Dogs take in their surroundings with their tongues just as much as their eyes and ears, meaning that they’re prone to licking anything in sight. Whether it’s your face, the furniture that surrounds them or even thin air, dogs love to lick.
Does this behavior ever stop becoming part of the canine experience, and start to become a cause for concern? The answer, like all matters pertaining to our pooch pals, is a matter of moderation.
If your dog is seemingly determined to lick everything that they come into contact with, causing inconvenience and potential health concerns, it pays to understand why. This guide will explain why your dog insists on licking everything, and what you can do to coach them out of this conduct.
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My Dog is Licking Everything and Throwing Up
This is usually a sign that your dog is experiencing gastrointestinal distress, and should always result in a trip to the vet. Dogs lick in order to soothe their stomachs and ease any kind of discomfort they may be experiencing. Coupled with a tendency to purge the contents of their digestive tract, this all suggests that your dog has eaten something that disagrees with them and needs to have it seen to.
Why is My Dog Constantly Licking Me?
There are many reasons why dogs lick their human owners, and each and every one is complimentary.
Just some of the explanations for this behavior include:
- Instinct. Dogs instinctively groom and take care of each other, especially a mother or a puppy litter – and licking is a huge part of this. Your dog will see you as the alpha member of their pack, and thus will frequently attempt to lick you in order to strengthen your bond through grooming.
- Affection. Licking is often referred to as a ‘doggy kiss’, and this is accurate – when a dog licks your face, they receive a rush of endorphins that provide pleasure and calm any nerves or anxiety. What’s more, dogs also enjoy the salty texture of the sweat found on human skin. Just be careful if you’re wearing perfume or moisturizer, as many dogs will want to explore these toxic scents and tastes.
- Thirst. Sometimes, dogs seek hydration through licking when they are thirsty and do not have direct access to water. If your dog is licking your face, seemingly to excess, take a look at their water bowl and make sure that it isn’t empty.
- Health. While the myth that dog saliva heals all wounds has been somewhat debunked, there’s no mistaking the fact that a dog typically feels soothed and reassured after licking themselves. This means that if they pick up on pheromones from their cherished human that suggests you are stressed or sick, they will lick up a storm in an attempt at making you feel better. In a dog’s mind, this works for them and thus you’ll benefit from such attention.
A dog licking a human is never a precursor to violence or aggression, so it’s not something that needs to be deterred on these grounds. Many vets would recommend not allowing your dog to lick your face, however, due to the possible presence of bacteria within your dog’s mouth and teeth.
Do I Need to Shower After My Dog Licks Me?
This depends on your personal preferences and tolerance for dog saliva! As we mentioned above, dog saliva tends not to contain anything untoward but their teeth and gums might.
If you are going to allow your dog to lick your face, you should certainly ensure that you know how to brush a dog’s teeth and be vigilant in knowing what to do if your dog has bad breath suddenly. This is a warning sign that something untoward may be growing in your dog’s mouth, and as much as sharing is caring, you are better off not receiving any such infection yourself.
Should I Train My Dog Not to Lick Strangers?
This is probably highly advisable. You may consider your dog licking your face to be the most adorable and hilarious thing under the sun, but somebody else may disagree. In fact, even though it’s nothing of the kind, somebody that doesn’t understand canine cues and behaviors may consider this to be aggressive.
If you’re wondering how to stop your dog from licking the face of a stranger, follow the same training steps as those laid out in our guide to how to stop a dog from jumping and nipping when excited. The fundamentals are the same, and it’s a fairly simple process that won’t harm your relationship with your dog.
Why is My Dog Constantly Licking Paws?
If your dog is constantly licking himself or herself, they may be in some kind of pain and are seeking comfort. Licking is a dog’s way of self-soothing, so if your pooch appears fascinated by their paws, take a look at the appendages in question. You may find that there is a stone or splinter trapped between the pads of Fido’s paws, leading to a desire to ease discomfort.
If you don’t see any signs of a foreign object trapped in your dog’s paws, the problem may be psychological. It’s possible that your dog is suffering from some kind of anxiety, or they are bored and don’t feel that they are receiving enough physical or mental stimulation. Alternatively, Fido may be fighting parasite infestation such as fleas or ticks or could be struggling with dry skin.
If you’re still wondering why your dog is licking or chewing on their feet, check out our detailed guide to this behavior.
Why is My Dog Constantly Licking Lips?
Sometimes a dog licks their lips because they’re used to receiving attention when they do so. Outside of this, however, lip licking in dogs usually comes down to one of three reasons.
Dogs Lick Their Lips When They’re Hungry
The latter is simple enough to explain. If you have a bag of treasured treats in your grocery shopping and your dog is licking their lips while sniffing the bag, or your are dishing your pet’s dinner into their bowl in anticipation of carrying it to their feeding mat, your dog may lick their lips in anticipation (see also ‘The 10 Best Dog Treat Bags For Practicality And Style‘). This is simply a matter of your hound preparing himself or herself for the feast to come, and it may even be accompanied by drooling!
Dogs Lick Their Lips When They’re Nervous
When a dog licks their lips outside of a food-related scenario, however, they are more likely to be attempting to appease somebody or something that they are afraid of. A dog often licks their lips to display that they are submissive, and not a threat. Don’t mistake this submission for surrender though, as dogs will defend themselves if they feel vulnerable after sending this warning sign.
If it’s your own dog that licks their lips, maybe it’s because they are worried about an impending scolding, or they are reacting to being told off. Maybe they’re worried that you think they’re peeing on the bed on purpose!
If it’s a strange dog in the park or that you otherwise encounter on a walk, however, back off and give this canine some space, all the while ensuring that you understand that you mean them no harm. As we have said, licking lips can turn into a display of aggression if ignored – keep an eye out for any other warning signs that an attack may be coming.
Dogs Lick Their Lips When They’re Unwell
A third reason why a dog may lick their lips constantly, seemingly with no rhyme or reason behind the behavior, could be a health concern.
Some of the potential sicknesses that inspire constant licking of the lips include:
- Feeling Queasy (check out our guide to pet travel sickness, and how to manage it)
- Struggling with Oral Bacteria
- Foreign Object Stuck in the Throat
- Dehydration (check out our guide to things you must do if your dog is dehydrated)
- Bloating (check out our guide to what you can give a dog for gas and bloating)
Why is My Dog Constantly Licking Air?
It can be a strange sight, watching a dog seemingly licking thin air time and again. There are a handful of possible reasons for this:
- Your dog has picked up an interesting scent somewhere on the wind and is trying to get a better idea of what this new smell actually is.
- Your dog is anxious or stressed, and is desperately looking for something to lick and thus soothe himself or herself.
- Your dog is in pain but has been coached out of licking their own paws, so they’re taking to licking at the air instead. Think of this an extension of the licking of the lips that we just discussed.
- Your dog isn’t actually licking the air at all – they just have something stuck on the roof of their mouths that they’re unable to reach, though this won’t prevent them from trying.
If your dog is licking the air with regularity and you cannot pinpoint a simple solution using the examples above, it’s advisable to make an appointment with a vet. There could be some kind of underlying health reason that is compelling your dog to act this way and they need help.
Why is My Dog Constantly Licking Their Own Behind?
There’s often a simple enough for reason for this, and you’re going to have to forgive us for being crass. Next time you’re taking a walk around the park and your dog does his or her business, take a look around and look for the dispenser of toilet paper for your dog.
Not seeing anything? That’s because there’s no such thing. Throw in the fact that dogs often have furry around their bottom and you’re potentially dealing with a battle against Klingons that would have Captain Kirk cowering. Dogs want to be clean, and licking themselves as part of a bathing ritual is the quickest and easiest way that they know how.
Does My Dog Lick Their Own Butt Because They’re Sick?
Of course, there could be something a little more serious or sinister at work here. If your dog is licking their own backside for what seems like hours on end, including at strange or antisocial times such as the middle of the night when everybody is trying to sleep or halfway through a walk, they may be facing some kind of health problem – especially if they are scooting along the ground too.
Some of the health concerns related to a dog incessantly licking their bottom include:
- Swollen Glands. Sometimes, a dog’s anal glands are prone to becoming infected. This means that the glands have swollen up and become itchy or painful – and your dog will attempt to soothe their discomfort by licking their bottom or scooting along the ground. A smelly discharge of fluid whenever your dog does their business is a crucial symptom of infected glands – see a vet in such a situation, as they will able to get rid of this excess fluid and prescribe an appropriate medication.
- Infection. If your dog has an infection around their bottom, they will likely feel a little sore and take to licking the area to soothe the pain. Unfortunately, this is most likely to aggravate the problem and lead to the need for emergency intervention. Thankfully, pills or cream will usually resolve the problem.
- Internal Parasites. All kinds of internal parasites can have an impact on your dog’s anal comfort, mainly those belonging to the worm family (tapeworm, roundworm, fishworm, etc.) Make sure that you are completely up-to-date with your dog’s worming treatments, and if you have any suspicion that your dog has an infestation (they will often lick and scoot, and you’ll probably notice the worms in your dog’s feces) get them to a vet.
- Fleas and Ticks. No part of a dog’s anatomy is free from the attention of fleas and ticks, particularly during the hotter months of the year. These parasites may be able to bore their way into your dog’s skin, and one of the symptoms beyond conventional scratching of the skin is an itchy bottom. Ensure that there are no signs of unwanted visitors attaching themselves to your dog’s coat if they seem to be even more interested than usual in licking themselves.
Why Does My Dog Lick Their Own Pee and Poop?
A dog consuming his or her own waste is more common than you may realize – so much so that the behavior has an official name, Coprophagia. There are many reasons why your dog may be licking their pee or poop – and maybe even escalating the behavior into eating it.
Here are some of the explanations:
- Hiding the Evidence. If your dog knows that they have had an accident in the house and they’re not supposed to, they may try to consume the proof. This is why it’s so important that you never scold a dog after an accident – they assume that all elimination is bad, and will try to avoid anybody finding out what they did.
- Seeking Nutrients. Maybe your dog eats too quickly and struggles to break down their meal, or perhaps they’re chomping on vitamin-deficient food. Either way, the result will be the same – your dog will see their poop as a potential way of gaining what they need.
- Submissive or Protective Behavior. Coprophagia is very common in rescue dogs that were once stray, as they may have been low in the pecking order of their particular pack. Many dogs eat poop and lick up pee as that’s a sign that they have been around, and for the sake of security, a minor member of the pack may have been charged with eating the poop of the alpha. Likewise, a mother may remove any hint of evidence that their puppies were ever in the vicinity to keep them safe.
- As always, it may be a case of your dog exploring their surroundings – remember that canines use their taste buds to get a sense of what’s what. If you have a puppy, they’re likely to investigate their waste (and that of other animals) in the spirit of inquisitiveness. Just use a short, sharp command such as, “leave it!” to deter your hound from spoiling their dinner with too many snacks.
Why Does My Dog Lick the Carpet?
This is very common in many dogs, and it’s fairly easy to understand why. Dogs are considerably lower to the ground than most humans, and the carpet will be host to all kinds of scents. Spilled food, traces of other dogs that may have visited, the ghost of toilet accidents past… it’s a cornucopia of aromas that your pooch will be keen to explore further.
Of course, your dog may also be a little bored or anxious, which means they may be tucking into carpet fibers as a way of keeping themselves amused. This could be potentially dangerous, as they may be licking up and swallowing all kinds of foreign items – from rotting scraps of food to your child’s Lego bricks.
If you’re worried about your dog’s habit of licking the carpet, seek help from a vet – and look into cleaning your carpet. Use baking soda, white vinegar and citrus juice diluted with water for this, as these ingredients are impactful on stains without being harmful to your dog. Even better, they’ll create an unappealing smell that prevents your dog from wanting to continue licking the rug.
Is it Safe for My Dog to Lick My Dinner Plate Clean?
Not really – this isn’t a behavior that you should encourage. Ignoring the hygiene implications and the fact that you’re teaching your dog that it’s OK to take food directly from your plate, Fido may be consuming all kinds of unfortunate things.
While not necessarily toxic, spicy foods can cause your dog to bloat and suffer from gas, while the presence of hard-to-break-down foodstuffs may prove a struggle for your dog’s digestive tract.
Try to avoid allowing your dog to clean your plate with his or her tongue and save this task for the dishwasher. Everybody will feel a lot better for it in the longer term.
Why Does My Dog Lick Everything at Night?
If you find that your dog turns into a licking fiend after dark when the sun goes down, there could be many explanations.
The primary possible reason revolves around food. If you only feed your dog once per day, usually as an evening meal, they may start licking themselves because the food has left them feeling uncomfortable.
As an experiment, try breaking your dog’s daily food allowance down into two, smaller portions and see if they repeat the behavior after eating both times. If this is the case, your dog is probably struggling with an allergic reaction to their food – speak to a vet about potentially getting some tests run, and changing your dog’s diet. Alternatively, if you only feed them in the morning, your dog is looking for nourishment as they have grown hungry as the day has worn on.
If your dog insists on licking you at bedtime, this may be their equivalent of a goodnight kiss. Your dog feels very vulnerable when they are sleeping, and they will no doubt assume that you are feeling equally exposed. Licking your face while you are relaxing in bed if your dog’s attempt to calming both your nerves and their own, and ensuring that your pack bond is as strong as ever.
Finally, consider the fact that although dogs have superior night vision to humans, they may still find the darkness a little intimidating. If your dog cannot quite see what is going on, they may opt to lick their way through their surroundings instead. As always, speak to a vet if you have any real concerns about your dog’s behavior, but for the most part, a little more licking by night is normal.