It’s natural for your dog to groom himself, but over-grooming can signify an underlying problem, and once you realise there’s an issue it might already be so deep-rooted that it can be hard to deal with. So when does over-grooming become a cause for concern?
The Signs of Over-grooming
If you notice your dog grooming to the point of obsession, or concentrating on one particular spot on his body, it’s likely that you have an over-grooming situation on your hands.
Over-grooming will often cause hair loss at the site of the grooming, and red, irritated and inflamed skin underneath. In fact, the over-grooming itself can cause skin irritation which then leads to even more grooming in an attempt to soothe the area, and your poor dog is stuck in a vicious circle.
Why does my Dog Over-groom?
The first thing you need to do is pay a visit to the vet’s, so you can rule out any health issues such as parasites or allergies that might be causing this behaviour.
Once you’re satisfied that your dog is fine health-wise, it’s time to consider some of the other common causes of over-grooming in dogs.
Stress: Over-grooming is often a symptom of stress in animals, so it’s important to try to rule that out as the cause. Grooming is a way of your dog self-soothing, but it can easily become a habit that he can’t break out of. Consider whether he’s exhibiting any other signs of stress and anxiety, such as inappropriate elimination, destructive behaviour or aggression, and see if you can pinpoint the cause of his stress. For example, have you had any recent changes to your household or lifestyle recently? Could he be suffering from separation anxiety from being left alone? Once you’ve discovered the cause of his stress you can work towards alleviating it for him.
Boredom: All dogs need plenty of physical activity and mental stimulation, some even more than others. Depending on your dog’s breed, he might have an innate need for a certain type of activity (for example, Beagles benefit from scent-hunting games), so you need to make sure that you fulfil this. If your dog is bored, he can turn to over-grooming to counter his boredom.
Poor grooming: If your dog isn’t groomed often or well enough, especially the long haired breeds, it can cause him to start over-grooming. If his fur becomes matted or tangled, the skin underneath can become irritated by moisture and bacteria that gets trapped on the skin’s surface, so he might start over-grooming that area to try to get some relief.
How to Treat Over-grooming in Dogs
If your vet has diagnosed a health issue, your dog may need to take medication and/or wear a cone for a short period of time while any irritated areas heal.
If the issue isn’t related to an illness or allergy, you need to modify your dog’s behaviour to break the cycle of over-grooming. The best way to do this is by making sure that he has plenty of exercise and mental enrichment, as well as using redirection to distract him when you see him start to over-groom.