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Ask a vet: How can I stop my dog's excessive licking?

May 17, 2010 |  6:23 pm

Have a non-emergency question about your pet's health? Dr. Heather Oxford of L.A. veterinary hospital California Animal Rehabilitation (CARE) is here to help. In this installment of Ask a Vet, Dr. Oxford offers some advice to reader Tiffany about potential causes of problem licking in dogs.

Doglick Tiffany's question: My dog has recently begun licking excessively. We thought it was because of allergy season [during] which he would lick his paws a lot. However, we're beginning to think that's not the case because he ends up licking the couch or the bed for five minutes! Is there something we can do to stop his excessive licking?

Heather Oxford, DVM: This is probably one of the most frequently asked questions for veterinarians. Interestingly, the majority of pets that lick excessively have some form of upper gastrointestinal problem involving the mouth, esophagus or stomach.

Your veterinarian can do a thorough examination of your pet's oral cavity and can perform imaging procedures of the esophagus and stomach, including X-rays, a barium study and ultrasound. Licking has also been associated with diet sensitivity, or toxins. Rarely, it can be a type of seizure disorder as well.

Another common diagnosis is attention-seeking behavior, which can be determined by videotaping your pet to see whether he licks only when you are around or also when you're gone. It is also possible that it could be a compulsive behavior; this and attention-seeking behaviors could be diagnosed if results of medical tests are normal. These types of behavioral issues occur even when more socially acceptable behaviors are readily available. For example, you try to play with him, or he has a chew toy and he still licks. Medications are available for treating behavioral disorders such as this.

To submit your question for Dr. Oxford, just leave a comment on this post or send us a Tweet @LATunleashed and look for her answer in an upcoming installment of Ask a Vet!

About our vet: Dr. Oxford received her bachelor of science degree at Bowling Green State University, Ohio.  She also received a master's of public health degree in epidemiology from Emory University and worked at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. She then went to the University of Tennessee, College of Veterinary Medicine, where she received her doctor of veterinary medicine degree.  She practices at California Animal Rehabilitation and also is certified in veterinary rehabilitation and acupuncture. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, Wade, and German shepherd, Tess.

Photo: A dog (not Tiffany's) licks its lips. Credit: Miss G / Your Scene

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