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Excessive Licking Behavior

  • June 24, 2016 1:50 PM EDT

    Excessive licking in dogs is a behavioral symptom associated with several possible underlying medical problems. The licking may be self-directed or it can be directed at other objects including other animals, humans, or objects and surfaces in the environment.

    In the case of excessive licking of surfaces (ELS), an animal may lick constantly (for hours) and/or repetitively on objects or surfaces in the environment including floors, furniture, walls, etc. Components of the behavior are characteristic of obsessive-compulsive disorder, however there is evidence for an association with medical problems - specifically disorders of the gastrointestinal tract.

    Quite a lot continues to be learned about the relationship between the gut, its microbiome, and the role of dysbiosis in variety of diseases. There are also focused studies examining the gut-brain axis - specifically the relationship between GI health and the complex interactions of biological, environmental, and psychological factors. For example, in humans with irritable bowel syndrome, genetic and environmental factors - including early life trauma or social stress - are believed to influence both the brain and the gut, and these in turn interact with one another by way of the autonomic nervous system and the HPA axis. Severity of disease and clinical outcomes in affected patients have been shown to be tied to both their altered physiology and their psychosocial status.

    The focus of this week's Evidence Based Update is excessive licking of surfaces (ELS) and our current understanding of its correlation with GI disorders in dogs. Discussion includes:

    - Clinical features of ELS behavior in dogs
    - Important questions to ask the pet owner regarding the pet's medical and behavioral history
    - The approach to working up the patient that licks excessively
    - Medical differential diagnoses
    - The incidence and types of GI disorders seen in ELS patients
    - Treatment and outcome for affected patients
    - The "Specialist's Spin," the takeaway, and considerations for the small animal practitioner

    View this Evidence Based Update (Running time: 22 mins)

    Here's a sneak peek:


    Reference: Gastrointestinal disorders in dogs with excessive licking of surfaces - J Vet Behavior, 2012, Vol 7, pp 194-204.