Dogs lick. It's what they do! Dogs lick themselves, they lick other dogs, and they lick their humans. Dog licking is a common behavior that is not always an immediate cause for concern, but it is important to know what types of licking behavior raise a red flag.
In this post we’ll start by laying out the basics of why dogs lick followed by when dog licking could be indicative of an underlying issue.
If you wonder why your fur baby licks so much, it’s important to interpret their behavior with a grain of salt. Your veterinarian is the best person to identify if licking is due to a medical or behavioral issue.
Why Dogs Lick Themselves
Dogs lick themselves for the same reason cats do: It's in their nature. A moderate level of licking is a normal part of grooming and helps them stay clean. If your dog is licking their coat, paws, or private area, think of it as their form of self-care.
Dogs will sometimes use their tongues to give a quick swipe at their private parts after urinating in the same way us humans wipe ours with toilet paper (hopefully). Dogs perform the equivalent of human hand washing, too, by licking their paws if they have something stuck in or on them.
If you notice your fur baby excessively licking any of these areas with regularity, however, it's time to look into possible medical causes. Keep reading below for the warning signs.
Why Dogs Lick Each Other
Other than being one of the most adorable actions to witness two doggie pals doing, dogs licking each other is a normal sign of submission and kinship. Dogs might lick another dog's mouth if they are just meeting for the first time. Dogs who are already friends will lick each other. New mommies will lick their pups for grooming purposes. Dog-on-dog licking is a basic social gesture not unlike butt sniffing.
When a dog licks another dog during an introduction, typically on the muzzle, it means they are signaling to the other dog that they come in peace and are not going to establish dominance off the bat.
Doggie friends give each other kisses to show affection as well. Dog licking in this case serves as recognition of each other as members of a pack. That pack member mentality establishes trust and a mutual bond between canines.
Why Dogs Lick People
All dog parents have received kisses from their pooch at one point or another. So why do dogs lick us all the time?
Are they giving us a grateful sign of affection for feeding them and picking up their poop, or do we just taste delicious? The answer is yes to all of the above.
Dogs lick us because they are showing us they love us, but they also lick us because we're pretty tasty. We are human margaritas: Our dogs absolutely love our salty sweat. This is a common dog behavior that releases pleasurable endorphins for them in the same way our brains release those "feel-good" chemicals when we complete a solid workout or eat our favorite food.
How to Counter Too Much Licking
When our dogs give us a big, slobbery, affectionate kiss their brain releases endorphins. Some dogs are so addicted to that feeling of pleasure our salty skin gives them that it starts to annoy us. If you are a dog parent who gets treated like a popsicle on a hot summer's day, there is a way to train your dog to stop licking you so much.
Positive reinforcement dog trainer Victoria Stilwell recommends ignoring the licking. When your dog licks you, simply get up and walk away into another room. Keep at this until your dog realizes that the action of licking you results in you going away. Once your dog learns that licking equals no attention, they will break the habit.
When Licking Is a Cause for Concern
Dog licking may be a sign of underlying issues. Your pup may be excessively licking an area that is causing him or her pain or is itchy and inflamed. Excessive licking is also an obsessive-compulsive disorder displayed in dogs with anxiety issues.
Is It an Allergy?
Dogs who suffer from environmental or food allergies will lick themselves excessively. If it is the latter, look at the ingredients in your dog's food to determine what they are reacting negatively to. Your veterinarian might run tests to diagnose what exactly is causing your dog's discomfort.
If your dog is uncontrollably licking their paws, for example, it is important to seek treatment as soon as possible. The moisture from all of that licking between the paws can cause a bacterial or yeast infection, which will inevitably worsen your dog's itchiness and often requires antibiotics.
If the licking is from allergies your veterinarian might recommend a special soak, topical spray, or medication. If it is from an allergic reaction to food they will suggest changing up your dog's diet.
When Your Dog Won't Stop Licking Their #2 Orifice
Does your dog ever go deep when licking their private parts, particularly around the anal region? Are they “scooting” — dragging their bottom on the ground —to alleviate itchiness and discomfort? It could mean Fido is suffering from an infection and requires a vet visit.
Other common reasons your dog might lick their genital or anal regions include urinary tract infections (UTI), allergies, tumors, or worms. Lift your dog's tail to check for signs of irritation like redness, bumps, or swelling.
Signs your dog might have a urinary tract infection include licking the penis or vulva for a long time, difficulty eliminating, or frequency of urination with little urine produced. Your veterinarian will determine if your dog has a UTI and prescribe antibiotics.
It could be that an itch it just an itch, but if your dog displays this kind of behavior consistently it’s important to seek medical attention for a professional to examine their anal glands.
Nervous Dogs Lick for Comfort
Excessive licking can be caused by a behavioral matter rather than a medical issue. Anxious dogs tend to lick or over-groom themselves during stressful situations like loud noises, separation anxiety, or a change in their environment.
A dog with fear or anxiety issues will also lick their lips to show their discomfort. Because licking releases pleasurable endorphins, nervous dog will excessively lick as a way of coping due to the calming effect of those brain chemicals.
Try to redirect your dog's attention to their favorite toy or take them for a walk to get their mind off of such compulsive licking. If your dog's licking is severe enough, your veterinarian may recommend calming products such as CBD oil, a pheromone collar, or thunder shirt. You may also want to buy or create a bitter spray, such as apple cider vinegar, that will deter the licking.
Whether they are giving you a big slobbery kiss to the face, tasting that salty sweat when you return home from a workout, or grooming themselves or each other, licking is an instinctive dog behavior.
What’s important for dog parents is to be able to differentiate between standard dog licking, like grooming or showing affection, or excessive licking that indicates an underlying medical issue. Remember to consult a veterinarian if your dog is giving off worrisome vibes with their licking behavior.