A common problem in dogs and cats is the occurrence of a minor wound that is prevented from healing by the animal’s excessive licking. The skin surrounding the wound becomes excessively thickened and veterinarians refer to the lesion as lick granuloma.
The most common sites for lick granulomas to occur in dogs are on the front and back legs and in cats, the areas around the flanks and abdomen are often subjected to excessive attention.
The original wound may have been quite small and would have healed in a very short time if it had not been kept continually moist and abraded by the animal’s rough tongue. Certain breeds of dogs are most prone to develop lick granulomas. Labradors, Great Danes, Boxers and corgis seem to be most affected.
By the time the veterinarian is consulted the condition has been present for some weeks. Usually, there is a history of a minor skin wound occurring which the owner naturally assumed would heal without complications.
Most owners believe that the licking of the wound is at first beneficial as it keeps the wound clean, but as time goes on the area of skin involved becomes wider and wider. The skin becomes raised, moist and very pink and although it appears very raw, it seems painless.
The areas usually involved in a dog are adjacent to the animal’s nose when it lies in its normal position. The action of licking becomes almost a reflex one as soon as the animal is undisturbed. In the cat, the areas behind the back legs and inside the flanks are groomed excessively as part of its routine daily washing.
How to stop a dog from licking a wound
Treatment of lick granulomas is rarely simple. If the lesion has not become very extensive and the skin layers very thickened, a simple ointment containing a corticosteroid to reduce the itching and the inflammatory reaction may be sufficient.
Bandaging of the affected part is not usually successful as the dog is unlikely to keep the dressing intact for long. Muzzling or use of an Elizabethan collar may prevent the animal from removing the dressing.
In stubborn cases, an injection of a corticosteroid directly into the affected part is helpful in reducing the irritation of the nerve endings in the skin. This is usually supported with steroids taken by mouth until the skin has completely healed.
Some refractory cases have responded to cryotherapy. In this, the affected area of the skin is deep-frozen using liquid carbon dioxide. This probably destroys the irritated nerve endings which are responsible for the stimulus to lick.
Prevention of the condition means early treatment of any wound on the cat or dog’s skin which seems slow to heal and which is being excessively licked. There seems no doubt that boredom is a factor in the development of lick granulomas.
Dogs left alone for long periods are more prone to the condition than a working dog. Although Labradors are especially subject to the condition, it is rare for a guide dog for the blind to develop it.