Skin is tough and durable, but it isn't damage-proof. Almost any minor injury -- from cuts and scrapes to scratching too hard at a flea bite -- can cause a sore. Sores look ugly and are often painful, but they usually heal within in a few days. A sore that doesn't heal means that something more serious is going on.
A particularly troublesome type of sore is called a lick granuloma. Most common in middle-aged or older large-breed dogs like Labrador retrievers, lick granulomas occur when a dog constantly licks the same spot -- usually on the paws, wrists, or ankles, says James Jeffers, V.M.D., a veterinary dermatologist in private practice Gaithersburg, Maryland. The constant moisture and friction can cause a deep, painful sore. And the more the sore hurts, the more the dog licks. It can take months for lick granulomas to finally heal. Even then, the fur doesn't always grow back, he says.
Vets aren't sure what causes dogs to become obsessed with licking. Boredom and anxiety may play a role. Dogs will also lick to relieve long-term discomfort such as that caused by allergies or arthritis, says Dr. Jeffers. Even when the pain is gone, they may keep licking out of habit, he adds.
Skin infections can also cause sores, especially in dogs, says Donna Angarano, D.V.M., professor of small animal surgery and medicine at Auburn University College of Veterinary Medicine in Auburn, Alabama. "Dogs have trouble keeping normal skin bacteria under control," she explains. Pets with weakened immune systems will often develop sores because normal bacteria populations on the skin are able to reproduce out of control, she adds.
Sores can also be caused by ringworm (a fungal infection), skin mites, allergies, or hormonal problems like low thyroid levels. Sores that won't heal are particularly worrisome because they may be a sign of cancer. Cancerous sores often appear on the face or ears -- areas that get the most sun -- and are common in white cats.
See Your Vet If...
- Your dog is constantly licking his paws or flanks
- He has sores on the tips of the ears or other lightly furred areas
- Your pet is shedding or scratching more than usual
- He has scales, bald patches, or a rash
- He has severe dandruff or dry skin
- His fur is greasy or smelly even after baths
- Your pet has broken out in hives and is having trouble breathing
- He has a bad sunburn
- There has been a significant change in skin color, or the skin seems loose
- There is a lump or swelling beneath his skin
- Your pet has a sore on the skin that won't heal
- The skin of the lips, abdomen, or rectal area is yellow
- There are red or purple dots or splotches on his skin
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