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What Is A Lick Granuloma?

One of the most common conditions vets see in the United Kingdom is skin complaints, in fact, hardly a day will go by without a skin condition presenting in the consulting room. Many times, the cause of skin problems are parasites such as fleas and mites, however, sometimes it’s a lesion that causes more worries, the lick granuloma. In this Pets4Homes article, we take a look at this skin condition and its cause, what to look for and the treatment that can be long-term.

What is a granuloma?

A granuloma is a skin lesion that can be found on any animal or human that has a skin condition. In this case, the lick granuloma in this article relates to dogs and cats, though is more common in dogs. The proper name for them and one you may see is Acral Lick Granuloma, but it is normally shortened to lick granuloma.

Is it a cycle?

Yes, the condition has a cycle, it’s called a lick granuloma as the animal constantly licks the same area, causing it to irritate, so they decide to lick it some more! The common name for this cycle is called the ‘itch-scratch’ cycle. It is a loop as the lesion will not heal if the root cause and dog are not stopped.

What causes them?

There are a few possible causes for lick granulomas, and each need investigating to rule them out. Causes can include:

Pain - an animal will lick an area causing it pain or discomfort.

  • Parasites - causing irritation through a bite, this can become a habit to stop the itching.
  • Behavioural - a stressed dog can show the signs of constant licking as an anxiety response.

Does that mean my dog is stressed?

It is certainly one cause of this condition but always look at other symptoms, such as if they follow you everywhere at home, get distressed when you go out, or a vocal. A dog showing anxiety can get fixated on grooming a particular area - almost a nervous habit. Of course, if a section of skin was being licked to excess the dog’s tongue would soon make it sore.

What do they look like?

A lick granuloma, once seen, cannot be mistaken for much else. The lesion is a bald section of skin, which is normally red from licking. The skin is often thickened and more than likely it could be sticky or oozy, although sometimes it’s dry. If it is sticky, you will no doubt also notice the horrible smell that comes from it.


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Are they found anywhere on the body?

In theory, these lesions can be anywhere on the body, places the animal can reach and lick easily. Because of this, lick granulomas are commonly seen on the upper side of the front leg. At least they will be quite easy to spot if they start to develop. They can be really irritating and quite painful if touched, so take care of examining them.

How are they diagnosed?

These are pretty easy to diagnose, as the location is often the key indicator. The look and even smell of the condition are also a good pointer to whether the lesion is a lick granuloma. The main thing to diagnose is what is the root cause of the lesion in the first place. This may mean different tests, for example, if the lesion is over a joint, the vet may suggest x-rays to rule out arthritis.

Can they be treated?

Yes, they can, but they may take some time to fully get better. The first treatment would normally consist of painkillers/anti-inflammatories and possibly steroid therapy to help reduce the inflammation and start to settle the area. In latter cases of the condition, there is often a secondary infection present, normally from the licking, this will require antibiotics to treat it. Some of these treatments are oral, while some are topical (cream for the area).

How long will it take to heal?

This is one condition that can take a while to get better - this is because the reason also needs to be found to why the dog is licking the area so much. If it is simply parasites, then the condition will be able to be sorted a lot quicker than if it is a behavioural issue. In any case, you need to be patient!

Is any breed particularly affected?

The lick granuloma can affect any breed and any age, but there does seem a correlation in some breeds where it seems more prevalent. These breeds are seen most often with the condition:

Although these are bigger dogs, smaller dogs are often seen as well, dogs such as the Westie - West Highland White Terrier, these are notorious for skin conditions, so it’s not really a surprise!

Will they happen again?

This is one question that owners often ask. They have gone through the long road of healing the first one and don’t want it to happen again. The answer is possibly. It really depends on the underlying cause and the dog's behaviour. If the problem was behaviour, then if the dog starts to get anxious, there is a strong possibility that it could resurface again. This is why understanding it is the key.

So, if you think your dog or cat may be worrying a particular patch of skin, making it sore, please consult your vet for further advice. They will examine the area and the skin in general and make recommendations to help stop the skin problem getting worse, and of course, help heal any lesion that might be present. 

These granulomas can be sorted out successfully, but you need patience and take advice about the cause, they are also not the cheapest condition to heal, as the time they take to heal can mean long-term medication until it’s completely healed. It’s why we always say things that are caught and checked earlier have a much better chance of healing quicker. 

If in doubt, ask - it could save money and make your pet happier at the same time!


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