10 Months

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Serious severity

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0 found helpful

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Serious severity

Has Symptoms

Sucking My Tongue

my dog is 10 months old and has been sucking on my tongue while i sleep for the past 5 months ... i have even tried wearing a surgical mask and he manages to remove it from my face ... it does cause me to wake but as soon as i fall back asleep he starts again !!!

Sept. 26, 2017

smokey's Owner

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3320 Recommendations

I cannot think of a way of stopping this behaviour apart from leaving Smokey in a different room. Dogs like to lick and consume many things, especially if there is an interesting smell or taste. I do not know what to suggest here apart from sleeping separate. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

Sept. 27, 2017

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Zeek

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Siberian Husky

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2 Years

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Fair severity

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0 found helpful

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Fair severity

Has Symptoms

Redness

Zeek Is a 2 yo Siberian husky who has been flanking since we got him at 5 months. He is walked daily, has toys all over the house including stuff Kong’s daily. Goes out back regularly. He is very clingy as well but when he’s not getting attention is when I’ve noticed it. Any suggestions on how to stop it?

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Bailey

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Glenn of Imaal terrier

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1 Year

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Mild severity

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0 found helpful

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Mild severity

Has Symptoms

Flank Sucking

Hi. I have a 8mo old Glenn of Imaal Terrier. About 2 mo ths ago, usually in the evenings, we started licking his hind legs and then holding them in his mouth and whining. My husband and I thought he was coming into puberty and playing with himself. That is not the case. His hind legs are wet and he bites down and holds on to it. We're not sure what to do. We walk him regularly. We play with him alk day and feed him a nutritious diet.

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Coraline jones

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Mix

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12 Years

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Fair severity

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0 found helpful

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Fair severity

Has Symptoms

Stomach

My 12 year old dachshund/lab mix who is about 65 lbs stomach sucks on one side. You can see her last two ribs and the outline off her ilium and sacrum. Then otherside looks normal. This is only when she eats. She does have a habit of eating toys but I didn’t feel anything. I am taking her to a vet but I wanted an idea of what it could be.

Flank Sucking Average Cost

From 352 quotes ranging from $200 - $500

Average Cost

$350