Lots of dogs love smothering their dog parents with wet kisses. Dogs also like to lick their fur, favorite toys, other dogs, and even the walls! So, why do dogs like to lick everything?
Why do dogs lick?
Licking is a natural behavior for dogs. Mamma dogs lick their pups to groom them, and the pups lick their siblings as they roll around in their litter together. Their wolf ancestors also lick each other to politely ask alpha members of the pack if they can get in on a meal. There are many reasons for licking, including the 14 listed here.
1. Something is itchy
Dogs tend to lick at itchy skin to help stop that scratchy feeling, which could be caused by flea bites, allergies, or other common skin problems. Dogs who lick around the base of the tail and drag their rump across the carpet could have an anal gland problem.
2. Something is ouchie
Dogs lick to soothe irritated skin, which can be caused by a skin issue, allergic reaction, or injury. Additionally, it can be a way to deal with pain from conditions like arthritis. Unfortunately, all of that licking can lead to more irritation and complications like infections.
While dogs don’t have the magical grooming powers of our feline friends, they still find their tongues useful for a quick bath. Some dogs over-groom their fur, which can result in bald patches and irritated skin. Obsessive grooming can be caused by a health condition or brought on by anxiety, frustration, or boredom.
If your dog is smacking their lips or licking the empty food bowl, they might just be trying to say, “Hey, I’m hungry. Feed me fast!” Some dogs also lick with excitement when they know that a meal is on its way.
Dogs who are thirsty or dehydrated might lick to combat a dry tongue, mouth, or throat. That licking can help stimulate the salivary glands, but better yet, it might cue their pet parent in on the problem so they can get a refreshing drink!
6. Mouth Problems
Dogs who have something that feels strange in their mouths, like a chipped tooth or a gum injury, might be tempted to lick that spot. Dogs with gingivitis or dental disease may also lick in response to pain. You can help avoid these issues by brushing your dog’s teeth regularly and scheduling an annual cleaning at your veterinarian’s office.
A queasy tummy caused by an illness or eating something harmful can make your dog’s mouth water and leave a yucky taste in their mouth. A dog might lick to try to spit out some of that extra saliva or get rid of the bad taste.
8. Cognitive issues
Excessive licking can be a sign of a cognitive disorder in older dogs. Other symptoms include pacing around the house, sleeping more than usual, and becoming withdrawn. If you suspect your dog is experiencing cognitive issues, you should talk to your veterinarian to see if there are any medications or treatments that could help.
9. Stress or boredom
Some dogs lick because they are bored or anxious, which can be due to a change in routine, separation anxiety, or a new pet in the family. If you suspect boredom is to blame, you can try spending more time with your dog and also leave a treat-filled puzzle toy to help them pass the time when you are away. Anxiety issues can be more difficult to address, and you might want to seek advice from your veterinarian or a certified animal behaviorist.
Similar to chewing, licking can be a way for dogs to check out their surroundings. This is especially true for young puppies who use their mouths to explore the world like human babies.
11. Attention seeking
Do you reward your dog’s licks with lots of praise? Then it’s no wonder your dog loves to lick! You have trained them that licking equals positive attention. If your dog’s licking is becoming a problem, you’ll need to do a little retraining. When your dog tries to lick you, keep your face away from that tongue and wait until your pup settles down before praising them. Make sure everyone in your house is onboard with the new “no face licking” policy otherwise your dog will get confused.
As our puppies grow up, they are taught not to bite when they roughhouse with other dogs or people. Some dogs may take to licking their “opponent” instead of using their teeth.
13. An expression of love
Those licks could be your dog’s way of smothering you with love. And, let’s face it, an outpouring of wet kisses can really brighten the day. Licking can also be a sign of respect and a way of letting you know that you are the trusted pack leader.
14. Just because
Dogs just like to lick. Do they always need a reason?
Should you let your dog kiss your face?
It’s something lots of us do—when our dogs want to give us a slobbery greeting, we bend down and let them cover us with wet kisses. But this is not healthy for you or your dog. For instance, a study in Japan showed that gum disease-causing bacteria can be transferred from dogs to humans and vice versa from those kisses.*
Dogs also tend to put their noses in some rather yucky places, like the garbage can or things they find along the side of the road. Plus, they lick and eat things you wouldn't dream of putting near your mouth, such as rotten food or dog poop. This means those kisses could put you at risk for getting sick.
When asked if you should let your dog lick your child’s face, our veterinary expert Dr. Mary Beth Leininger said, "The short answer…no." She went on to explain, "Because dogs frequently lick around the anus, they can harbor parasite eggs in the saliva."+ These parasites along with bacteria or viruses can be passed to humans through those loving kisses.
It’s also a good idea to wash your hands with soap and water if you end up with a handful of dog kisses. This can help prevent transferring bad microscopic stuff from your hands to your face and mouth.
What can you do about excessive licking?
If your dog licks excessively, you should visit your veterinarian to see if there is a health condition or skin issue at the root of the problem. Your veterinarian can help figure out what is going on and recommend treatment. Constant licking can lead to bald patches and painful trauma to the skin, so it’s good to take care of it sooner rather than later.
You can also try providing your dog with distractions from licking, like a treat-filled puzzle toy or long lasting dog chew. If the licking is due to anxiety, you can seek help from your veterinarian or a certified animal behaviorist.
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An ASPCA® Pet Health Insurance plan can help you with eligible costs for covered conditions like surgery expenses for accidents and help provide peace of mind that your pet can receive the care they need. Check out our online resources to learn more about your insurance options and get a free quote today. The information presented in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute or substitute for the advice of your veterinarian.
A dog's excessive licking of surfaces is most likely a result of a medical condition leading to nausea or gastrointestinal distress. It may occasionally be a result of anxiety or conflict leading to displacement behaviors and eventually an actual compulsive disorder.Why does my dog obsessively lick everything? ›
A dog's excessive licking of surfaces is most likely a result of a medical condition leading to nausea or gastrointestinal distress. It may occasionally be a result of anxiety or conflict leading to displacement behaviors and eventually an actual compulsive disorder.Why does my dog keep gagging and licking everything? ›
Some of the more common causes include a blockage of the digestive tract, a dietary indiscretion (eating non-food items), a diet change or sensitivity, inflammation, an infection, parasites, pancreatitis, toxicities, or diseases of other body systems.How do I stop my dog from compulsive licking? ›
Distract them - Try giving them something else to do that stops them licking, such as a chew toy or a food puzzle. Training - Try training them to sit, or teach them to do something that redirects their licking and is rewarded by your affection and attention, such as giving you their paw or rolling over.Why does my dog lick the couch all the time? ›
Repetitive licking releases endorphins and is a way for dogs to self-soothe. In many cases, licking the sofa is an occasional response to occasional stress, loneliness, or boredom. However, it can become a habit if not checked.What are the signs of heart disease in a dog? ›
- Lack of energy.
- Fainting and collapse.
- Frequent coughing.
- Breathing difficulties.
- Reduced appetite.
- Sudden weight gain or loss.
- Swollen stomach.
A dog with separation anxiety will sometimes obsessively lick the floor, carpet, a body part, or something else as a sort of coping mechanism. Some researchers believe that when a dog licks something, it releases endorphins in their brain. These chemicals help calm the dog down.Why is my dog licking the floor all of a sudden? ›
A: Research in dogs shows that stomach and intestinal problems can trigger excessive licking of surfaces, known as ELS, including floors, carpeting, walls, doors and furniture.What breed of dog licks people a lot? ›
Labradors, Golden Retrievers, Pit Bulls and Poodles all tend to be frequent lickers. As for smaller breeds, the Bichon Frise, the Pug and the Chihuahua are also prone to people-licking.Can dogs have pica eating disorder? ›
What Is Pica In Dogs? Pica is a common condition where a dog consistently eats objects that are not food items. A dog needs to ingest the item—not just chew on it—for it to be considered pica. Metal, plastic, cloth, garbage, rocks, paper, dirt, and feces are common non-nutritional items that dogs with pica ingest.
Dogs licking blankets and furniture may be an indication of boredom, stress, separation anxiety, diet deficiencies, and more. If you're concerned about your dog's blanket licking behavior, make sure to monitor it closely and consult your veterinarian.Why does my dog stare at me? ›
Just as humans stare into the eyes of someone they adore, dogs will stare at their owners to express affection. In fact, mutual staring between humans and dogs releases oxytocin, known as the love hormone. This chemical plays an important role in bonding and boosts feelings of love and trust.What are signs of heartworms in dogs? ›
Signs of heartworm disease may include a mild persistent cough, reluctance to exercise, fatigue after moderate activity, decreased appetite, and weight loss. As heartworm disease progresses, pets may develop heart failure and the appearance of a swollen belly due to excess fluid in the abdomen.What are the early signs of congestive heart failure in dogs? ›
Many dogs with CHF will tire out more easily, have reduced stamina, and do not engage in playing or walking as they once did. Coughing when at rest or sleeping, excessive panting, persistent loss of appetite, a swollen belly, and pale or bluish gums are also signs associated with heart failure.How does a dog act when they have diabetes? ›
The early signs of diabetes in dogs include:
Frequent urination (polyuria) Drinking more water than usual. Excessive appetite (polyphagia) Sudden unexplained weight loss.
Sometimes when dogs are feeling anxious, depressed, or stressed they can act out in terms of licking. Boredom, too, can be a reason that your dog has taken to licking the carpet. Other factors for constant floor licking could be canine dementia, physical discomfort, or neurological problems.Why does my dog keep licking the floor and walls? ›
This can be caused by issues with the GI tract, such as pancreatitis, ulcers, inflammatory bowel disease, liver disease, intestinal parasites an intestinal foreign body, or many other conditions. Pain inside the body or in the mouth can lead to excessive licking.Why is my dog suddenly licking everything and eating grass? ›
Eating grass is a way for dogs to clear their system. Dogs instinctively know that eating grass will settle a GI upset. The tale-tale sign of an upset digestive system is when your dog keeps licking lips and swallowing and eating grass or your dog eating grass frantically and panting.
- Chicken and Rice. Chicken and rice are prime ingredients in many dog foods, and these mild foods sit well on upset canine stomachs. ...
- Shredded Chicken. Shredded chicken is easy on upset stomachs and acts as a huge eating incentive for dogs with decreased appetites. ...
- Pumpkin. ...
- Bone Broth. ...
- Baby Food.
If a dog begins showing signs of stomach upset but is still willing to eat and drink, its owner can first try offering a bland, low-fat, highly digestible diet to resolve the issue. “Boiled, skinless chicken or turkey breast mixed with white rice or low-fat cottage cheese can be offered in the short term,” Gould said.
Some animals have developed unusual eating habits, such as rocks, wood, plastic, strings, rubber bands, and more. This problem, called pica, is defined as the persistent chewing and consumption of non-nutritional substances that provide no physical benefit to the animal.What breeds are prone to pica? ›
There may even be a genetic predisposition for pica in some breeds of dogs and cats. Labrador Retrievers and Siamese and Birman cats seem to experience pica more frequently than other breeds.What vitamin deficiency causes dog pica? ›
Both anemia (low iron) and medical conditions can prevent a dog from absorbing nutrients from their food, often causing them to eat soil, clay, and dirt. Pica can occur with the following medical conditions: Immune-mediated hemolytic anemia (IMHA) Iron deficiency anemia.How do I know if my dog has pica? ›
Signs of pica in dogs can include things such as vomiting and diarrhea, but lethargy, a loss of appetite, and excessive drooling can also indicate a problem. An intestinal blockage is one of the side effects of untreated pica in dogs.Is a dog licking a form of dominance? ›
Yes, Licking Is A Sign Of Dominance
Dogs can attempt to show dominance towards a dog or human by aggressively licking them. This is a determined, deliberate act, and is uninvited or inappropriate for the situation. This type of dog licking indicate an assertion of dominance and control.
Adult dogs lick as a sign of deference or submissiveness to a dominant pack member. The dog doing the licking usually lowers its body to make itself smaller, and looks up, adding to the effect of subordinate behavior.Are dog licks affectionate? ›
Affection. Of course, as we all want to hear, licking can absolutely be a sign of affection too. As much as dogs will lick their owners for attention, they are seeking attention from you because they want to interact with you.