Calming Compulsive Licking Behavior

Few sounds drive pet parents up the wall more than a pet who won’t stop licking their paws, legs, bellies, furniture, or the floor all day long. Excessive licking can cause sleep disruption (for pets and their families!), damage to the fur and skin, and infections. The good news is that this behavior can usually be stopped if we can determine the underlying cause. Causes for licking include itchiness (usually secondary to parasites, food allergies, or atopic dermatitis), pain, gastrointestinal diseases, and anxiety.

Itchiness is the most common cause for excessive licking, particularly licking of the paws and belly. Pets with fleas will often chew at the base of their tail, and may have obvious signs like visible fleas or flea dirt (brown debris on their skin). Pets with food allergies often have itchy paws, recurrent skin and/or ear infections, and sometimes chronic vomiting and diarrhea. Atopic dermatitis can cause itchy skin during certain seasons if pets are allergic to pollen, or can be year-round if pets are allergic to indoor allergens like dust mites or molds. Some endocrine diseases like Cushings disease and thyroid disease can make skin prone to infections, which leads to excessive itchiness.

Pain can also lead to licking at specific spots on the body as pets try to soothe achy spots or worry at wounds. Arthritic joints, painful lumps or cysts, abscesses, and bladder pain are all examples of reasons why a pet might lick at a specific area. Your pet’s veterinarian will carefully examine any areas that a pet is licking for signs of pain.

Surprisingly, about a third of pets who lick compulsively have an underlying gastrointestinal disorder (especially if they also lick things in the environment such as their bedding or the floor). We aren’t sure why compulsive licking is linked to GI disease, but it may be a manifestation of nausea or a means of trying to soothe an upset tummy. While excessive licking might be the only symptom these pets have, often there will be other clues such as a picky appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, or weight loss.

Finally, some pets take up licking as a means of soothing anxiety. Repetitive licking can release endorphins or can be a “displacement behavior”- a behavior that provides an outlet for anxiety caused by stressors such as other pets in the home or a recent move. Cats are particularly prone to anxiety-induced overgrooming and may overgroom to the point of removing all the hair on their bellies or legs. Consider behavioral causes of excessive licking in pets after ruling out the medical causes listed above, especially if the behavior coincided with a stressful change in the pet’s environment.

If your pet is licking themselves constantly, know that there are likely things that your veterinarian can do to help stop that behavior! We would love to be able to make your pet more comfortable.

Black Fly Season Is Here!

Last week, we started receiving phone calls from owners concerned about discovering “bullseye” lesions on their dogs’ skin. Black flies have recently come out in force and their bites can look shocking when you find them on your dog. Black flies are tiny, gnat-like insects that love to bite dogs on their thinly-haired areas like their bellies. They are found in grassy areas and are particularly common near water like lakes and creeks. Black fly bites are dark red, round, and about the size of a penny when they first appear. Over the course of a day or two, they take on a “bullseye” appearance and spread out before gradually dissipating. The good news is that black fly bites are rarely bothersome to dogs and unlike ticks, black flies do not transmit any diseases. If your dog is itchy or if the lesions last more than three days, please contact your veterinarian for guidance, but otherwise you don’t have to provide any specific treatment.

Celebrating Milestones

Please join us in celebrating several of our doctors as they reach milestone anniversaries!

Dr. Patti Novak graduated from veterinary school 25 years ago, Dr. Jennifer Blair graduated 20 years ago, and Dr. Mike Petersen graduated 10 years ago. Everyone on our doctor team graduated from the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine. We are excited to welcome a sixth University of Minnesota graduate, Dr. Allison Gedsted, in June. Congratulations to our team of Gopher Vets for all of your achievements!

St. Francis Featured By the Minnesota Veterinary Medical Association

St. Francis was honored to be featured in the spring newsletter of the Minnesota Veterinary Medical Association (MVMA). The MVMA interviewed Dr. Jennifer Blair and Dr. Megan Schommer about what makes St. Francis stand out as a leading veterinary clinic in Minnesota. They highlighted our unique clinic culture, the recent addition of Drs. Jessica Lewis and Megan Schommer as co-owners of St. Francis, and the steps we have taken to keep staff and clients safe throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. We are grateful for our amazing clients whose support, dedication to the health of their pets, and well-timed deliveries of cookies also help make our culture what it is today. We know what a special place St. Francis is, and we are thrilled that the MVMA recognized it too! 

Upcoming Clinic Closures

Saturday, July 1st through Monday July 4th (4th of July Holiday)

Saturday, September 3rd through Monday, September 5th (Labor Day)