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Why does my dog lick so much?

Licking is a natural behaviour in dogs. They use licking as as a way to groom, taste and socialise. Licking can be seen as a sign of affection, although it may have started as a food seeking behaviour, studies show that licking has become a ritualized greeting for many dogs. Most licking is harmless however excessive licking can lead to problems for your pet.

Some reasons why your pet may lick include:

  • Itching – your pet may lick itself to relieve an itching sensation which may be a result of allergies, flea bites or various skin problems.
  • Pain – if your pets skin is irritated they may also try to soothe the area by licking. Skin infections, allergy reactions and/or injury can cause irritation and pain. Unfortunately licking can result to more irritation and complications, it is important to finde the udnerlying issue before things get worse.
  • Grooming – Some dogs may over-groom their fur, resulting in bald patches and even irritated skin/ Obessessive grooming can be a cause of stress, anxiety or boredom.
  • Hunger – If your pet is hungry they may lick or smack their lips together, they may also lick their empty food bowls in excitement when they know food is on the way.
  • Thirst – If your pet is dehydrated or thirsty they may start to lick in attempts to relieve their dry tongue and mouth. Licking stimulates the salivary glands.
  • Mouth problems – Dogs with gingivitis or dental disease may lick a lot in response to pain. This can be avoided by brushing their teeth regularly and by making regular annual dental cleaning visits with your vet.
  • Nausea – When your pet feels nauseous their mouth can water and a taste can form, this can result in an increase in saliva causing your pet to lick and even try to spit out the taste.
  • Stress/boredom – anxiety and boredom can play a role in the reason behind your dogs constant licking. Anxiety can occur with the change in routine resulting in separation anxiety or the introduction of a new pet to the family. Anxiety issues may need to be addressed by your vet ot a certified animal behaviorist. Boredom can also cause licking. Ways to relieve this can be by distracting your pet with treat-filled toys, puzzles and socialization cues.
  • Attention seeking – Sometimes dogs may get into a routine of licking if they have been encouraged in the past. In some cases if they think if they lick they will get attention, then they will continue to do so.
  • Expression of love – Dogs sometimes lick as a sign of affection. In some cases licking can be seen as a sign of respect that your pet is letting you know that you are a trusted family member.
  • Behaviour – behavioural, reasons behind why your pet may lick can be more common than medical reasons. Behavioural licking may include; grooming themselves, licking furiniture or other surfaces and people. When behaviour licking is excessive it can result in hot spots, hair loss, skin irritation. It is improtant that you avoid punishing your pet for such and redirect their attention to activites which will occupy them.
  • Cognitive issues – in some cases excessive licking can be a sign of a cognitive disorder in our older pets. If you suspect your pet may have a cognitive disorder please contact the clinic for a consutlation where they can be fully asssessed and medication/treatment can be administered to help.

What to do about excessive licking:

If you are concerned that your dog is licking excessively, please make a consult with your vet to see if there are any underlying health conditions or skin issues that may the cause of it. Excessive licking can result in skin irritastion and even hairloss. Providing your pet with distractions such as toys, treat-filled puzzles etc. can help ease anxiety, stress and boredom.

Keeping a low stress environment for anxious pets can also aid in diversions. Quality of life is the msot important thing when it comes to your pet. Excessive licking may cause that quality to descrease over long periods of time. With the help of your vet  discuss any concerns and signs to determine the reasons behind their constant licking and ways to rule out anything that may be harmful.