Have ever seen a dog licking their paw or tail excessively? If so it is likely that they are suffering from a condition known as acral lick granuloma. If not treated, it can be a potentially serious condition as the dog will continue to lick the specific spot until it becomes raw and infected. There are several conventional treatments available to help with this condition. Pet owners have also tried CBD as a natural alternative, but can it be effective?
What is Acral Lick Granuloma?
Acral lick granuloma is a dermatological condition that is fairly common in dogs. People also refer to it as:
- Acral lick dermatitis
- Lick granuloma
- Acral lick
- Acral pruritic nodule
Essentially, this condition is present when your dog licks a certain area of their body excessively. This problematic licking can form at the tail, but it is most frequently appears on their legs (especially their forelegs). This chronic behavior can go on for hours a day and the condition may quickly deteriorate until infection sets in.
Furthermore, continuous licking can results in ulcers on the skin, though in severe cases it can spread to the underlying soft tissues. Without treatment, acral lick granuloma can result in the following.
This can then spread to other parts of the body, eventually leading to an infection of the blood known as “sepsis”
Inflammation located on the “granulation tissue”
This is the term for the new connective tissue that forms over a wound when it is healing
Severe and ulcerated lesions
These wounds then trigger your dog’s instinct to lick at them. As this licking becomes more compulsive and severe, the wounds will only get worse and more inflamed
The open wound is not allowed to heal due to the excessive licking, so your dog becomes susceptible to parasitic and opportunistic species of fungus that can colonize the laceration
This is a specific type of bacterial infection that occurs in the hair follicles when they are ruptured due to the excessive licking and the natural acidity of your dog’s saliva. It frequently results in the formation of an abscess that is then accompanied with pus and/or necrotic tissue (dead or dying tissue)
Acral Lick Granuloma can be a frustrating condition as there is no one treatment that can totally neutralize the problematic behavior. Furthermore, there are multiple reasons that the condition develops in the first place and it requires a proper diagnosis by a veterinarian.
What Causes Lick Granuloma in Dogs?
There are a number of factors which may cause acral lick granuloma. It is almost always self-perpetuating, meaning that once the wound is created by the initial licking, your dog will continue to instinctively lick the wound and further irritate it.
The primary factors that cause the initial condition are:
If your dog has itchy skin, due to allergies or dermatitis, then it is their natural instinct to lick the affected area. If this behavior becomes compulsive, then it may result in painful and infected wounds.
Your dog may want to lick their skin over a painful bone and/or joint. Again, this is an instinctive behavior on their part and can become problematic if they engage in it compulsively.
Dogs need stimulation and positive external interaction in order for them to be in optimal health. If they lack this positive stimulation, they may then direct their pent-up energy towards excessively licking their limbs until acral lick granuloma develops.
Every pet owner knows that their beloved dog can sometimes react unfavorably to negative circumstances. This underlying stress can come from any number of sources, such as excessive isolation, separation anxiety, loud noises (such as fireworks), aggression from other animals (particularly dominant dogs), and a chaotic environment at home.
Acral lick granuloma is a compulsive behavior. This means that an initially instinctive behavior (licking) can become pathological under certain circumstances (itching, pain, boredom, and/or stress). The underlying behavior that causes acral lick granuloma shares numerous features with obsessive-compulsive disorders in humans.
It is important to remember that in many cases a dog’s behavior will mimic their owner’s. We all know that dogs are highly sensitive to their surroundings and share an emotional bond with their owners. For example, if a dog owner is high-strung, compulsive, or stressed out, their dog may then manifest these negative stimuli into an underlying condition like acral lick granuloma.
Diagnosing Acral Lick Granuloma
If you observe an irritated spot on your dog (also known as a “hot spot”), particularly on their extremities, then you should take them to your veterinarian in order to make a proper diagnosis. Because acral lick granuloma is a dermatological condition, its symptoms may mirror other skin-related disorders.
Ultimately, your veterinarian will take the following factors into account when determining if your dog suffers from acral lick granuloma:
- Daily activities
- Other dermatological conditions
In order to be entirely certain that your dog is not suffering from a similar condition, your veterinarian will probably order a skin biopsy. This specimen of the skin will then be sent to a laboratory for analysis in order to determine precisely what kind of bacteria has colonized the wound. With this information, they will be able to determine the proper treatment regimen.
There are also a number of breeds that are more susceptible to developing acral lick granuloma, including:
- German Shepherds
- Golden Retrievers
- Irish Setters
- Great Danes
- Labrador Retrievers
- Doberman Pinschers
However, no breed of dog is entirely immune from developing the condition. This is especially true if they have underlying medical issues, such as allergies, dermatitis, or anxious temperament.
How to Treat Dog Lick Granuloma
Acral lick granuloma can be a very frustrating condition to treat. However, there are a number of conventional treatments that can be effective. The most common of these is a drug named Apoquel (oclacitinib) that was specifically designed to treat canine dermatitis and pruritis in dogs.
Unfortunately, there are a number of alarming side effects that may develop, including:
- Loss of appetite
- Fatigue/loss of energy/lethargy
- The development of “cutaneous” (on the skin) or “subcutaneous” (under the skin) lumps
- A decrease in leukocytes (white blood cells)
- A decrease in globulins (a blood protein)
- An increase in cholesterol and/or lipase
The last three side effects listed above can be quite detrimental to your dog’s health. For example, a decrease in white blood cells means that your dog’s immune system will have fewer resources with which to fight off infections and/or pathogens.
Furthermore, globulin is a vital protein in mammalian blood (it makes up approximately 38% of the proteins in the blood). It has several crucial functions, including transporting hormones and lipids (fat cells) throughout your dog’s body. This decrease in globulin can result in a disruption to your dog’s immune system, as well as a decrease in their ability to produce energy via their metabolism (because of the drop in lipid levels).
Finally, an increase in cholesterol and/or lipase is also potentially serious. Much like humans, unhealthy cholesterol levels in a dog can result in cardiovascular disease or dysfunction. Lipase is a protein that is produced by the pancreas in mammals and it helps your dog digest fats. Levels of lipase that are too high in the mammalian body frequently indicate that there is inflammation in the pancreas (indicating pancreatitis or another kind of disease in the pancreas).
There are several other conventional treatments that are available, including:
These can be both in pill form or topically. These are bacteria fighting agents veterinarians prescribe to fight off the infection.
These can be oral, topical, or injectable
Other topical treatments
It is possible to use a spray that has a bitter taste to deter licking or a cream that is local anesthetic and numbs the problematic area
Short-term physical deterrents
These include bandages and/or “Elizabethan collars” (more famously known as a “collar of shame” or “cone”). They prevent your dog from being able to lick the area in question
Your veterinarian may perform an operation to remove the infection and seal off the nerve endings
This is the most effective means of treatment as it is the only one that addresses the underlying causes of the disease.
Ultimately, choosing a treatment will depend on the severity of your dog’s condition. However, cannabidiol (CBD) may be a nice addition to your dog’s diet.
What is CBD?
CBD is short for cannabidiol. It an extract of cannabis and belongs to the group of compounds known as cannabinoids. All mammals produce these cannabinoids (known as endocannabinoids when they are produced in the body and phytocannabinoids when they come from a plant).
CBD interacts with the endocannabinoid system (ECS). The ECS is a control and regulatory system that is responsible for the healthy function of a number of processes in the mammalian body, including:
- Immune function
- Sleep cycles
- Pain modulation
- Healthy urinary and reproductive tract function
- Mood and emotional states
As you can see, the ECS plays a vital role in the mammalian body. When the ECS is functioning at an optimal level, a state of balance and overall health known as homeostasis is achieved. This is just a fancy way of saying that everything is working well and nothing is out of whack. ECS and homeostasis are present across all mammalian species, including dogs and humans.
Can CBD Help Treat Lick Granuloma in Dogs?
In short CBD is not yet approved or meant to prevent, treat, or cure any disease or ailment.
It interacts with the ECS, which has several roles in the body. These include: regulating your dog’s immune system, calming them down, and promoting homeostasis (overall health and wellness).
In fact, the ECS is a system that controls several functions related to acral lick granuloma including:
This is one of ECS’s most important roles in the body.
These are conditions in which your dog’s immune system attacks its own cells and results in diseases like arthritis.
The ECS governs pain responses and modulation throughout the mammalian body, including the pain associated with acral lick granuloma.
Treating agitation and promoting a calm state
The ECS may play a role in controlling negative emotional states.
Overall, if you choose to use CBD, it should be used on a daily basis. Consider using behavioral modification to treat the root causes for the acral lick granuloma. These behavioral modifications usually include:
- Spending more time walking and/or playing with your dog
- Increasing stimulation through exercise, toys, or giving them a job and/or task
- Avoiding long-term confinement in crates and/or kennels
- Getting a second dog or animal in order to provide companionship and decrease feelings of anxiety
You may choose to use CBD in conjunction with these behavioral modifications. There are even CBD dog treats that are available; this makes them particularly useful in training and reinforcing positive behavior in your dog.
Is CBD Safe for Dogs?
CBD is generally considered to be safe. It is generally very difficult to overdose on; if you give your dog too much, they will simply get tired and sleep off the dose. In fact, CBD in higher doses may help induce sleep and can be used for long car trips or for dogs that may have too much hyperactive and/or destructive energy.
Furthermore, it is not psychoactive. This makes it distinct from tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is the most widely known cannabinoid and is the active ingredient in marijuana. In other words, CBD will not cause a “high” in your dog. Unlike humans, who frequently enjoy the psychoactive effects of cannabis, dogs can become confused and/or agitated when intoxicated. CBD does not contain THC and will not cause confusion within your pet.