Q&A: Why does my dog lick one spot enough to make it bald?

Q. Why does my dog lick one spot enough to make it bald?

A. There are many reasons that may cause a dog to lick a certain area more than normal. The constant licking can result in a sore which doesn’t heal – this is called an acral lick granuloma. It is very important for your dog to have a thorough check-up with your veterinarian and getting to a diagnosis may require some tests and procedures. Some of the conditions the vet will be testing to rule in or out could include skin problems (for example allergic dermatitis), painful conditions (such as joint pain) and behavioural problems (one possibility is anxiety). To assess the dog for a possible skin condition your vet will need to examine the dog all over, as the primary affected area may not in fact be where the dog is licking. Then the vet will decide whether to go ahead and do skin scrapes, hair plucks and so on. It is also usually necessary to take a skin biopsy of the affected area for histopathological assessment and a swab for culture to determine whether antibiotics are indicated and which type will be effective. Other tests may include blood tests to check hormone levels. Management of a skin condition will depend on many factors, such as the underlying cause (external parasites such as fleas or environmental allergens, for example), the severity of the condition and financial constraints. Treatment consists of a multi-modal approach and may include products such as prescription shampoos, topical creams, skin supplements, prescription diets and prescription oral medication. Management is often ongoing and should be adjusted regularly according to how well the patient is responding. Licking as a response to pain will require a thorough examination and possibly radiographs. Some conditions that cause pain could be a foreign body (such as a thorn) or arthritis. Effective pain management will depend on the origin of the pain and the severity of the pain but may include anti-inflammatories and a prescription diet. An acral lick granuloma can be a primary behaviour problem, but it is often triggered by a medical condition. The dog starts licking in response to the underlying medical condition, but then the licking becomes compulsive. Compulsive behaviours are difficult to treat. Environmental enrichment and a behaviour modification programme must be implemented as part of behaviour therapy. Most cases require behaviour modifying medicines, which may need to be given life-long. The underlying medical condition must also then be treated at the same time.

Dr Patricia Mills

Q. Which diseases can be transmitted to my pet via stagnant water?

Dogs and cats drink approximately 40-60mℓ of water per kilogram of body weight per day. That means a dog weighing 10kg will drink about half a litre of water per day. This can vary due to environmental factors and the amount of exercise the pet gets. When your dog or cat suddenly starts to drink much more than the average amount, you have to take your pet to the veterinarian. The veterinarian will need to rule out the most serious causes by testing your pet’s urine and blood. The most important and serious causes include diabetes mellitus, renal failure, liver failure and Cushing’s disease. Cushing’s disease is caused by an adrenal gland producing too much cortisol in an animal’s body. Clean water is of utmost importance and you need to change your dog’s water daily. Purification systems are not necessary, except if the tap water is not safe for human consumption. If the water is safe for you to drink, it will be safe for your pet to drink as well. Dirty water can cause pets to become very sick. The highest risk for pets to get sick from water is by drinking from stagnant water when you take them for walks.

The following diseases can be caused by drinking contaminated water:

  • Parvovirus can survive for an extended period of time in water that was contaminated by faeces of a dog carrying the virus. This causes a fatal disease (‘cat flu’), especially in puppies who have not been vaccinated. It is recognised by vomiting and bloody diarrhoea.
  • Leptospira is a type of bacteria which is shed in the urine of infected animals, and animals become infected by drinking contaminated water. These bacteria can damage your pet’s liver and kidneys. The signs that you might notice are fever, muscle weakness, vomiting, lethargy and abdominal pain.
  • Giardia is a protozoan that can live for a long time in stagnant water. It causes watery or bloody diarrhoea. This disease is highly contagious to humans as well.
  • Coccidia is a single-celled organism which is also transmitted through water that is contaminated by faeces. This causes watery, voluminous diarrhoea with or without blood.

Other bacteria or organisms found in contaminated water which can also cause gastrointestinal inflammation and infection are Campylobacter, Cryptosporidium, E. coli and Salmonella. Your pet can also get infected with worms by drinking from contaminated water

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