Are you all too familiar with the sight of your cherished canine companion’s incessant licking? Have you ever wondered about the possible reason or combination of reasons for it? If so, paw-lease consider the following:
1. Your dog is itchy. Dogs will lick at itchy skin in an attempt to either soothe or stop the uncomfortable sensation that can be caused by allergies, flea bites or another skin problem. Those who lick around the base of their tails and drag their hind ends (this is called scooting) across the floor or carpet may have a blocked anal gland.
2. Your dog is in pain. Dogs often lick an area that hurts as the result of an injury. They also lick as a way of dealing with the pain from such conditions as arthritis, which only leads to further irritation and potentially to an infection.
3. Your dog is grooming obsessively. Some dogs, much like their feline counterparts, use their tongues to groom themselves, while some will overgroom their coats, often resulting in irritated skin and/or bald spots. Obsessive grooming can be caused by a health issue or be an expression of anxiety, boredom or frustration.
4. Your dog is hungry. Dogs known to either smack their lips or lick their empty food bowls may be signaling their owners that they want to be fed NOW! Others will lick their lips in eager anticipation when they know mealtime is near.
5. Your dog is thirsty. Dogs who are thirsty or, worse, dehydrated might lick to stimulate their salivary glands in response to having a dry tongue, mouth or throat. It’s also an effective way of alerting their owners to the fact that they need water.
6. Your dog has oral issues. Dogs who sense something’s amiss in their mouths -- from a chipped tooth to an injured gum -- may lick the area troubling them. Those with severe dental disease or gingivitis might lick in response to the pain. To avoid the latter scenario, brush your dog’s teeth regularly and schedule an annual cleaning with your vet.
7. Your dog is nauseous. An upset stomach caused either by illness or by eating something harmful can not only leave a foul taste in a dog’s mouth but make it water. In an attempt to get rid of the taste or expel some of the excess saliva, he may lick … and lick … and lick.
8. Your dog has cognitive issues. Excessive licking (some of the many other behaviors include forgetfulness, irritability, pacing, sleeping more and withdrawal) can be a sign of a cognitive disorder in older dogs. If your dog is exhibiting one or more of these behaviors, discuss your concerns with your vet to see whether there are medications or treatments that might help.
9. Your dog is bored or anxious. Some dogs may lick more because of a new pet or person in the home, a change in their daily routine or separation anxiety. If you suspect your dog is bored, spend more quality time with him, from playing to cuddling, and whenever you’re gone for any length of time, always leave him with one or two treat-filled puzzle toys to keep him constructively occupied. Anxiety, on the other hand, is more complicated and is best addressed with the help of your vet or a certified animal behaviorist.
10. Your dog wants your attention. Owners who reward their dogs’ face licks with praise have basically trained them that licking will get them the attention they crave. If your dog’s face licks are more of a problem than a pleasure, re-train him by turning your head away whenever he attempts to lick you and wait until he’s settled down before praising him.
As always, when in doubt, consult your vet to ensure that your cherished canine companion receives the loving care and attention he deserves.
Article by Nomi Berger. Nomi is the bestselling author of seven novels, one work of non-fiction, two volumes of poetry, and hundreds of articles. She lives in Toronto, Ontario, Canada with her adopted Maltese, Mini, and has been writing as a volunteer for animal rescue groups in Canada and the U.S.A. since 2013.