Why Do Dogs Lick & What Does it Mean?

All dogs lick, but some dogs lick in excess. There is often a behavioral or medical reason for the licking.

Behavioral Reasons Why Dogs Lick

Behavioral reasons for why a dog licks are far more common than medical reasons. It is not usually the sign of a serious health condition. This behavior might include the dog licking or grooming themselves, furniture or other surfaces, and even you! Dogs may lick because they like the salty taste of their owner’s skin, as a sign of affection, or out of habit and boredom. Licking can also be calming or soothing, much like when people receive a relaxing massage.

When behavior driven licking is excessive, resulting in hot spots, hair loss, or skin irritation avoid punishing your dog. Redirect their focus by giving alternative activities to keep them occupied. Positive reinforcement training can also help curb licking behavior by rewarding your dog when they perform the desired behavior. For example, rewarding your dog for stopping their licking when you say “Leave it.”

Behavioral Reasons

  1. Boredom and/or anxiousness
  2. To calm or soothe
  3. Affection for the person or animal they are licking
  4. Habit
  5. Like the taste

Medical Reasons Why Dogs Lick

Excessive licking or licking more than usual could be the sign of an underlying medical issue. Signs of excessive licking will often resemble those caused by behavioral licking (hair loss, irritation, etc.).

Potential medical causes for licking include allergies that cause the skin or paws to itch. Infections from bacteria, fungus or parasites can also cause itchiness and therefore lead to excessive licking. Underlying pain from an injury or arthritis can cause dogs to lick, similar to when a person rubs a sore muscle or joint. The licking releases endorphins, which are the body’s natural pain killers, to help soothe the pain. A final cause of licking can be from gastrointestinal issues. To relieve the issue a dog might lick strange surfaces, but not usually itself.

If a cause is thought to be medical, a consultation with your veterinarian is required to diagnose and treat your dog’s condition.

Medical Reasons

  1. Allergies
  2. Infection
  3. Underlying pain
  4. GI issues

Interpreting Your Dog's Licks:

Lips: When a dog licks their lips and there is no food in the are, this is usually a sign of stress. It could also be a sign of submissiveness to their owner or another dog to signal they are not a threat.

Nose: Dogs literally smell their way around, detecting danger, familiar people and pets, even things they cannot see. Dogs keep their noses moist and clean as an instinct to better receive information.

Paws: Here the question arises, does your dog lick one paw or all of their paws? This could be a medical issue or simply something easily found upon inspection. In some dogs, paw licking is as simple as boredom, similar to humans and nail biting.

Private Parts: Dogs lick this area as a natural part of grooming, but excessive licking is not normal. This could be a sign of a medical issue that needs to be addressed.

Wounds: Dogs instinctively lick their or even human wounds by licking. The natural enzymes in their saliva help to heal the wound. The natural licking may be okay for a minor abrasion, but your dog can make matters worse with a more serious injury or surgery.

Each Others Eyes & Ears: This can be mostly associated with a grooming affection type of behavior. We must also be aware that the dog doing the licking may sense a health issue with the other dog.

Air: Dogs Constantly licking the air could be a sign of a compulsive disorder or a physical ailment to the mouth or digestive tract. It is recommended that you visit a Vet if this persist.

Floors: This can be a sign of nutrition deficiency in your dog. It can also be a sign of a compulsive disorder created by the owner not keeping the floor clean.

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