FOR NO APPARENT reason, Tasha, a purebred Lhasa Apso, spent more than a year gnawing and licking at her back legs, keeping the area constantly raw and irritated. It may have been stress.
An otherwise healthy, happy 4-year-old, Tasha rules the roost in her Harford County home, which she shares with her owners, Cindy and John Smith, and their 7-year-old son, John Joseph Smith IV, who is better known as "L.J." The young family, who reside in Street, live with Mrs. Smith's mother, Betty Brown.
When she was about 2 years old, Tasha began to lick and gnaw at her back legs and ''at her backside near her tail,'' says Mrs. Smith. ''It wasn't fleas and her food is the best I can buy at the pet store. When she began the licking, I added a small spoon of oil in her food at the suggestion of my then-veterinarian. He may have felt dry skin was causing it and the added oil would help.
"I also began cooking chicken, rice and vegetables for her just in case she had an allergy to commercial dog foods," Mrs. Smith explains. "I used . . . ointments and creams . . . and I wiped the area with Avon's Skin-So-Soft and even Listerine, but nothing worked. About six months ago, after more than a year of this, she stopped, and now her hair in that area has grown back,'' says Mrs. Smith.
Asked for advice on this matter, veterinarian Tom Ryan at the Main Street Veterinary Hospital on Reisterstown Road discussed several reasons for the problem. ''A veterinarian should first rule out any pain that may be the cause," he says.
''However it is often a condition called acral lick, also called neurodermatitis, which is a stress-relief mechanism and is a vicious cycle. A dog will gnaw, primarily at a leg or ankle joint, causing callouses and hair loss, then skin erosion and nerve exposure," he says. "It is more prevalent in larger breeds such as the labs, goldens and Dobermans.
''Also," he adds, "it could be caused by pain in the spot, like arthritis. Or, the dog may be [remembering] a pain that may have been there at one time and he continues to keep the area irritated.
Dr. Ryan continued, ''Also, there is interdigital licking of all the toes, which is generally caused by an allergy,'' he says, noting that ''treatment varies with the condition.
''If it is arthritis, aspirin can be given. A collar may be used -- the large Elizabethan collar to prevent the dog from reaching the irritated spot -- or, if possible, the area can be bandaged. Anti-in
flammatory injections and antihistamines may help," he says. "Also, tranquilizers can be very effective. Most of the areas involved are not infected, just irritated,'' he explains, adding that ''ointments are useless as they are licked off as fast as they are applied.''
Mrs. Smith, who says she's ''a master worker in cleaning, sweeping, crafts and cooking,'' believes Tasha may have suffered from stress.
''After thinking about it a lot," she says, "I believe Tasha was affected by my father's death. Her problem began about the time he died,'' she says, adding that ''Tasha sleeps with us but most of the day she spent with my father and may have felt great stress at losing him.''
Betty Brown, Mrs. Smith's mother, is impressed with Tasha's intelligence and her unusual taste. ''She loves oranges," Mrs. Brown says. "When she gets a whiff of an orange being peeled, she comes running and will eat all of the peeled section we offer.''
Readers may have had similar problems with their dogs and may have some suggestions for correcting this licking and gnawing problem. If so, please write to: Ellen Hawks, Pausing With Pets, The Evening Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore 21278. Please, no calls.