A common problem dog owners find themselves facing is when their beloved dog develops a habit of excessively licking a paw or leg, or sometimes even a body part to the point a sore develops. Often this is put down to anxiety, however it is frequently also triggered by a pain sensation which either becomes chronic. Because the action of licking tends to release endorphins which reduce pain or stress, the dog then continues the excessively frequent licking even when it is exacerbating damage to the area . This frequently feeds into a very difficult to resolve behavioural loop Similar to the way we humans rub a sore muscle or joint, our dogs are simply seeking to find the best way they can to manage the discomfort. So what can we do to try to break this pattern of licking?
Firstly, and particularly if open sores are present we will want the owner to be consulting a vet for investigation for assessment for underlying factors such as parasites, allergies and arthritic joints amongst other sources as well as for topical management strategies, whether that be antibiotics, antifungals, antihistamines etc to help settle the local tissue response. An Elizabethan collar may also be an appropriate strategy to help break the licking habit and protect the skin while the underlying problem is addressed. In unison with Veterinary assessment, Osteopathic assessment takes the approach of looking for restrictions within the neuromusculoskeletal structures of the body, particularly those related to the region which appear to be painful or irritated.
One of the most common sources of lick sores when no definitive underlying problem has been identified is referred pain or nerve pain from a more central restriction or dysfunction in the body. In such cases, we assess the tissues and joints from the spine, limb and associated areas which could be creating a change in the function of the nerves, blood vessels and pain sensitive structures all the way to the tip of the toes. If you’ve ever sat on your leg or slept on your arm and then moved to find your limb initially ‘dead’, closely followed by a strong pins and needles sensation or many other odd sensations associated with nerve and blood flow restriction, you’re sure to be able to picture the sensations your dog is trying to ease. The recent addition of Fascial Counterstrain techniques to my practice has added an extra layer of depth to the assessment and treatment of the very deep neurovascular structures which influence many of the recurrent and chronic pain sensations felt by both us and our animals. By finding these kinds of restrictions in the tissues it is often possible to relieve much irritation around these very senstive structures and eliminate or significantly reduce the symptoms.
Along with individual assessment, it’s much the same for our animals as it is for us, in that adopting a regular preventative movement practice can be extremely useful in unwinding and preventing daily aches and pains. Think of the positive effects of intentional gentle stretching or yoga, and you’ll have a sense of these benefits. If you have a dog who is showing significant discomfort in their limbs or body, especially if paired with uneven movement patterns a thorough consult is absolutely worthwhile, however there is plenty you can do at home to improve their comfort. I have compiled a comprehensive range of safe and effective stretches and exercises within my eBook – The Canine Athlete Warm-Up and Cool-down Manual. Within it you will find a generalised routine for you to start exploring better musculoskeletal health for almost any dog. Check it out HERE or get in touch if you’re uncertain whether this might be a useful way to get started unwinding your specific dog’s problems.