Lick Dermatitis

In: Advice Sheets On: Saturday, October 29, 2016


Lick dermatitis, is an injury caused by chronic licking that leads to inflammation and irritation of the skin.


The licking and inflammation make the skin itchy, which causes more licking, and a vicious cycle of licking and itching can occur. Lick dermatitis can occur in any cat or dog of any age and either gender. The condition is much more common in dogs than in cats. In addition to itchy skin, other potential triggers for lick dermatitis in cats include painful conditions caused by trauma to the skin, arthritis, neuralgia, and peripheral neuropathy. A bacterial or fungal infection of the skin can also trigger itching, as can skin mites, allergies, a reaction to an environmental irritant or toxin, hyperthyroidism, and certain types of cancer.


Diagnosing lick dermatitis 

In diagnosing your pet's skin disease, your veterinarian should first rule out any potential underlying allergic conditions. A possible allergy to fleas, food, chemicals in your cat/dog’s food, or something else in her food or environment should all be investigated. A thorough review of potential environmental irritants – including carpet treatments, cleaning products, room sprays, and laundry detergents, as well as water and air quality should all be evaluated as potential root causes for the skin irritation.


Several skin tests are usually necessary to definitively diagnose a lick granuloma, including a deep skin scraping to check for mites and cultures to rule out infection. Biopsies of inflamed tissue may also be needed to rule out certain types of skin cancer. The vast majority of lick dermatitis cases involve bacterial infection of the skin. It's extremely important for your veterinarian to identify the specific organism involved in order to determine the most effective treatment, especially because these bacteria are often resistant to antibiotics. 


Treatment options

In order for wounded skin to heal properly, your pet must be prevented from licking it. She'll need to be fitted with an Elizabethan collar (E-collar) in most cases to prevent the licking cycle from continuing. An alternative might be a light, non-stick bandage. You can actually also use an infant T-shirt on some kitties. The basic premise is, out of sight, out of mind. Some kitties lick their bellies, and putting a T-shirt on them prevents them from getting to the site of irritation.

Keeping the wound clean is absolutely essential. We recommend disinfecting the area twice a day. Topical remedies can be used with good success for encouraging wound healing include Manuka honey applied to the area twice a day or the essential oil of lavender (1-2 drops) diluted with some coconut oil. Calendula cream can also be very beneficial. Most importantly, you've got to be able to put these solutions on your pet, and somehow prevent him from turning right around and licking them off.


Finding the root cause of your pet's licking

To prevent future licking and skin wounds, it's crucial to identify and address the root cause for the behaviour. Using topical products without identifying why the licking is occurring is fruitless.

Lick dermatitis is known to be a psychogenic condition in some dogs, meaning the problem is primarily behavioural and actually on the obsessive-compulsive disorder spectrum, the stress can exacerbate dermatitis in domestic cats as well.

One key in controlling your cat's stress level is focusing on environmental enrichment, including feeding her at the same time every day, keeping food and water bowls and litter boxes in the same location, and keeping litter boxes very clean. We also recommend that you provide toys, hiding boxes, some great scratching surfaces, and other forms of good entertainment for your cat, in addition to plenty of exercise and a species-appropriate diet.


Symptoms and types

The following are some symptoms that may be observed if your cat/dog is suffering from lick dermatitis:

 - Excessive licking and chewing of the affected area
 - Occasionally, a history of trauma to the affected are
 - Bald, ulcerative, thickened, and raised firm bumps (usually located on the back of the ankle, heel, or between the toes)
 - Lesions often occur singly, although they may occur in more than one location



 - Skin diseases, infections
 - Allergies
 - Hormone problems, such as hyperthyroidism
 - Mites
 - Fungal infection
 - Reaction to a foreign body
 - Cancer
 - Arthritis
 - Trauma
 - Nerve dysfunction



A veterinarian will first need to do a behavioral history on your pet. The following are a list of other possible examinations generally used to diagnose lick dermatitis:

 - Skin scrapings, fungal and bacterial cultures
 - Skin allergy testing 
 - Laboratory tests to rule out endocrine diseases (such as hyperthyroidism) 
 - Food-elimination diet


At Phyto Companion we have developed some useful treatments:

If the cause is Allergic, you may find more advice in “Allergies in Dogs and Cats” article; 

If the cause is linked with the behaviour, we recommend Phyto Calm: this is our Anti-Stress formula of herbs and ingredients is intended to calm hyperactive, nervous, anxious and often agitated animals naturally. 



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