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Acral Lick Dermatitis

Written by Dr. Alice Crook and taken from the Canine Inherited Disorders Database with permission

related terms: lick granuloma

What is acral lick dermatitis?

This is a complex disorder in which dogs lick continuously at an area on their leg , which becomes raw, weeping, and ulcerated. The cause is unknown but inheritance may play a role, since certain breeds are affected more commonly. Boredom or frustration are considered contributing factors. Other possibilities include a disorder of the sensory nerves, or an obsessive-compulsive disorder.

How is acral lick dermatitis inherited?

No mode of inheritance has been established.

What breeds are affected by acral lick dermatitis?

The following breeds are more commonly affected than others: Doberman pinscher, German shepherd, Great Dane, Irish setter, Labrador retriever.

For many breeds and many disorders, the studies to determine the mode of inheritance or the frequency in the breed have not been carried out, or are inconclusive. We have listed breeds for which there is a consensus among those investigating in this field and among veterinary practitioners, that the condition is significant in this breed.

What does acral lick dermatitis mean to your dog & you?

Owners are generally amazed by the amount of damage a dog can do to his/her limb simply by continuous licking. Frequently the affected area becomes secondarily infected (pyoderma).

Boredom and frustration are thought to play a role in this condition, which is often seen in highly intelligent dogs who spend much of their day alone.

How is acral lick dermatitis diagnosed?

It is important to rule out any underlying cause of the condition. Your veterinarian will likely do a skin biopsy for this purpose. This is a simple procedure, done with local anesthetic, in which your veterinarian removes a small sample of your dog’s skin for examination by a veterinary pathologist.

For the veterinarian: Rule-outs include neoplasia, pressure point granulomas, various infectious agents, underlying sensitivities, allergies, histiocytomas, mastocytomas.

How is acral lick dermatitis treated?

Lick granulomas can be difficult for veterinarians to treat, and frustrating for the owner. Because boredom and frustration are thought to play a role in this condition, your veterinarian will likely discuss with you environmental enrichment and behavior modification for your dog. S/he may prescribe certain drugs with anti-depressant or anti-anxiety properties for short periods, relying on your help in assessing the effects. Topical corticosteroids may help as well.

As the area is frequently secondarily affected, anti-bacterial therapy may be necessary.

Breeding advice

Because inheritance appears to play a role in this complex condition, it is preferable not to breed dogs in whom acral lick dermatitis is a problem.