Whether your dog’s tongue is pink or blue, it is a delight to see their tongues hanging out as they smile, run, or when they are showing you affection. Licking can be a divisive subject for dog owners, some disgusted by it and others content to sit back and enjoy their dog’s enthusiastic kisses. But, many owners don’t know that licking can mean a variety of things and that it is even sometimes indicative of a larger health issue.
In this article, we’ll talk about what licking can mean, reasons why your dog may be licking too much, and solutions for curbing their licker problems
Licking is a normal and healthy dog behavior. While we often interpret licking as a sign of affection, there are a variety of things it can mean. In some cases, a dog may lick a human because they enjoy the taste of the sweat or lotion. Other times, a dog may spend a considerable amount of time licking their own body in order to stay clean or remove debris.
For the most part, if you find your dog licking you or themselves, it’s no cause for worry. However, some dogs exhibit what is known as “problem licking.” This is when licking becomes an obsessive behavior that is near constant, sometimes causing injury to the dog’s skin from constant abrasion and moisture. Problem licking can also be a sign of a more serious health condition and should warrant investigation by owners.
Let’s take a look at some of the most common reasons for problem licking in dogs.
Finding the exact reason why your dog is obsessively licking can be difficult. Discovering the cause can sometimes take observing your pet for an extended period, watching for triggers, times, or reactions that may start a fervent licking session. It is also helpful to monitor areas where your dog prefers to lick, noting where and with what frequency. Usually, however, there are four core causes for problem licking:
Allergies are often pointed to as the number one cause of excessive licking in dogs. If you notice your dog licking between their paws, on their legs, or on the inner thighs, these are signs that allergies are likely the culprit. In the case of environmental allergies like dust, pollen, and dander, these allergies collect on the feet and legs of the dog over the course of the day, causing itchiness and redness. Other times, these allergies can be a case of contact dermatitis where a dog has rolled in something irritating to the skin like pesticides. A simple way to cut down on exposure to allergens is by wiping a wipe cloth across your dog’s legs and feet after walks.
Anxiety is another common cause of licking. For some dogs, even simple stressors like loud sounds, strangers, or bright lights can be too much, causing panic and compulsive behavior. In these cases, dogs are likely licking as a form of self soothing or as a distraction. However, when a dog is constantly stressed, this licking can quickly get out of control and turn into self inflicted harm resulting in lesions or hot spots aka acute moist dermatitis.
Boredom, like anxiety, is a behavioral cause of excessive licking. If a dog does not have enrichment throughout the day in the form of exercise, playtime, socialization, etc., it can lead to destructive tendencies. In some cases, this manifests as tearing up shoes or a severe lack of energy, other times it can cause licking.
Finally, pain is a potential reason for problem licking. Licking releases endorphins, acting as temporary pain relief for dogs, much like rubbing a sore joint or muscle provides momentary relief for humans. If your dog has been nursing an injury or is suffering from arthritis, they may be licking to combat pain.
Although these are the most common causes of problem licking in dogs, it is difficult to diagnose an exact reason without veterinary assistance. If you notice your dog acting unusual or licking an abnormal amount, it is best to give your vet a call and schedule an appointment. This is even more important if you notice that obsessive licking has resulted in injuries such as sores, lesions, hot spots, abrasions, etc.
After discovering the reason for your dog’s excessive licking, you can now begin searching for a solution. In the case of behavioral licking, it can often be lessened using consistent training methods.
The first training method is simple: distract. When you see your dog licking obsessively, intervene by giving them a new option. This could be offering them a favorite toy, such as a Kong stuffed with a healthy treat, or taking them outside for a quick play session. If the dog accepts this redirection, they should be offered a treat and praise.
Another option is to lightly spray the dog’s further with highly diluted apple cider vinegar when you notice them licking. This will give their fur a bitter flavor and make the act of licking less appealing. There are also dog-safe, but bad tasting sprays available at pet stores used for the same purpose.
However, some dogs do not respond to redirection training or the spray. Each dog is an individual and their reaction to certain solutions can be unpredictable. If neither of these training methods work, it is time to begin experimenting with products.
There are thousands of products that claim to prevent obsessive licking. However, many of these do nothing more than discourage licking rather than eliminate the actual problem. Luckily, we’ve taken the time to track down some of the most effective products for eliminating root causes like allergies, skin irritation, and anxiety.
This product is especially sensitive for dogs with seasonal allergies. If you notice your dog licking or chewing more often during summertime or days with a high pollen count, these chews can provide them relief from the itchiness. The chews contain omegas, antioxidants, DHA, and EPA to help keep skin hydrated as well as improving overall respiratory health.
A 90 count bag is available on Chewy for $15.99.
Using colloidal oatmeal, tea tree oil, and vitamin B5, this nourishing shampoo is great for soothing your dog’s irritated, sensitive skin. If you suspect your dog may be licking from dry skin or environmental allergens, this product is a perfect choice. Vet’s Best Oatmeal Medicated Shampoo is veterinarian approved and does not interfere with topical flea and tick medicines.
You can purchase a 16 oz. bottle on Chewy for $9.51.
Facing hot spots can be a doozy for owners. Luckily, Fauna Care makes healing from and protecting against hot spots a snap with their Protect and Condition Spray. Simply give it a shake, raise the bottle to your dog’s problem areas, and administer a gentle spritz from the spray nozzle. It’s as easy as that! With ingredients proven to quicken healing and protect against infection, and with no irritants like alcohol or fragrances, Fauna Care’s Protect & Condition Spray can prevent further injury from excess licking and curb the cause right from the start.
Fauna Care Protect & Condition is available via the Fauna Care website for $24.99
This soft chew is made of chamomile, ginger, melatonin, Thiamine, and other calming agents to help soothe your dog if you suspect they are stress licking. The combination of natural relaxants are perfect for dogs who have specific stress scenarios such as car rides or fireworks. However, it should be noted that this product is for use in moderation.
A 70 count supply is available on Chewy for $13.99.
If none of these products seem to help stop your dog’s licking, it is once again time to consult a vet or a canine behavioral specialist. They will work with you to find out why your dog is licking and create a more effective game plan. After all, the sooner your dog has a clean bill of health the sooner you two can get back to doing all the things you love together!
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