Conrad: Licking and Swallowing Fits

 Posted by on 24 December 2009 at 7:00 pm  Animals, Personal, The Beasts
Dec 242009

Since we adopted our dog Conrad last spring, he has suffered from a strange kind of fit that we’re pretty desperate to see somehow resolved. The set of symptoms are very distinctive: he’ll compulsively lick and rapidly swallow, and sometimes give a sharp cough. If the fit is particularly bad, he’ll attempt to eat anything in sight — grass or snow if he’s outside, but otherwise clothing, dog toys, carpet, his dog bed, etc. (That seems to be a desperate attempt to settle his stomach.) Basically, the symptoms develop based on the severity of the fit: the core symptom is the rapid swallowing — and to that might be added licking, then the cough, and then, only in the worst cases, eating anything and everything in sight. The more severe the fit, the more upset and agitated Conrad becomes. A fit might last five minutes — or two hours. They come in waves. So he’ll be fine for a few weeks, then he’ll suddenly have many of them each day for a few days.

We have not been able to discern any kind of pattern to them, nor any kind of cause. Nothing seems to ease his symptoms at the time. As for prevention, we’ve varied his food in all kinds of ways, to no effect. My vet recommended putting him on a daily dose of pepcid, but that didn’t work. I’ve even tried Dr. Eades’ Protexid, but that hasn’t worked.

Conrad isn’t unique in these fits. On rare occasion, they’re referred to in forums as “the gulps” or “licky fits.” They seem common to certain breeds, albeit not German Shepherds. Apparently, the fits don’t lead to bloat, and they aren’t due to any anatomical abnormality. However, they’re said to be a mystery. I’ve not seen any definitive account of their cause, nor of treatment.

Conrad has been fine for the last few weeks, but then in the wee hours of the morning, he developed a severe bout. It has recurred many times today. He’s pretty unhappy — and I’m miserable that I can’t help him. (I also have to watch him like a hawk, lest he eat something he shouldn’t. Worst case, I can put him in his crate without any bedding, as they he can only lick the plastic tray. I hate to do that unless absolutely necessary, however.)

Tonight, I finally captured a portion of a bad fit on video, using my iPhone. Here it is.

Do any of you have any experience with these fits? If so, do you know what the cause might be — or how to treat it? If so, please comment! Or e-mail me at [email protected].

Notably, my vet has never seen or heard of these kinds of fits in any dog. She’s never seen Conrad with them either; I’ve only just described them to her. Given their transient nature, I think that trying to get the dog to the vet during a fit would be difficult, if not impossible. Also, I imagine that the anxiety of being at the vet would suppress all but the worst fit. (Oh, and I’m pretty grossed out by the thought of poor Conrad compulsively licking the floor of an examination room, even if just cleaned.) Now that I’ve got a video of a fit, I could show that to her. And I could take it to one of the specialists at VRCC.

In the meantime, if you have any familiarity with these kinds of fits, Conrad and I would welcome any information or advice.

Update: From what I’ve read, these fits don’t seem to be dangerous in and of themselves. However, I worry about him eating something harmful, as he has shown himself perfectly willing to eat quite a bit of fabric, not to mention foam stuffing from his dog bed, when desperate. For example, last night, he managed to chew off the end of my brand-new coveralls in less than five minutes:

I had to buy those new coveralls because he ate about 1/3 of each leg from my last pair in a prior fit. So I’m deeply worried that Conrad will cause himself serious harm in one of these fits by eating something he ought not.

That exerts a toll on me: whenever he shows any signs of compulsive swallowing, I have to watch him like a hawk. That’s a huge drain on my attention and energy. For example, he kept me mostly awake with a fit from 2:00 am to about 3:40 am last night. He was safe in his crate, but I hated to hear him so obviously miserable.

That’s why I’m quite desperate for some kind of solution.

  • Ryan

    My golden retriever has this same exact syndrome. The first time this happened she ate toys, stuffing, socks, and plastic off the floor and got quite sick. Now, as soon as she starts with the swallowing I go through the entire house and pick up anything off the floor that she could swallow. The best treatment I have found is giving her extra love and distractions, taking her for walks, etc. but this only calms her emotionally. Only time resolves these episodes. A shame the veterinary community hasn’t identified this cause / treatment.

  • Steve

    Dear Dianne;

    Our vet said the problem was trachyitis and gave us antibiotics on two different occasions. Neither did anything. This evening we had our worst episode. My wife found some information on the problem. They said it was gas caught in the stomach or intestines and to give them chewable gas-x and or a saltine cracker. Also to burp them. We did this for the first time tonight. So far it seems to have solved the problem.

  • Sasha Carranza-Valiente

    Omg i can’t believe this!!!! U just described my dogs condition!!! I have videos and just compared it to yours and its basically the same thing!!! My dog has been doing this for over 7 months know and I’m desperate because I’ve taken him to 5 vets and non of them can give me an answer!!! I’m about to have a baby and I’m hopping I get an answer soon so he can get well! But I’m still in shock with ur description because I’m telling u it’s the same thing!! HELP!!!

    • Diana Hsieh

      @sashacarranzavaliente:disqus — Send me an email to [email protected] and I’ll send you some more information.

  • Sasha Carranza-Valiente

    Laura my dog is experiencing this exact symptoms! Even what u said about when he drinks and eats!

  • Kirsty

    I notice it is several years since this blog was first posted but wanted to say thank you for posting it! This describes our tibetan terrrier’s problem exactly! He is 3 years old & has had these licky fits for as long as I can remember! They more than always happen during the night where he’ll lick himself then over swallow & become extremely distressed, frantically running to the back door hitting it until I let him out then he will frantically eat grass this old happen up to 9 times during the night he will eventually settle after his morning walk he always comes back from it as if nothing has been wrong (apart from tiredness from no sleep). We have had him at the vet so many times he’s had anti biotics, anti sickness tablets a sole investigation to no avail the vet is baffled even showed her a video if him when he has a licky fit. Last time we were there a month ago she prescribed Zitac half a tablet 3 times a day it has partially helped I think in that I wonder if it has helped with gas or pain as he is not as distressed now but it has not reduced the frequency of their occurrence – 7 times in the last couple of months. What we have started to realise is that if Mac doesn’t eat enough it seems to bring one on. When he is having one we have found not allowing him to eat grass has helped immensely instead of that feeding him some of his dog food this doesn’t stop it but seems to reduce his distress allowing him to eat the grass seemed to be making Mac more distressed.. He sleeps in our room at night when he has a licky fit now he is calm enough to stay in the room which is a huge improvement. I would be so interested to hear of any other useful remedies others have found. It’s so heartbreaking to see him so upset & distressed. For the last three years we’ve been at a loss as to what was wrong but thanks to this blog we can finally relate to something.

    • Diana Hsieh

      Hi Kirsty — If you email me at [email protected], I’ll send you a JAVMA article on the condition…

  • Michael Lemus

    Any more info on this condition such as an actual name for the illness? My dog beagle/lab mix had this issue tonight. First time ever at 10 pm so its been an odd night to say the least. Hes had a bunch of grass and water and has calmed down so far. Not sure if its a blockage or if he needs Pepsid but it would be nice to have a little more info to plan ahead if this is something thats going to happen more often.

    • Diana Hsieh

      @michaellemus:disqus — Email me at [email protected] for more information. It’s not a blockage: it looks to be a kind of seizure.

      • Lori

        I am so glad I found your site tonight, I am so shocked to hear about this condition. My beagle Daisy who is just over a year old started doing this about an hour ago. She was going around the house licking the floor like she was a vacuum cleaner. We have another dog and two cats so as you can imagine any bit of animal hair or dust particles that have collected since I vacuumed earlier she has managed to lick up. She is after throwing up three times since she started with this licking episode. We put her in her kennel with a bowl of fresh water and she finally drank some, this has seemed to help stop the licking, but I’m not so sure if it’s because of the water she drank or because she has been barking since we put her in there. She is somewhat spoiled and seems to think being in her kennel is an atrocious act bestowed upon her. I have since let her out and have given her a dog bone to chew on and she hasn’t been licking the floor but is continuing to lick her lips more than usual. Since your last post have you found anything on this condition that I might try if this happens again? It had me stressed out because of how frantic she was going about licking. I was so relieved to see that this wasn’t a life threatening condition. Any information you may be able to give me would be greatly appreciated. Thank-you!

    • Michael Lemus

      Got a notification about new comments.

      Just wanted to post an update to my comment that a Vet identified the problem as acid reflux. We told him about our dogs licking fits and he was like year my dog does that as well, its from acid reflux. His recommendation was to give him a slice of bread to absorb any acid and then wait and see if it goes away. If it doesn’t to give him 10mg of famotidine. The bread usually works for us though.

      Hope this helps someone, we’re just glad it was nothing more serious.

  • Billy Duangnapa

    If all tests are passed and clear, the licking and swallowing can be for a variety of reasons; my golden does this before he sleeps, after he eats, when he wakes up, usually 3-4 swallows. Dogs do this to for some or all of the following 1.) calm down for sleep 2.) relieve nausea 3.)relieve stomach upsets/acid 4.)dry throat 5.) anxiety 6.)serious ailment or blockage. If its not a serious physical ailment then dogs are similar to humans once they pick up a habit that they can use to help cope with life they will continue it.

    If they problem is from stomach acid and is diet related then try boiled rice, potatoes, with shredded chicken breast. Yams, celery, carrots, bananas and oatmeal seem to help too.

    If the problem is psychological, meaning for example, my dog got carsick and threw up, and then within a couple of weeks was attacked by 2 dogs and had someone in the family get hospitalized as well. This left him with extremely high anxiety on what was going on. So perhaps, this type of licking, swallowing is way for him to cope. But taking him for long walks throughout the day has made the situation better; introducing him to new scents. Next, he is a retriever, so taking him to play fetch at the beach reminded him of who he is and it seems to have calmed his night issues as I have a feeling he is waking up with nightmares and does a lot of this gulping.

    In short, physical activity is extremely important, they need to be active for hours throughout the day as opposed to traditionally just being in the house; this will make them stronger and settle their issues! If you need to hire a dog walker to help, you need to do it for the pooch! Good luck!

  • Addie Mcgee

    My dog does the same exact thing…she is a 3yo golden retriever mix and started doing this when she was about 1…she has never been too food motivated sometimes she will go a whole day wo eating when she is stressed and Ive worried about that having something to do with it…it was never really bad but today she had a pretty bad episode…its like she tries to swallow and licks her lips like crazy and she whines…it only lasts a couple minutes and it helps when she calms down as I have noticed sometimes it happens when she is excited…please send me some info if you know what it is…[email protected]

  • cc

    Interesting information. I have a 7 year old male great dane who has now had 2 episodes- one this evening, the other also in the evening. I like the suggestion of slippery elm will try it. Usually all summer when he has an upset stomach he will eat the leaves of the echinacea plant. Thank you!!

  • jason_kamm

    Our dog Hines struggled with this for over a year. We FINALLY figured out that he was actually having complex partial seizures. Since he has been taking anti-seizure meds, the episodes have all but stopped. I wrote a blog about our experience, including a video example of his gulping issues:

    The medicine that did it for us: Zonisamide. He takes it twice a day, and his episodes have diminished from recurring every two weeks, to recurring only twice per year.

  • Sarah

    Laura, have you found an answer?

  • Golden Retriver Brooke Star

    My dog did it last night about 11:30pm. We currently have her at the vet and nothing has been done to fix this problem. It is now 10″55am and she is still doing it. It has me so scared that I have been throwing up worrying about her and my wife to the point that she almost cannot function. Anyone with any help???

  • bujuyuguu

    i am in the exact same situation! My pitbull does exactly what you are describing. the fits come randomly and he will lick everything and eat anything in sight, including the rug! He also does this gulping behavior,with the coughs. the coughs sound like he is trying to cough something up. he will also occasionally vomit. We have tried everything! Canned pumpkin, white bread, homeopathic calcium carbonate, and also a GI remedy from Berte’s Naturals. We know it isn’t related to his food, because he eats a raw diet. If any remedy is found please let me know! It is so hard to watch him in distress.

  • Ashley


    I have a pit-lab mix named daisy, four days ago she had her first “fit”; needless to say I’m freaking out. We have a large property in Southern California so Im not sure if it was a scorpion, tranchula, or snake. (Though I haven’t found any puncture marks) after throwing up her water, her dinner(with small amount of grass with a couple foxtails) I took her to the vet for an emergency visit at 1am. There the vet have us 2 options 1) emergency visit 90.00 Fluids SQ 50.97 Dexamethasone na phos 4mg 48.73 Diphenhydramine 50mg injection 48.73 Maropitant injection 3 66.09 Rtg with rx and di 0.00 Totaling 304.52

    2) all the above plus X ray 2 sites. 199.78 Full blood tox panels 307.95 Totaling 812.25

    We dont have that kind of money right now that’s something we would need to save for, so we chose the first option which the vet recommended. She seemed good when we left the vet at 2:30am. We took shifts to make sure she was okay through the night. Around 4am she Began having the same “swallowing fits” “choking issues” then she started yelping and crying. It was torture to watch. The only thing I could do was what my mom did for me- sing hush little baby and stroking her head above her eyes she calmed down and fell asleep on my lap.

    The next morning she was good didn’t have any issues so we were confused on what to do for her. Two days went by with everything okay- though you could tell she isn’t herself- not happy to us when we get home from work which is VERY STRANGE for her, acting lethargic,sad, and uncomfortable.

    Tonight she ate an old Halloween costume got about 3/4 way up the sleve and my bf ran over and made her spit it out(with a little help from him) It almost seems like she has something in her throat and she’s trying to clear it out, eating random things to try to get.

    She has an appointment in the morning with her normal vet and I don’t know what to tell them. I’ve seen all your posts but I don’t see anything on here that says how you handled Conrad.

    I’m terrified for her she is my baby and I just want her to be all better. She keeps looking up at us with those big brown eyes SCREAMING help me!

    Someone please help us.

  • Brittany

    We have the same issue with our little jack chi! It’s so random and so scary. I have found that giving her a Benadryl helps TREMENDOUSLY. Our vet also says she has never seen or heard of such a thing.

  • Dilani

    Hi I wanted to tell you about something we found to work with Tara (my dog) Like i told you she has the same licking and eating as your dog had and makes the same noises at one time a week ago she ate the plaster of the wall it got so bad..

    We went back to the vet and she asked us to try Zitac 200mg

    And it has been working for us she has this problem mostly at night but when she starts I give her this tablet with some peanut butter and within half hour she lies down and goes to sleep we used this for about a year now and no problems for us anymor i Hope it can help other ppl aswell

    Im dutch so im sorry about the spelling

    Gr Dilani

    • Janet McPeak

      My Labrador mix has fits as well licking the floor compulsively. The first times he did this I did n’t crate him and Ithink he licked so many fibers from the carpet he vomited about 10 times. Then in following episodes I crated him so he couldn’t ingest anything and the fit continued, however he did not vomit. In the crate, however, he became very angry and barked incessantly for the length of the seizure, which was about 2 hours. At one point I approached the crate and his eyes looked very strange and he growled at me. When the seizure finally subsided, he laid down and was quiet, and his eyes and expression looked calm again. I then took him out to relieve himself on his leash so that he wouldn’t eat anything outside, and when I brought him in I fed him a small meal to raise his blood sugar. I have read that after epileptic events one should give a ocuple of teaspoons of Hagen Daz vanilla ice cream to raise the blood sugar (Hagen Daz is all natural). The fat and the protein both help to do this. My vets have not been helpful in diagnosing this, but I believe this is a complex partial seizure. My dog is now on phgenolbarbitol, yet has not been on it long enough yet for it to be up to levels in his body to stop seizures. I will post again in a few weeks after I know if the phgenolbarbitol is helping or not. The 2 hrs that his fits last are horrific. Between the licking, barking and banging around in the crate it sounds like I have a Tansmanian Devil inside there. I think he needs to pace to help him, but because he has shown aggression I am afraid to not crate him. I’m orde ing a 54″ crate to give him more room to move around during the seizure. He has also had 2 grand mal seizures that lasted only a couple of minutes each separate from these licking bouts.

      • Janet McPeak

        PS I have tried walking him during the seizure. This seems to help, however as soon as I quit and put him in his crate, the licking began again. I think I would need to walk him for 2 hrs straight because that is how long the seizures last. Because the seizures almost always happen around 8 pm, and it’s dark out, I have not done this. If anyone would like to share with me via email, my email is [email protected]

        • Janet McPeak

          PPS – distracting him by walking or working around his crate area seems to quiet him, although if I just sit next to the crate it does not. His mind seems to need to fixate on something that is happening.

  • Jennifer

    I’m so happy I found this post, it just makes me feel better to know other dogs suffer from this and they are ok, except of course if they ingest something dangerous. My dog just had her second fit in 2 days with a night at the vet. An xray showed very dilated intestines that were normal by morning. She just had another “fit.” I am going to try some of the things suggested here, my vet was really no help. If anyone happens to read this, I would love an update on your dog.

  • Samantha

    Probiotics, digestive enzymes, getting off of kibble especially and onto a holistic diet can make a world of a difference! Just make sure the air gulping and excessive licking aren’t “complex partial seizures”. Dogs get misdiagnosed often.

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