Everyone knows that dogs love to lick! They lick our hands, faces, and themselves. They are also affected by Excessive Licking of Surfaces (ELS), a real condition.
But why do dogs excessively lick and how to stop them? Well, if your dog is licking everything, we’re here to help. It can be a symptom of something worrying or something positive, such as a sign of affection. Let us explain when you should be concerned.
Be aware of what your dog is licking, when, and the frequency. This will enable you to diagnose roughly the cause and if your dog needs a vet visit. If you see your dog licking though, do not immediately worry. It is a normal behavior, and like with anything, is only a concern under certain conditions.
Reasons Why Dogs Lick
Here we will explain the seven most common reasons why dogs may lick excessively. From the positive, neutral, and negative considerations.
One of the most common reason for a dog licking us and other dogs is to show affection. Although this is not usually an explanation for them licking themselves or objects. But why do they associate licking with affection? Well, we can relate this back to when they were newborn puppies and their mothers would clean them. They begin to associate licking as a form of affection and care and then demonstrate it themselves.
You may often see them licking you or other dogs when they are very excited and during greetings, or when they are very relaxed and content. Often, when they are excited, the licking isn’t conscious. They are just so happy to see you or meet others that they display this positively associated behavior. On the other hand, when a dog is quiet and snuggled up to you, they may lick you as a form of care. This may be subconscious or conscious behavior.
Dog anxiety can manifest itself in a number of different ways. One physical symptom is seeing your dog repetitively licking an area of themselves or in general. It can be difficult to spot when a dog is obsessively licking initially though. What you have to be aware of is how it compares to your dog’s normal licking patterns, for starters. Is the licking lasting a longer period of time generally, or are there more sessions daily? What’s next is to look at accompanying symptoms. Ask yourself these questions to find out:
- Have you noticed any hair loss?
- Do patches of your dog’s skin seem irritated or red?
- When you try to get your dog to stop licking, is it very difficult? Do they begin to carry on immediately afterward?
If you find that you answer yes to one or more of these questions, your dog likely is repetitively licking out of anxiety. You then need to find out what is causing this negative feeling in your pup to treat the underlying problem.
When a dog is suffering from a nutritional deficiency, they may try to search out a way to fulfill these losses. This may be attempted to be achieved through licking or eating non-edible items. This is known as pica, a condition that can be due to biological, or physiological issues. In this case, we are discussing its influence under negative biological aspects. This is not to say that a dog occasionally licking the floor or an object is a definitive sign of a nutritional deficiency, but it is a possibility.
When your dog is a lacking a nutrient or nutritional group, you will rarely see them behave as normal. Depending on the nutrient they are deficient from, they may seek it in a different way. A general sign of nutritional deficiency is categorized through repetitive and long sessions of a dog licking the floor or objects.
Allergies or Skin Problems
You know how it is when you have a mild allergic reaction and have the desperate urge to scratch it. Well, it is the same for dogs! When their skin is irritated this can lead to unbearable itches on your dog’s skin. They will try to scratch these with their paws, gnaw at their skin, and lick their skin repeatedly to try to feel better.
These allergies can stem from food-allergies or skin-allergies. So your dog may be repetitively licking because of a change in the environment, diet, or something else. You should also consider if your dog may have a skin problem that is causing their skin to feel uncomfortable and itchy. Look for redness, dandruff, general irritation, and hair loss. Visiting a vet will allow you to identify if your dog has a skin problem or allergy. Then you two can decide where to go next and how to help your dog feel more comfortable.
Your dogs can be licking themselves repetitively because they either want your attention, or know they get a response from you. Therefore, if your dog is particularly needy or clingy then they may be licking themselves to get your attention. This is not necessarily a bad thing alone, however, it can quickly turn into a negative behavior. Repetitive licking can develop and attention-seeking licking can become a habit. If this is the case, your dog may suffer from hair loss, skin pain, and general skin irritation.
In this case, there is not one treatment but it depends on your dog which is best. For some, it may be best to ignore the licking and praise them with attention when they approach you. For others, you should distract them with play and praise them afterward to prevent any association with licking and attention. Consult a behaviorist for the appropriate cause of action and whether or not to implement positive reinforcement or not.
Licking can actually be a sign of cognitive dysfunction and neurological disorders. However, this is normally only in the case of repetitive licking as opposed to constant. Repetitive behavior is one of the key ways of identifying Obsessive–Compulsive Disorder (OCD) in dogs, and this includes obsessive licking. You can identify if the licking your dog is doing is obsessive by asking a behaviorist. Record in a notebook how often they partake in the behavior, how long each session lasts, and if you can encourage them to stop or not.
Other disorders can develop as your dog grows, whether through physical or emotional trauma. For example, your dog may experience some kind of head trauma which can lead to improper neurological dysfunction. Their personalities can change, as can their normal behavior. They may begin to lick repetitively or lick odd things because their brain functions have changed.
Cleaning or Taste
If your dog is licking your skin, it may simply be because of what you last touched. If you just had some food, perhaps they can smell that and want to lick your hands to taste the good smell. It may also be that your dog is cleaning you. If your skin or clothes are dirty, they may simply be licking you to correct this as their mothers once did for them. This can be a sign of affection also, as they are cleaning you specifically, however, it is not necessarily.
Your dogs may also clean the carpet, toys, and even strangers. They may have a strong, caring, instinctual drive to do so and this is why they behave in such a way. On the other hand, they may be licking different areas to see what their taste is. It may be due to previous scent detection or simple exploration.
How Much Dog Licking is Too Much?
Unfortunately, we cannot give you a direct answer to how much licking is too much. Notice when there is a dramatic change in their licking behavior, or when it become arguably detrimental.
Some dogs may, as individuals, simply lick more than others. Perhaps they find it comforting, or maybe they do so to show affection. Regardless, just because your dog is licking more than others, it does not mean it is a problem. However, if their licking starts to affect their mental or physical health, or alters other behaviors, this is when you need to re-evaluate things. Your dog may be licking at their skin so frequently that it is leading to hair loss, irritated skin, and other such negative factors. This is a presentation of when licking is a problem because it is affecting your dog’s physical health.
On the other hand, dogs may use licking as an anxious coping mechanism. Although not a problem in itself, it can lead to your dog being unable to stop licking and it becoming a compulsion. Their other normal doggy behaviors may dwindle and their physical health may struggle too. Furthermore, you may actually be unable to stop your dog from licking even by calling them, trying to distract them, or trying to physically move their head away.
How do I Make my Dog Stop Licking Everything
To stop your dog from licking excessively or licking many different items, you first need to identify what is causing this behavior. Here are some of the treatments and changes we recommend.
Go to a Vet or a Behaviorist
There is no better way to find out how to help your dog than visiting a professional. Whether your dog has an unidentified health problem and requires treatment, or expresses some compulsive licking that needs analyzing, these experts can health. If you notice any physical changes, it is probably best to go visit your vet. On the other hand, if their behavior has altered, go to your behaviorist. If you are unsure of who to go to, then we recommend visiting your vet first to rule out any undiagnosed health problems.
Your dog’s licking may come from a nutritional deficit, in which case, they need new dog food! You need to look for a well-rounded dog food, one that provides all the nutrients your pup needs. Not only that, but they need a dog food that provides the correct percentages of each food type. Depending on your dog’s age, they will have different nutritional requirements. For example, puppies require higher protein percentages than adult dogs. Consider what your individual needs and then make sure they are satisfied with their mix. Also be sure to make a gradual change from their current dog food to their new dog food. So as to avoid any upset stomachs that could lead to vomiting or diarrhea.
Your dog may have a skin allergy from something they have touched, or from a food type which is causing them to lick excessively. By identifying and treating your dog’s allergy, you have a chance of stopping their compulsive licking. This is because they will no longer have painful, itchy skin. Therefore, they will not need to attend to it. Take your dog to your vet and explain your concerns. Often, vets can test your dog’s blood to try to help identify the affecting allergen. You can also work your way through eliminating the most common dog allergens from their life. Such as certain washing detergents or grain from their diet.
Your dog may suffer from dry and itchy skin because of incurable conditions. Therefore, it is your job to try to make them feel as comfortable as they can. Consider providing your dog with supplements to help their skin and coat feel better such as fish oil, or products with high levels of vitamin E. Supplements do not have to be pills, but can be tasty treats with cleverly integrated materials to help a certain aspect of your dog’s health. Dry skin is no different! Look online for products for dry dog skin and be sure to consult with your vet as well.
For dogs licking for attention, it can be the case that you need to ignore them. Make sure firstly that you are providing them with enough attention, exercise, and stimulation. If this is the case, you may need to resort to ignoring them. By giving in and providing your dog with attention, you are effectively praising them for licking by giving them what they are desiring. Therefore, they will partake in this behavior again to gain the same response. Try not to fuss your dog or make eye contact with them whilst they are licking and allow them to stop of their own accord. Be patient to break this habit.
Dog Licking Everything – FAQ
We have found the most searched questions on the internet regarding your dog licking everything all of the time and answered them for you! So you can understand all the ins and outs of this topic.
A change in your dog’s behavior like this is often a sign that something is wrong. Take a look at your dog and see if anything else has changed. Look at their physical appearance, fur, skin, and even weight. See if anything is different there and if a vet visit is needed. Also consider their recent behavioral responses such as higher levels of anxiety or fear. Each case is individual, so you have to figure out why your dog’s behavior has changed.
It may be that the material of your couch tastes or feels like something your dog enjoys. It could also be that, if you live in a hot environment, the couch offers something cool to interact with. Although this all depends on the material.
Excessive licking can be a sign of pain in dogs. It may be them trying to care for a wound, internal pain, or irritation on their skin. If you are at all concerned, be sure to visit your vet as soon as possible.
You need to treat the cause for your dog’s licking, else they will find a way to continue to do so. However, if you are determined to use a product on your dog’s skin or fur to prevent licking, then consider using a natural deterrent. Citrus flavorings or sprays are naturally disliked by dogs so will prevent them from going near a certain area of themselves.
A cone of shame is the best way to prevent your dog from licking their neutered site. It physically stops your dog from being able to reach the site to lick it. Deterrents and trust do not work here because it is simply far too tempting for them to lick and gnaw at. Furthermore, it is not worth the risk to allow them to get to the area when the consequences can be major.
A dog licking is normal! But be aware to identify when their licking becomes a problem and what the possible consequences of their actions are. There are many solutions to consider though, so try to figure out your dog’s reason for licking everything.