Why Is My Dog Licking Excessively, and What Do I Do About It?
“Why does my dog lick so much?” you may wonder as you watch your precious fur-baby slobber all over the glass sliding door.
If your pup’s licking seems to be going beyond normal canine behavior into the realm of excessive licking, it’s normal to be concerned. There are several factors to consider when identifying the trigger for your pal’s overeager tongue — and when learning how to lessen the licking!
Why Do Dogs Lick?
While some dog behaviors remain a mystery to us all, we do know some of the reasons why your pup may be determined to get his tongue onto everything.
Anyone who’s ever come home to an excited pup ready to shower you with “kisses” knows that showing affection is one of the main reasons dogs lick people! Puppies and wild wolf pups will lick their parents and siblings, and since your fur-baby truly does see you as their parent, licking you when you come home is literally Fido’s way of saying, “Mom! You’re home!!”
If you have a tongue-happy dog who licks friends and strangers as well, they may just be affectionate to all they meet — or perhaps there’s an even simpler reason. Although it may be gross to think about, people just taste good. Humans tend to have salty skin, so it’s possible your pup simply enjoys the taste!
So why does your pup lick himself, then? Well, while not quite as fastidious as cats, dogs do lick themselves in order to groom or clean. Licking themselves can also be a way to scratch an itch, to ease pain from an injury, taste something that got in their fur, or as a self-soothing behavior (similar to young children sucking their thumb, or people of any age playing with a fidget spinner).
Finally, when it comes to licking objects or surfaces, your dog’s reasons for this behavior may be as many and varied as the number of times you’ve spilled food on the counter or carpet!
Dogs don’t have hands, so they often use their tongues to investigate objects and to gain information about their environment. And yes, quite often when your dog is licking something, it’s simply because the object or surface in question is tasty. (Even if that spilled apple juice was a long time ago, the sweet memory lingers).
How Do You Know When It’s Excessive Dog Licking?
So, what’s the difference between a healthy amount of dog slobber and a level of licking worth worrying about?
Here are five of the most common indications of excessive dog licking. You may wish to take steps to address your dog’s behavior if you notice that their licking is:
1. Focused on one spot: Some dogs who develop excessive licking aim their tongue indiscriminately, but most develop a near-obsessive focus on a particular area. This spot can be on themselves, on an object or a surface in the house. If you notice your pup continually returning to lick the same spot, their behavior may be excessive.
2. Prolonged: Your dog’s licking may be excessive if it seems to take up a lot of their time — more than is needed to investigate an object or clean themselves.
3. Escalating: Your dog’s licking may be excessive if it started intermittently but has continually gotten worse: happening more often, lasting longer each time or becoming more intensive.
4. Compulsive: If your dog won’t be interrupted once they “get going,” or if they do stop when distracted but then immediately return to the same behavior, it’s likely their licking is excessive.
5. Causing physical distress: Finally, if your dog is licking themselves so frequently and so intensively that you can see physical impacts from it — bald patches, hot spots or inflamed skin — your dog’s licking is definitely excessive. Likewise, if your dog appears distressed while licking (grunting or whimpering) then their licking is indicative of a deeper problem.
Why Is Your Dog Licking Excessively?
The reasons for your dog licking excessively can be either behavioral or medical, or a combination of both.
There are many medical conditions that can result in your dog licking excessively.
Allergies to either something in your dog’s diet or in their environment can cause red, flaky skin, and your dog may lick themselves in an attempt to relieve the itchiness. Infection from bacteria, fungi, fleas or mites can also trigger incessant itchiness in your poor pal.
As licking is one of the main ways dogs attempt to soothe pain, your dog’s behavior could be the result of an injury, soreness, or arthritis. Inspect the area they are licking for any signs of heat or swelling. Especially take note if the area seems painful to the touch, or if your dog won’t even let you get close to it.
If your pup’s licking seems focused around the rectum or groin area, their distress could be related to their anal glands or their reproductive organs. “Butt-scooting,” or dragging their rear end across the floor, is a classic indication of anal gland impactment. Your vet or a groomer can relieve your pup’s discomfort.
Finally, if your dog is excessively licking the air or objects such as their bedding, their behavior may even be related to gastrointestinal upset or nausea.
Some of the most common reasons for excessive dog licking are behavioral and related to your dog’s mental wellbeing more than their physical health.
Boredom, stress and anxiety are likely culprits for why your dog is licking excessively — regardless of whether they are licking themselves, or whether their excessive licking is concentrated on a chair leg, window or corner of the rug. Because licking is a self-soothing behavior, it can help relieve some of your dog’s stress, at least for a while. Put simply, slobbering all over the doorframe or gnawing on their paws at least gives your pup something to do!
Often, your dog’s love for licking will fade once you give them something much more interesting to focus on each day. However, in rare cases, your pup’s behavioral challenges may actually be a medical condition itself, constituting what is essentially “canine OCD.”
As veterinarian Dr. Valarie V. Tynes explains:
“A behavior that is difficult to interrupt may be more likely to be caused by a medical condition…A dog that immediately returns to licking after a brief interruption may be in physiologic distress or demonstrating a compulsive disorder.”
How Do You Stop Your Dog Licking Excessively?
If you’re becoming concerned about your dog’s licking habits and wondering how to stop your dog from excessive licking, the first step is to take your pup to the veterinarian and determine if there is a medical cause or trigger.
In the days leading up to your vet appointment, it’s helpful to note down whenever you catch your pup doing the behavior. Also include in your notes what was happening immediately before, how long the licking lasted, and if your attempts to redirect the behavior were successful or if your pup would not be deterred. The more information you have recorded, the easier it will be for your veterinarian to pinpoint a cause and a solution.
If your dog is licking excessively in an attempt to relieve the discomfort from an injury or GI upset, your veterinarian will help you to address that condition so that your dog feels better. They may prescribe antibiotics to clear up an infection, or antihistimines if your pup is suffering from environmental allergies.
If your veterinarian suspects that food allergies may be causing your dog’s itchy skin, changing your dog’s diet can bring relief. However, if your dog’s current food has a long ingredient list that includes grains, additives and artificial preservatives, it can be difficult to pinpoint the culprit ingredient.
A limited ingredient diet can be extremely useful in helping you narrow down the cause of your pup’s food allergy. Many pet parents find their dog’s allergies dissipate as soon as they are on a raw, grain free diet which excludes all unnecessary fillers or “junk” ingredients. You may also wish to try a few different proteins, to see if your dog has developed a beef allergy, for example.
If you and your veterinarian have been able to rule out a medical reason, your dog’s excessive licking is likely to be a behavioral response to stress or boredom.
To combat this behavior, it’s important to increase both your pup’s physical activity and their mental stimulation. For example, if you currently walk your dog for 15 minutes a day, try increasing your daily walk to 30 minutes a day or even adding in a second daily walk. Letting your dog blow off some steam at a dog park where they can chase a disc or ball is another great habit to get into.
It’s also beneficial to establish a daily training session where you review the tricks your dog knows, and even learn some new ones! This keeps your pup’s brain working, and gives them something to focus their mental energies on and look forward to. Puzzle toys are another great way to stave off your dog’s boredom during the day — especially if you fill them with your pup’s favorite treats!
Your dog’s excessive licking didn’t establish itself overnight, so as you’re solidifying these healthy new habits, remember that it won’t disappear overnight either. Over time, your dog should depend less and less on their old “addiction.”
It’s very important during this process that you don’t punish your dog for licking! All your dog will learn from punishment is that it’s not safe to lick in front of you — not that they shouldn’t lick at all. Instead, when you catch your dog “in the act”, enthusiastically redirect them to another activity, in a positive and upbeat manner.
Other options to minimize your dog’s excessive licking include canine-specific pheromone sprays that decrease your pup’s stress, or wrapping “no chew” tape around the object or body part that your dog obsesses over. This will make that area a much less appealing target — although keep in mind that until the root of the behavior is addressed, your pup will likely find a new spot.
You may ultimately need to see a professional dog behaviorist or return to your veterinarian if your dog’s behavior does not improve despite your efforts, or if you suspect some level of compulsive disorder.
If your pup just can’t seem to stop licking his paws or slurping on the sofa, he may be suffering from some kind of physical or mental distress that compels him to lick excessively.
But with time, patience and your veterinarian’s assistance, it is possible to calm this compulsion. Once you do, you’ll have a happier dog with fewer bald patches — and fewer wet spots on the couch!