A reader who has an elderly Labrador asks Dr Platzhund if it suffers from severe anxiety.
Q: After returning from a month-long holiday, my elderly Labrador started constantly gnawing his left wrist area. He licks off any creams we try to apply. What can we do to help our dog?
A: His condition is an expression of severe anxiety. An introverted animal will display this type of behaviour, as they have no coping skills to deal with changes in their lives – such as their owner going away on holiday. Your holiday may have induced separation anxiety. Even though others may have been in the house, the pack system changed. A dog that has Acral Lick Dermatitis syndrome is very dependent on his owner and is possibly overindulged. Being elderly, the start and unavoidability of arthritis can cause sufficient stress to behave in this way. One of the ways in which a dog can get relief is by licking excessively as a physiological release of endorphins in the brain, which can numb the dog from its angst. Any change in routine in the dog’s life can trigger the licking. There may be other factors besides your lengthy absence, like visitors to the house, furniture being moved around, change in feeding pattern and change of staff. Reintroducing a routine may reverse the skin lesions. If the licking has developed into an obsessive compulsive disorder, then veterinary psychiatric intervention is necessary with the prescription of antidepressant drugs.