How Do You Treat A Dog That Licks Their Leg Raw?

What causes excessive licking in dogs?

There are several potential causes for excessive licking in dogs:


Dogs can develop allergies to things like pollen, mold, dust mites, food ingredients, and more. These allergies can cause itchy skin that leads to excessive licking or chewing at their paws, belly, tail, or other areas [1].


Licking can become a compulsive habit in some dogs when they are bored, stressed, or anxious. The repetitive behavior provides comfort. Dogs may excessively lick their paws or flank area [2].


Parasites like fleas, ticks, or mites can cause irritation and itchiness that leads to excessive licking and biting at the skin. Dogs may lick or chew intensely at certain areas to try to relieve the irritation [3].

Skin infections

Bacterial or fungal skin infections can cause inflammation, redness, and itching. As a result, dogs may lick or chew at the infected area excessively.

Compulsive disorders

Some dogs develop compulsive licking disorders such as acral lick dermatitis or lick granuloma, where they obsessively lick one particular area, often causing hair loss, skin trauma, or open sores.

Signs of excessive licking

There are several clear signs that indicate a dog is licking excessively. These include:

  • Red, irritated skin – Excessive licking can cause inflammation and irritation of the skin, leading to redness.
  • Hair loss – Constant licking or chewing at an area can result in hair loss and bald patches.
  • Open sores or wounds – Licking that is frequent or forceful enough can cause sores, lesions and wounds to form.
  • Discoloration or dark patches – Areas subject to repeated licking may develop darker patches or discoloration from saliva staining.

According to PetMD, excessive grooming over joints could also signal issues like arthritis, soft tissue injury, fractures, or degenerative joint disease. It’s important to watch for these signs and have your dog examined by a vet if licking seems obsessive or is leading to skin damage.

Dangers of excessive licking

Excessive licking can lead to some dangerous health consequences for dogs. The constant licking and irritation of the skin can cause infections, permanent hair loss, tissue damage, and secondary infections.

One of the most common dangers is skin infections. The moisture and abrasion from excessive licking compromises the skin barrier, allowing yeast and bacteria to invade and infect the skin [1]. These infections cause inflammation, itching, redness, and discharge.

Permanent hair loss is another risk. The trauma to the hair follicles from the licking causes scarring alopecia, which prevents hair from growing back [2]. The hair loss usually occurs in areas that are easiest for the dog to lick, like the legs, paws, flank, and abdomen.

Excessive licking can also damage tissues under the skin. The friction wears away the top layers of skin, allowing bacteria to enter and cause cellulitis or abscesses [3]. Deep wounds from licking may require surgery to repair.

Finally, the open wounds caused by licking are prone to secondary infections. Bacteria can enter the skin lesions and spread to other areas like the blood, joints, or internal organs. This can make the dog very ill.

When to see a vet

If your dog is obsessively licking to the point where their behavior seems abnormal, it’s important to consult your vet. Signs that warrant a vet visit include:

  • Licking that won’t stop, resulting in hair loss, inflammation, lesions, or open wounds
  • Severe hair loss or open wounds from excessive licking or chewing
  • Signs of a skin infection, such as redness, swelling, discharge, odor, or crusting around the affected area
  • Changes in your dog’s behavior, such as increased anxiety, restlessness, or irritability

Left untreated, compulsive licking can lead to further skin trauma and secondary infections. It’s important to identify and address the underlying cause. Your vet can check for allergies, parasites, hormonal imbalances, and other medical conditions that may be provoking the behavior. They can also recommend medications, therapeutic baths, antibacterial/antifungal shampoos, or prescription anti-itch sprays to help stop the licking cycle and allow the skin to heal if needed.


To diagnose the cause of excessive licking in dogs, the veterinarian will start with a complete physical exam and review of the dog’s medical history. They will check the dog’s skin thoroughly for any abnormalities like rashes, irritation, parasites, or infections. The vet may perform a deep skin scrape to look for mites or other parasites that could be causing itchiness and prompting the dog to lick excessively.

The vet may also order blood tests to check for potential allergies or endocrine disorders that could lead to itchy skin. Tests like a complete blood count, biochemistry profile, and thyroid panel can help uncover issues. Allergy testing such as intradermal skin testing or blood tests looking for allergen-specific IgE may be recommended as well.

With the physical exam and diagnostic testing, the vet aims to uncover any underlying medical conditions that are causing the urge to lick excessively. This helps them recommend the appropriate treatment options to stop the behavior.

Treatment options

There are several treatment options for dogs who lick themselves excessively or develop lick granulomas:

Antibiotics may be prescribed to treat or prevent secondary infections. Common antibiotics used include cephalexin, amoxicillin-clavulanate, or clindamycin (1).

Antihistamines such as hydroxyzine or chlorpheniramine can help relieve itching and allergic reactions (2).

Topical creams and ointments containing corticosteroids, anesthetics, or other medications are often recommended to reduce inflammation and discomfort on the affected area (3).

Behavior modification therapy can also help dogs break the excessive licking habit through distraction, taste deterrents, or restriction devices.

A combination approach is usually most effective. Your vet will determine the best treatment options for your dog based on the underlying cause and severity of the condition.

Prevention at Home

There are several steps pet owners can take at home to help prevent excessive licking in dogs:

Identify and remove potential allergens from the dog’s environment. Allergens like certain foods, pollen, dust mites, and grass can cause itchy skin that leads to excessive licking. Make sure to wash bedding frequently and vacuum regularly.

Provide regular grooming and skin care. Brushing your dog frequently can distribute natural oils in their coat and skin. Give occasional baths with gentle, hypoallergenic shampoo. Check for parasites like fleas which can cause skin irritation.

Increase playtime and exercise. Boredom and stress can trigger obsessive licking habits. Make sure your dog gets adequate physical and mental stimulation each day through walks, playtime, puzzles, and training. This helps prevent anxiety buildup.

Try anxiety relief strategies. Sometimes anxiety manifests as obsessive licking. Calming supplements, pheromone diffusers, or a Thundershirt can help relieve stress. Obedience training creates confidence. Reward calm behavior to reinforce it.

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Diet can play an important role in reducing excessive licking and skin irritation in dogs. Making sure your dog’s food contains the right nutrients can help strengthen their skin barrier and reduce allergies or sensitivities that may be causing the licking behavior.

Look for foods that contain omega fatty acids like fish oil, which provide anti-inflammatory benefits and soothe itchy skin. Quality protein sources like chicken, salmon, or turkey are also key, as amino acids help nourish skin and coat health. Some veterinarians may recommend trying a limited ingredient or hypoallergenic diet to pinpoint possible food allergies triggering the licking.

Probiotic supplements or foods with added probiotics can help strengthen your dog’s gut health and immune system to reduce environmental allergies. Consult with your veterinarian on the best probiotic strains like Lactobacillus for your dog’s needs.

Overall, focusing on a nutritious anti-inflammatory diet full of omega fatty acids, digestible proteins, and probiotics may help reduce excessive licking in dogs prone to the behavior.

Home Remedies to Stop Excessive Licking

There are several natural home remedies that can help stop excessive licking and soothe irritated skin on a dog’s paws or body:

Aloe Vera – The cooling and soothing properties of aloe vera gel can provide relief for itchy, inflamed skin. Gently apply pure aloe vera gel to the affected area several times a day. Be sure to use pure aloe vera gel, not formulated products that contain other ingredients.

Apple Cider Vinegar – Mix equal parts apple cider vinegar and water and apply to the irritated area using a clean cloth. Let it dry. The acetic acid in apple cider vinegar acts as a gentle antibacterial and can help reduce yeast and fungal infections on the skin (

Coconut Oil – Extra virgin coconut oil contains antioxidants and fatty acids that can help moisturize, soothe and heal dry, cracked skin. Gently rub a small amount onto the affected area 2-3 times per day. The taste may also deter licking.

Always monitor your dog closely when using home remedies to ensure they don’t ingest them by licking. It’s best to apply home remedies after taking your dog for a walk or when they are calm.

When to seek a specialist

If your dog’s excessive licking persists despite your at-home treatment efforts, it’s time to seek professional help from a veterinary specialist. There are a few instances when a specialist should be consulted:

If excessive licking seems to be linked to anxiety or obsessive compulsive disorder, you may want to see a veterinary behaviorist. These specialists can diagnose psychological issues through behavioral exams and testing and provide customized treatment plans involving medication, training, and environmental changes (

For dogs with persistent licking that appears allergy-related, see a veterinary dermatologist. They can perform allergy testing and provide immunotherapy treatments to desensitize your dog to whatever is causing their itchy skin and subsequent licking (

In more severe cases of self-trauma and damage from excessive licking, vets can apply prescription medication, protective gear, or other specialized treatments. Don’t hesitate to get expert advice if your dog’s obsessive licking becomes dangerous.

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