Legs, Hips and Paws

If your pet just won't quit licking his feet, or his feet are getting sore and tender, you are going to need some help from your veterinarian.

After examining the paws, your vet will probably test for fungus, bacteria, or parasites, all of which can cause feet licking. If your pet is infected or infested, your vet will probably prescribe antibiotics or other medications, which should clear up the problem.

When there doesn't appear to be an infection, your vet may take a tiny sample of skin to test for more serious problems, such as tumors or problems with the immune system.

Since allergies are so common and so difficult to identify, your vet may recommend that you see a veterinary dermatologist for specialized testing. In addition, she may prescribe medications such as steroids, which quickly relieve irritation and break the "lick cycle." These drugs have the added benefit of putting the brakes on the immune system, which produces the allergy symptoms. Finally, pets with severe allergies may undergo a series of shots to help desensitize them to whatever they are allergic to.

In some cases, your vet won't be able to find anything physically wrong. It may be, says Dr. Melman, that your pet simply is obsessing about his feet and won't leave them alone. When that's the case, your vet may give mood-changing drugs such as fluoxetine (Prozac), which can be very helpful for keeping his mind (and mouth) off his feet.

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Copyright 1999 Rodale Press, Inc. All rights reserved.

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