A swipe of the tongue - Why does my dog lick?
It’s a behavior that drives some of us dog owners crazy – the compulsive licking habit that many dogs seem to practice. Although our dogs are part of our family, they practice a different type of hygiene care that we do, preferring a swipe of the tongue to groom themselves over a sponge and shampoo. For some dogs, however, the habit of licking (whether it’s themselves, their owners, or an object like the carpet) can reach abnormal proportions. Although many dog lovers would simply just find this annoying, it can actually be harmful for your pup, and may be an indication that there’s an underlying medical issue. Here are some the reasons your dog might be going overboard with this particular behavior.
- Anxiety, boredom or frustration - Some dogs may lick as a way of relieving the tension caused by stress, lack of exercise, or frustration in a particular situation. For many dogs, the act of licking triggers their body to release ‘feel good’ hormones called endorphins, creating a cycle of reinforcement that causes the licking to become repetitive
- Attention-seeking – Especially when we reinforce the behavior by giving them our attention when they lick, some dogs will use licking as a way to get us to interact with them or pet them
- Parasites – Pests like fleas or mange mites can cause skin irritation or itching that can lead to licking
- Allergies – Reactions to plants, grasses, detergents, cleaning products, or food components can be a cause for your dog to lick or chew at their skin and fur.
- Nausea – Dogs have been known to lick surfaces repetitively when they’re having digestive upset
- Pain – Some dogs will lick repetitively at an area where they’re experiencing pain, such as on areas around arthritic joints, or on their flank in the case of a bladder infection
- Illness – Medical issues such as Cushing’s disease, or a bacterial or fungal infection on the skin may sometimes prompt our canine companions to lick a lot
If you’ve noticed that your dog is starting to lick an abnormal amount, it’s time to talk to your veterinarian about the behavior. Excessive licking can lead to painful skin lesions called lick granulomas, and dogs that lick objects may accidentally injure themselves or could ingest dangerous items or toxic substances. Your veterinarian will want to rule out parasites, infection, pain or other illness in order to help control your dog’s excessive tongue action. For some of our furry friends, the licking behavior becomes an obsessive-compulsive one too, and anti-anxiety therapy might also be recommended in addition to regular treatment.
So how can you help your pup at home? Providing lots of physical activity and mental exercise for your dog can help to prevent boredom or anxiety that can lead to licking. Take a few minutes every day to give your dog a quick nose-to-tail check, which helps you to notice medical issues more quickly. If your furry friend does begin to start a repetitive licking routine, prevent them from licking using a bandage to cover an affected area or crate to restrict access if they’re licking surfaces like floors or walls. Make an appointment for a vet exam sooner, rather than later – the longer a dog continues a compulsive behavior like abnormal licking, the more difficult it is to get them to stop!