with Heike Hahner
Over the last 4 years I have been hosting Pet Tales on Canberra Radio 2CC on some Sunday mornings filling in for the vet. Over the years I have had the opportunity to discuss an eclectic mixture of issues with our listeners. Some of the more frequently discussed issues would be barking, jumping up, destroying things and over-grooming in pets.
Over-grooming means that the pet licks or chews a body part, and sometimes objects, obsessively. In the case of body parts they may groom a leg or a flank until they have removed all the hair and are drawing blood.
Over-grooming issues can be tricky to deal with as there can be a number of causes for the problem. Here are some suggestions on how to possibly address the issue.
-How long has the behaviour been going for? Is it seasonal, all year round or appears at random?
-Have you changed their diet?
-Have you used any chemicals, such as house cleaners, weed sprays, insect repellents or insecticides in or near their resting or playing areas?
– Has your dog been exposed to fleas, ants or other biting insects?
– Do you have any plants in your garden, grasses, etc. that may cause an allergic reaction in your pet?
-What breed is your dog or cat? Some breeds are more prone to this behaviour than others.
At this time of year we would always suggest to check the pet for external parasites. Ticks, fleas and mites all cause skin irritations and may result in the pet chewing furiously. Checking for the little blood suckers and getting rid of these is a priority.
Diet is the next thing to address. It is not uncommon that dogs may be allergic to wheat or corn- based diets, additives like food colours or preservatives. You can find dog foods without these things.
Once their diet is changed there may be a quick improvement of the skin condition. Should you suspect that your dog was exposed to garden or household chemicals please see your vet immediately.
Once all the physical causes for skin allergies and itchiness have been eliminated, you may need to look at psychological reasons for over-grooming.
Over-grooming is a common behaviour trait in some breeds of dogs and cats. Many of the long- haired breeds may be very prone to skin allergies as their coat collect dust, dirt, grass seeds and other irritants. Once they start the grooming it may become a habit for them to keep chewing even though all the irritants have been removed.
Some dogs keep on over-grooming as the owner pays attention to the behaviour by saying “Don’t do that”. So ignoring the dog’s licking may actually help the dog to stop engaging in the behaviour. Distracting the dog with activities, such as toys and chewy treats may also help.
And finally there is the boredom factor. Some dogs may become obsessed with self-grooming as they are actually lonely and lacking stimulation in their lives. Providing them with more entertainment, such as walks, toys, staying with a neighbour or a family friend and regular outings may see an easing in the behaviour.
Image: wiki commons