Why does my dog lick so much?
Why does my dog lick so much?
We hear versions of this question all the time. Why does my dog lick me? Why does my dog lick the air? Why does my dog lick the floor? While these kisses are sometimes welcome, other times it can become excessive.
We’re here to give you the slobbery scoop on why dogs lick so much.
Why do dogs lick people?
First things first: licking is a (mostly) normal canine behaviour that starts from a young age and continues on throughout life. Dogs lick for a variety of reasons, not all of which are cause for concern.
However, there are times where excessive licking—which we’ll get to in a minute—may indicate something is up and it’s time to take your licky pup to the vet.
Far and away the most common question we hear in clinic and from our subscribers is, “Why does my dog lick me so much?” From ears to feet, face, mouth, and even wounds, some dogs can’t seem to keep their tongues away from their human family members (or even perfect strangers).
If you’re finding yourself covered in dog saliva more often than you’d like, remember: this could be your dog’s way of communicating just how much they love you. Many of us do just about everything with our dogs: we eat together, sleep together, exercise together, and play together. Even if we don’t realize it, we’re communicating with our dogs (and vice versa) through all of these activities and more.
Why does my dog lick my face? My feet?
Head and shoulders, knees and toes—why does my dog lick me so?
There are a number of reasons why your dog is puckering up to kiss your feet:
- Affection, attention, and communication. Dogs lick faces or feet to get attention; maybe it’s dinner time, or they’re in the mood for a cuddle. If your dog learns that licking is the direct path to a pat (or other desired outcome), they’ll be more inclined to do it again… and again… and again. Dogs also groom each other as a show of affection and bond; because we’re considered part of our dog’s pack, they may treat us as one of their own and put us on the receiving end of a slobbery lick.
- Investigation, greeting, and play. Puppies in particular investigate the world with their mouths; oftentimes adult and senior dogs will adopt this strategy, too. They may smell something new on you and give it a lick to suss it out. Licks may also be a “welcome home” greeting on your return home. Paired with a waggle or some excited puppy nips, those licks may also be an invitation to play.
Why does my dog lick my hands?
Maybe you’ve just polished off a bag of cheese puffs (we’ve all been there) and have cheese-dusted fingertips… or maybe you’re sweaty after a particularly hard workout. If you notice your dog is extra interested in you, this could be due to:
EXPERT TIP: Dogs taste sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and their favourite tastes are just as individual as they are.
Taste. Sometimes dogs lick us because we taste good—simple as that. Although dogs do not taste exactly the same way us humans do, their taste buds are quite functional and closely linked to their sense of smell.
Now that we’ve covered some of the major “Why does my dog lick me?” questions, let’s talk about other surfaces dogs have a sloppy habit of licking.
Why does my dog lick so much?
Because we aren’t able to be with our dogs 100% of the time, certain licking behaviours may remain unnoticed until or unless they become an issue. Excessive licking of inanimate objects like floors, air, blankets, or even dogs’ own bodies may mean there’s an underlying issue at play.
To help you come prepared to your vet appointment (always our recommended first step for uncontrollable bouts of licking), we’ve put together a list of what might be at play.
Here are the top four spots we’re asked about by dog parents:
- Why does my dog lick the air? See ‘Gut upset’.
- Why does my dog lick the floor? See ‘Compulsion and anxiety’.
- Why does my dog lick his paws all the time? See ‘Itch or injury’.
- Why does my dog lick his front legs? See ‘Anxiety or boredom’.
Despite all of these questions relating to very different targets, they may all be the result of one or more of the following:
Gut upset. Gastrointestinal (GI) conditions and related symptoms including nausea, acid reflux, and other GI culprits may be at the root of odd licking behaviours. Your vet will help you rule out GI issues, and may also look into allergies as a possible source for slobber.
Anxiety or boredom. Some dogs will lick people, or even themselves, to alleviate stress and boredom. (Yes, doggy boredom is a thing!) Licking releases feel-good, soothing endorphins, but unfortunately too much of a good thing can lead to secondary bacterial infections in the skin. Some dogs lick to the point of acral lick dermatitis (ALD), where self-trauma leads to skin infections. ALD often involves medical as well as behavioural components, which leads us to our next point…
Compulsion and anxiety. With compulsive disorders (yes, some dogs experience OCD too), dogs may repetitively lick themselves, surfaces, or other objects. However, not all repetitive licking is compulsive; a consult with your vet (and tests including bloodwork, imaging, or even a full neurological exam) will help rule out other potential differentials.
Neurological or cognitive problems. This one sounds scary, we know, but neurological causes are uncommon and there is a lot that can be done to manage cognitive changes. If you’re noticing excessive licking behaviours, keep a tally of episodes. In some extreme cases, what looks on the surface to be a licking episode might actually be something more serious like a focal seizure.
EXPERT TIP: If you’re looking for support to help you and your dog beat the itch, check out the Waggle Mail itch scale we created as part of our dog allergies series.
Itch or injury. Allergies, parasites, infection, irritation, open wounds, and pain can all lead your dog to try licking as a form of relief. Licking is a gentler way to scratch an itch (the boost of endorphins is the icing on the cake).
Nausea, hunger/thirst, and dental disease. Did you know dogs experience hanger, too? Nausea, hunger, and thirst sometimes present as drooling and excessive lip licking. However, if you’ve been wondering why your dog has increasingly bad breath, that licking may also be due to a loose or painful tooth brought on by dental disease.
Managing a lick-loving dog
Keeping a log of episodes is the best way to get to the heart of the issue. Since most dogs tend to behave differently in a vet clinic than at home, the most reliable and helpful information you can provide your vet is video footage.
Not able to capture it on film? Jot the following down in a notebook to bring to your appointment:
- How long has the licking been going on for?
- On average, how long does each episode last?
- Have you noticed any licking patterns (after eating a meal, for example)?
- Can you successfully redirect or stop your dog from licking? If so, what works and what doesn’t?
- Does your dog tend to lick when they’re alone? When certain people or pets are around? With total strangers?
The more information you give your veterinarian, the better. They’ll help determine whether your dog needs a bit of extra TLC, whether from treatments, medications, or extra training time.
Understanding your dog’s licking habits is also beneficial for you and your family. For example, if you know your dog’s allergies ramp up in the spring (and are followed by an increase in paw licking), proactively handle the issue with vet-recommended medications or supplements.
Need a helping hand to manage a licky pup? Our Waggle Mail dog subscription boxes are specially curated with products that will keep your dog distracted, engaged, and feeling their absolute best.
Bring on the (situation-appropriate) sloppy kisses!
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Dr. C. Beck
Registered Veterinarian, Founder & CEO