Licking can indicate obsessive-compulsive disorder


Dear Dr. Thompson: I have an 11-year-old-German Shorthair pointer who has two issues. First, she chews her front feet all the time. She also licks the carpet, floor, our clothing, her bed, and anything else she can lick. This can’t be good for her. What can I do to help her stop?

She may have two separate issues that exacerbate one another or one main problem with two manifestations.

Her licking of other objects is likely a symptom of an obsessive-compulsive disorder. Like humans with the disorder, she focuses on an object and the repetitive action of licking can’t be stopped. Many behaviors can be associated with OCD including barking, tail chasing, fence running, digging, and licking.

This behavior is often seen in dogs that come from stressful situations such as shelters or in high-energy breeds such as pointers. Some compulsions can have a trigger like an injury or skin allergies that induce the licking behavior.

Once started it is difficult to stop. That may be the situation for your dog. She also may have low-grade allergies, which typically result in front foot licking.

Treatment involves a few options. The first step would be to have her evaluated by your veterinarian to determine if any secondary infections have developed as a result of the foot licking, and address whether any underlying allergies need to be treated. Your veterinarian can discuss the obsessive-compulsive behavior as well.

A combination of behavior modification, environmental enrichment, and for more severe cases drug therapy can all be used to improve the behavior.

If a specific trigger such as separation anxiety can be identified, working to remove the stressful event will be the first step. Next begin redirecting her into more productive, rewarding activities when the licking begins. Food-filled toys, chews, and performing a certain trick or activity can redirect her away from the behavior.

Finally, giving her ample exercise and environmental enrichment will be vital parts of solving this issue. She is a high-energy breed that was designed to be running in a field all day after birds. A 10-minute walk may be good exercise for a toy poodle, but not for a larger, more active breed. A tired dog is generally a happy dog.

For more serious cases, your veterinarian may prescribe an anti-anxiety medication to help with behavior modification. I stress to people there are no magic pills for these problems and that medication is only to help make her more amenable to behavior modification.

These medications have side effects and regular monitoring may be needed. You describe a very frustrating problem that will only get better with help and positive reinforcement.

Questions for Dr. Gary Thompson can be emailed to or mailed to The Blade, Attn. Ask the Vet, 541 N. Superior St., Toledo, OH 43660. Dr. Thompson regrets that he cannot answer individual letters.