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I have a 9yo fixed F dog who compulsively licks her vulva when I'm out of her sight or away from home. It wouldn't be so bad but she leaves huge wet spots on the couch cushions or her blanket on the bed and that's disgusting to me, especially when I'm in the kitchen or something and hear her slurping away. I've taken her to the vet to ensure it's not a bladder infection or something and she's fine; I take her on walks to try and tire her out but she's full of energy again after a nap. The few times I need to leave, I put soothing NewAge type music on. I got a "cloud collar" donut ring to put around her neck so she can't reach her vulva. I even got a second dog so she'd have company but they haven't bonded in 5 years, they only coexist. I've scolded her repeatedly and she KNOWS she shouldn't be doing it bcuz when I come in the room and catch her at it, she freezes with her hind leg raised and a guilty expression. What can I do??

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Your dog is trapped in an itch-scratch cycle (here and here) which is notoriously difficult to break, and since she can't scratch there, she licks. In dermatology, this is called neurodermatitis. Often known to go on for years, relieving the itch is a very satisfying in the moment, but scratching (or in pets, licking) causes a resulting irritation in the skin, which causes itching, which leads to licking... and so the cycle reinforces itself.

A key to breaking this is finding the cause of the itch. You don't mention what has been tried after recommendation by the vet. I mention this because it's unlikely you'll be able to manage this without medication(s), even though the effort you've put into this is extraordinary (I commend you!)

Parasites such as fleas, ticks, and mites are among the most common causes of compulsive licking, itching or scratching behaviours. Just because you can’t see them, it doesn’t mean they aren’t there!

So those are easy. Your dog can be tested for parasites and a medicated shampoo for mites and superficial skin infections is easy enough do.

Other causes are boredom/anxiety, dry skin, hormonal imbalances and pain such as arthritis or hip dysplasia.

With arthritis and hip dysplasia, dogs will lick the painful areas (e.g. over affected joints), so that's not likely to be the source. You've done a lot to prevent boredom, so that's not likely either at this point. However, the cycle may have started during a time when she was bored and now needs a different intervention.

Diet can make a huge difference if food allergies are making your pet itch.

Commonly, allergies manifest in dogs licking their paws compulsively. An elimination diet will help, but that will not prevent the irritation already present in your dog's vulvar area.

It helps to remember that your dog can't help herself here; she can't stop, as much as she'd like to please you and help herself.

The take away here is you need to put an end to this with the help of a vet. There are medications, that along with creams can soothe the skin in her vulvar region, which will definitely help if you can prevent her licking. There are also medications, like gabapentin and others, which can tone down the urge to lick. A multisystemic approach is the one most likely to help, and both your (poor) beloved dog, and you, will benefit.

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  • Hi anon, I'm thinking if this is an irritant or allergies thing, she'd be doing this regardless of if I'm visible to her or not, or doing it at night; the vet would've seen if her vulva or surrounding area was inflamed. I sincerely appreciate your info but I really think this is a bizarre separation anxiety behavior rather than a medical issue; believe me, I exhausted all the avenues of fleas/ticks/parasites, indoor/outdoor environmental causes, allergies etc before posting this.. thank you though! ❤️
    – LadyHeyoka
    Commented Feb 11 at 20:35

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