Diagnosing Acral Lick Granuloma

Acral lick granuloma, also known as acral lick dermatitis or ALD, is a skin condition affecting a relatively small percentage of dogs. The condition is particularly frustrating, as it consists of skin irritation and open sores that result from excessive licking. Dogs with ALD lick at their paws and other parts of their bodies until the skin becomes raw and irritated, even to the point where lesions and bleeding develop. Unfortunately, there are a wide variety of potential contributing causes of ALD, and diagnosis can be difficult.

Diagnostic Process

If your pet has ALD, you will notice him licking at his feet an excessive amount throughout the day. Initially, his licking will cause some mild hair loss. Once the skin is exposed, it may become dry and flaky, red and irritated and inflamed, and open sores may develop as well. Take your pet to the veterinarian for diagnosis as soon as you notice any of these symptoms on your pet's legs or elsewhere on his body.

Typically, ALD has at least one physiological cause. Your dog may be suffering from an infection of some kind, from an unrelated skin irritation, from cancer or an unusual growth somewhere on his legs or from another cause of discomfort. The first step toward diagnosing the cause of ALD is to figure out what prompted your dog's licking in the first place.


Fungal infections are the most common contributors to excessive licking that leads to ALD in dogs. Your veterinarian can determine whether a fungus or other infection is causing your dog's discomfort by taking a small sample of skin or a bacterial culture from your pet's wounds. By analyzing this tissue in the laboratory, your vet can determine whether your dog's skin is infected. Unfortunately, these tests can lead to false positives, as open sores and other irritated skin may become infected after your dog's ALD has developed. In either case, treating the infection can help to reduce your pet's pain and discomfort, which may help to stop his licking.


Parasites are another common cause of ALD. To determine whether your pet suffers from fleas, lice or other parasites, your veterinarian will make a close examination of his skin and may take a skin scraping for further analysis in the lab. He will also look to other parts of your pet's body for signs of parasitic infestation.


In some cases, unusual growths and cancers can contribute to discomfort of the feet, which may lead to your dog's licking. If your vet can detect the presence of a tumor or growth somewhere around the area affected by ALD, he may take a biopsy for analysis.

Psychological Concerns

Occasionally, ALD is brought about by dogs that are suffering from depression or anxiety of some kind. A psychological examination of your pet and his other behaviors can prove to be useful in determining the source of his ALD as well.

While acral lick granuloma may be easy to recognize, most veterinarians must utilize a combination of diagnostic methods in order to figure out why the condition developed in the first place.