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Licking, Licking, Licking... You Crazy!

Bored dog

Is it the tap dripping? A problem with your air-conditioning unit?... What IS that noise???! You're walking around the house in the middle of the night, searching high and low... WHAT is that NOISE?!

And then you connect the dots. There she is, tucked into her bed in the corner of the room; that oh-so-darling poochy-pooch of yours... lick, lick, licking away at her paws... devouring them, it seems. A possessed voice from within screams "Arghhhhhhhh... STOP IT!!!!!". (Though you, of course, remain loving and gentle on the outside, right?)

Do you often hear that voice from within? Are you turning into a raving lunatic? (Were you ALREADY a raving lunatic?) Does your pooch lick herself into your demonic, dark side? She IS a darling... YOUR darling... but is she DRIVING YOU CRAZY?!!

Yes? Well then, you'll REALLY want this stopped - and NOW! "But how?", we hear you asking.

Well, as you might guess, the first step is to try to figure out WHY this incessant licking is happening.

Keep in mind that licking, as with any other grooming habits your pet has, is generally completely normal. (You knew that, right?) So, you'll need to establish if the amount of licking is indeed normal or, in fact, excessive; and by "excessive" we mean any licking "ritual" that continues, somehow obsessively, for more than a few minutes at any given time. If it does seem to you to border on excessive, there could be an issue and there can be many reasons for it - it could just be a bad habit (you've probably got a few too, eh?) or it could be something caused by boredom, skin irritation, allergy, mites, or in rarer cases, it may even be a psychological issue.

So to try and get to the bottom of it all, you need to start with just observing her. Take in her routines and habits - do you see any trigger points that get her going. Is she licking or gnawing at only one paw, for example, or is it more than one, or even all paws? Or some other part of her body? Which part? Is there any connection to the time of day or particular moments? Perhaps when someone leaves the room? Is it triggered by anything else you can pick up on? Maybe it's none of these, but it is very valuable, and potentially problem-solving, for you to go through this observation process and to try to hone in on the potential cause of the issue. If you notice that she's focused on one area of her body only, and continuously, it obviously would likely mean that there is something irritating her in that area.

Whatever you might learn, if you do come to the conclusion that the licking is not quite in the "normal" category, then obviously a trip to your vet will be necessary - and bring your observations with you. Your vet's examination could possibly include blood tests and a microscopic skin scraping examination, and all this, along with your observations, should get you both to the root cause and, if a physical health issue, then the treatment should get you back on your way to sanity. Yay!

If it turns out, however, that there are no physical health issues, then you're going to have to become a little pooch psychologist for a while. Take a closer look at her environment. Is she stuck in a dull room during the day, all day, with no human or other animal interaction and stimulation? Is she anxious about a new member of the family having arrived (a baby, perhaps, or another pet)?. Are there new animals in the surrounding neighbourhood which are testing her territory or otherwise making her feel insecure?

If you think it might be boredom, try keeping her in a busier part of the house or by a window so she can see some of the outside wider world and all its goings on; perhaps you can even consider an outside enclosure which, especially during the lovely winter months, will allow her to be outside a lot of the time, even when you're not home, and therefore potentially more "involved" in what's going on around her and widening the horizon of her relatively small world. What about socialisation opportunities with other dogs, possibly getting her focused on something other than her own chewy, delicious body? Do you need to do something to stop animals in the neighbourhood from getting into your property? Do you need to work with her and the new family member to create a relationship, if possible, and some comfort with the new scary entity that's arrived? A dog behaviourist could really help in this regard.

The possible causes of the problem are not endless but do be prepared that getting to the bottom of it might end up being a drawn out process of elimination. And... as if it needs saying... try to be aware of these issues as they are developing so that you increase your chance of pre-empting them from becoming actual bad habits... because the only thing you really want your pet licking is her lips at dinner time... and YOU, of course!

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