Dogs obviously cannot verbalize how they are feeling to us beyond perhaps a bit of whining or barking, and that’s pretty non-specific and really difficult to interpret. If you have a dog that licks a lot, you might be left wondering why.
There are situations where/what your dog is licking can give you a clue that something localized and specific is bothering him. If he is licking between his toes, for instance, it would be logical to check that area to see if there is a burr, a splinter or a sore that he is worrying. If he is licking his tail, or the base of his rump, you might consider a flea problem or an anal gland irritation. In addition, sometimes your dog licks your face in greeting or licks your arms just because.
But, what does it mean if you don’t see any logical reason for your dog to be licking and/or he is persistently licking – either himself or inanimate objects floors, carpets, toys or seemingly nothing at all?
Here are some of the reasons for dog licking:
1. Something hurts
This is not always something obvious, like the burr between his toes. It can be because of inflammation or infection in the skin, arthritis pain in a joint, or even a tingling or numb sensation for a nerve problem.
If you think about it, when your stomach is upset you tend to get a bad taste in your mouth or you produce a bit of excess saliva that can make you swallow or lick your lips. The same is true for your dog, in which case any underlying disorder that produces nausea could cause your dog to lick a lot.
3. Hunger or dehydration
Being hungry or having a dry mouth could result in increased licking.
4. Dental disease, oral lesion or foreign object
Anything painful or abnormal in your dog’s mouth could make him lick.
Learn more about dental health here.
5. Neurologic problems
When dogs seizure, for instance, they don’t always have full-blown, whole body, grand mal seizures. Sometimes seizures can be very localized twitches. Luckily, we don’t see a lot of dogs with canine distemper virus infections anymore; but when dogs are infected, they can develop symptoms commonly (and aptly) called “chewing gum fits.”
6. Cognitive dysfunction
Older dogs that develop dementia can present for excessive licking.
7. Obsessive compulsive disorder
It is not uncommon for dogs to develop excessive licking (even to the point of producing physical trauma to their skin – i.e. lick granuloma lesions). This can occur for a myriad of psychological reasons:
How do you know what’s making your dog lick?
As you can imagine, this may not be an easy diagnosis. However, over time, a behavior that might have been transient could become habitual and thus much harder to stop. That means that you should attempt to determine the cause as soon as the problem becomes apparent.
Your veterinarian will want to get a very thorough history of the problem and may ask questions such as:
- When did it start?
- When does it happen?
- How long does it go on?
- Can you easily distract/stop the behavior?
- If you stop it, does he go right back to licking?
- Can you determine if the dog engages in the behavior when no one is there to see it by videotaping your dog when he is left alone?
You will also want to be sure to mention any other clinical or behavioral changes you have noticed in your dog, in case they are related – from personality or activity changes to changes in diet, appetite or water intake. Finally, be sure to think about whether anything has changed in your dog’s environment that might be upsetting for him.
- Did someone move away?
- Did someone move back?
- Is there construction going on next door?
Your veterinarian will then likely do a complete workup to rule out the physical/metabolic reasons for excessive licking. A complete physical examination and laboratory testing can rule out those causes that can be identified.
How do you stop the dog licking?
Obviously, if an underlying medical disorder is found, specific treatment will be geared to address that issue. If stress, boredom or something environmental is the presumed cause then your veterinarian will talk with you about ways to decrease your dog’s anxiety and/or to increase his comfort/happiness. Behavioral modification or the administration of mood enhancing medications may also be suggested.
Most importantly, you need to remember that excessive licking can be an extremely complex and frustrating problem to resolve. You may even need to seek the assistance of a veterinarian specifically trained in animal behavior. Either way, you and your veterinarian need to be partners in finding a diagnosis, creating a plan, and then taking the time to patiently carry that plan through.
If you have any questions or concerns, you should always visit or call your veterinarian – they are your best resource to ensure the health and well-being of your pets.
Why Do Dogs Lick More As They Get Older
Growing older brings your canine friend into a different era of his life. The fickle frivolous puppy that Fido used to be is beginning to slow down and you start to notice little quirks that never used to be there before. One of these signs of aging is the tendency to lick more than usual. There are numerous reasons for excessive licking. It could be a sign of the onset of a medical condition or dementia. Licking can also alert you to neurological conditions or anxiety as your older dog becomes disorientated. Excessive licking is linked to nausea, seizures, loss of sight and hearing as well as an obsessivecompulsive disorder. It is a good idea if you have a dog that is approaching his senior years to have regular medical check- ups and find the right diet and an exercise plan to support him in his ‘golden years.’
The Root of the Behavior
Excessive licking is closely linked to several different medical conditions. Older dogs are going to be prone to different kinds of illnesses and slowing down of their organs. Excessive licking is often a sign of nausea and nausea can be linked to liver disease, exocrine pancreatic insufficiency, inflamed bowels, and intestinal problems. This list is probably enough to shock you into rushing off to the vet and that is a good idea. Once a problem has been diagnosed, the vet can recommend a treatment plan for your dog. If your dog licks their fur excessively then perhaps an allergy is the cause or dry skin. Dogs can be allergic to all kinds of plant matter as well as parasites and insect bites. Licking dry skin could also be a hormonal imbalance as your dog is getting older and a simple change of diet could rectify this problem. Dogs age more rapidly than you think as their years go by faster in dog time than our own years. Map out five years to one of your years for a small breed of dog and 7 years to one for a larger breed of dog as a guideline.
It is important to face the fact that your dog could be aging and the licking is part of the onset of old age. Aging can manifest itself in neurological problems and the onset of dementia. Your dog becomes disorientated by the inability to use his senses and experiences memory loss. Older dogs may become nervous and feel separation anxiety more than younger dogs. Excessive licking is part of a nervous reaction to feeling insecure. Your vet will be able to assess the situation based on your dog’s age and previous history. Keeping an older dog calm and comfortable is a way to help with a nervous licking condition. Keep your dog healthy and happy with exercise modified to suit his age and mobility and stimulate his feel-good endorphins with activities that encourage a positive state of body and mind.
Encouraging the Behavior
The senior canine member of your household will be experiencing several minor signs of aging that could bring on more lip licking. Increased sensitivity, irritability, and fear of strange pets and people could cause nervous licking of lips. Keep your aging dog calm and comfortable and be aware of triggers that may increase his fears. Introducing a new pet or bringing a new member of the family home could be very unsettling for your older dog. A new boisterous puppy may just be too much for an older dog to handle. It will be up to you to keep the new dog at a respectful distance as they learn to accept each other.
Keep a close eye on your older dog’s body language and note the expression of anxiety through the lip licking. Older dogs are also prone to dental problems and routine dental check-ups will help treat decaying teeth and any other dental hygiene problems that may be part of the aging process. Dehydration can be a contributing factor in causing lip licking in an older dog. Perhaps your older dog is having difficulty getting to the water bowl and a water container closer to his favorite sleeping spot could be a better option.
Other Solutions and Considerations
Our aging pets need our respect and attention. They have served as honorable members of our family group. Dogs express their feelings through their body language and lip licking is included in the way dogs communicate. When an action becomes excessive then it is cause for concern. Extra lip licking shown by an older dog tells you that further investigation could help your dog to have a more comfortable and stress-free lifestyle as he grows older. Keeping up with regular veterinary visits and giving the right diet suited to the older dog could make all the difference to the later years of your dog’s life.
Caring for an older dog will have some challenges. Lip licking could be the least of them, but an important lead to other ailments. Growing old is not for the faint hearted they say. This could be true for your older dog too. Dogs do love us unconditionally and in their later years it is noble of us to return their love and devotion. Josh Billings, American author said: “A dog is the only thing on earth that loves you more than he loves himself.” As your dog gets older, take time to send back the love to your furry friend.
Written by a Rhodesian Ridgeback lover Christina Wither
Why do dogs lick us? The answer could save your life!
Monday, Jun 25th, 2018 | By Dr. Marty Becker
A reader asked about one of the mysteries of the universe: Why do dogs like to lick us? There are multiple reasons for this behavior, including one that might save your life! Q: My dog is constantly licking me. She likes to lick my legs, my hands, my face — any place she can get […]
A reader asked about one of the mysteries of the universe: Why do dogs like to lick us? There are multiple reasons for this behavior, including one that might save your life!
Q: My dog is constantly licking me. She likes to lick my legs, my hands, my face — any place she can get to. Why do dogs do this?
A: Dogs do love to lick us, for lots of different reasons. One is that our skin is salty. If we’ve been perspiring, we taste even better, so you may notice that your dog loves to lick you even more in the summertime. I’m not sure why, but the scent or taste of lotion or sunscreen also seems to encourage dogs to lick. And dogs just love the scent of us — stinky feet and all.
Another reason dogs love to lick us is because we give them attention when they do. Whether we laugh at the tickling sensation or push them away because we don’t want them to ingest sunscreen or that medicated gel we just applied, it makes them happy because we’ve taken notice of them and petted or spoken to them. In a dog’s world, not much is better than that.
The one thing that might be better for a dog is getting a treat, and licking us can be a way of saying, “Hey, over here! How about a bite of what you’re having?” Pups lick mom in hopes of a meal, and maybe grown dogs hope it will work on us, too.
Dogs also get a physiological “feel good” sensation from licking. The action releases hormones called endorphins that serve a stress-relieving function and help the dog feel comfortable or contented.
One fascinating reason dogs may lick humans is because they detect a health problem such as low blood sugar. In a survey of 212 dog owners with Type 1 diabetes, 49.2 percent said their dogs licked them when they were experiencing dangerously low blood sugar levels.
Read more, including updates on airline pet policies, in Pet Connection, the weekly nationally syndicated pet feature I co-write with Kim Campbell Thornton and my daughter, trainer Mikkel Becker.
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Why Dogs Lick People
While we don't know for certain why dogs lick, most experts agree that there is probably a combination of reasons. Licking is not considered a serious behavior problem unless it bothers you. Knowing the reason for your dog's licking might even change the way you feel about it.
Affection: There's a pretty good chance that your dog is licking you because it loves you! It's why many people call them "kisses." Dogs show affection by licking people and sometimes even other dogs. Licking is a natural action for dogs. They learned it from the grooming and affection given to them as puppies by their mothers. Dogs might lick your face if they can get to it. If not, they might just dog for any available patch of skin, such as hands, arms, legs, and feet. Some dogs tend to lick less than others. This does not necessarily mean that a dog is less affectionate if it does not lick. It might have just learned things differently as a puppy or just not prefer licking.
Attention-Seeking: Licking behavior that starts as affection often gets reinforced by a person's reaction: laughing, smiling, petting, etc. Maybe your dog is bored or lonely. There you are and it wants your attention. Even negative attention can encourage licking. When a dog is seeking attention, it will feel rewarded by any kind of attention, even the negative type. Pushing it away, saying "no," or even punishing it still means you're not ignoring it. This can encourage licking.
Instinct: When wolves (and sometimes dogs in the wild) return to their pups after a meal, they regurgitate meat from the hunt. The pups, too young to hunt on their own, will lick the meat from around the mother's mouth. It is believed by some that this licking behavior has been passed down in the DNA, causing dogs to instinctively do it sometimes.
You Taste Good: Once that dog gets to licking you, it might realize you have an intriguing human taste that is a bit salty. Dogs love anything that has an interesting taste. Plus, licking is a way for your dog to explore his world. You're part of that world after all.
Obsessive-Compulsive Behavior: Although it's rare, dogs can suffer from obsessive-compulsive disorder, often brought on by prolonged stress and anxiety. Licking that occurs constantly (and usually involves the licking of objects, surfaces, and self in addition to humans) may be a real problem. Talk to your veterinarian about your concerns about your dog. Your vet might refer you to an animal behaviorist for help. Your veterinarian or a veterinary behaviorist may also prescribe medication to help relieve anxiety. Though you may think medication should be a last resort, it's important to understand that animals cannot learn while in a high state of anxiety. Medication may be used as a tool in conjunction with training. Pharmaceutical treatment may even be used temporarily while your dog goes through training and behavior modification.
Licking may seem like a cute gesture of affection at first. But once it becomes excessive, it can be very discomforting for dog owners. Here’s is what you can do to keep your pooch from licking you.
Consult the vet first.
Excessive licking might be a sign of issues like obsessive compulsiveness or a neurological problem. You may want to have your pet checked by a veterinarian to rule out such issues.
If his obsessive licking is due to a brain disorder, you may need to seek help from an expert dog behaviourist.
Burn out your dog’s energy.
Some dogs resort to excessive licking because they are bored and have too much energy. Exercise is proven to be effective in minimising excessive licking, especially with dogs that have neurological issues.
Take your dog out for a walk, initiate a training session, or start an enjoyable activity to exhaust him.
Keep your dog busy and distracted.
Redirect your pooch’s attention to fun games. If he is about to start licking you, give him a chew toy or play fetch. It is a good way to reinforce the desired behaviour in a positive and enjoyable way for your dog.
Do not give him attention.
When dogs receive encouragement from their owners for doing certain behaviours, they are more likely to do it again. So tell your dog “no” and ignore him when he starts licking you. Reward him with attention when he stops carrying out the undesirable behaviour.