Why Do Dogs Lick?

Monday, October 29, 2018 | 


A Word From Dr. Joyce Ashamalla

There are few things in life that can be at the same time sweet and gross. At the top of the list is a big, wet lick on the face from your favorite pooch! While most people consider a lick or kiss from their favorite dog a positive (which it can be), we often don’t really understand why do dogs lick. In this blog, we will answer why dogs lick and tell you what to look for if licking becomes a concern.

Why Do Dogs Lick?

Why Do Dogs Lick People & Themselves

Licking is one of the many natural instincts that dogs are born with and will do throughout their lives. Dogs lick for a variety of reasons, two of them being:

  • Affection/Respect
    Dogs can be very affectionate animals and develop a keen sense of loyalty toward their "person". This type of licking is what we normally refer to as our dogs giving us kisses. Dogs encounter licking very early in life, as their mother starts to lick them right after birth. This is mama’s way of communicating with her pups. In addition, puppies will tend to lick their mothers around the mouth as a sign of submission. Later on, some dogs will lick other dogs to show submission to them as well, as maintaining pack harmony is very important. Licking makes your dog feel good too, as pleasure inducing endorphins are released in the brain during the licking process. So if you can handle a big wet, kiss from your pooch, don’t forget that they are expressing love and respect. In addition to showing love, your dog licking your arm could also be because you have something tasty or salty on your skin!

  • Grooming
    A very common reason dogs lick themselves is for grooming and cleaning purposes. Dogs have a natural instinct to keep their bodies as clean as possible. If grooming time becomes excessive, this could be a sign that something is wrong with your pet. Over-zealous licking around the anal area might be an indication that her anal glands are full and need to be expressed. Another tell-tale sign of an anal gland issue is if your dog is dragging her rear end across the carpeting or wood floor. In addition, if your dog is excessively licking the area from which she urinates, this could be an indication of a urinary tract infection. Be sure to visit your vet if your pooch is exhibiting any of these symptoms.    

Why Do Dogs Lick Their Paws

In addition to grooming, dogs can lick themselves for reasons that could indicate a medical or an emotional problem. When a dog licks their paws, it can mean that she is suffering from allergies (atopy) or possibly dental disease, as the licking can help sooth aching teeth and gums. In addition, an injured toe, broken nail or an infection can be the reason for excessive licking as well.   

Sometimes dogs will over-do licking as result of boredom or anxiety. This is called psychogenic licking.
If the behavior gets extreme or you see other symptoms of an emotional problem, your vet can guide you with regard to a treatment plan.

Licking is a natural behavior for dogs and most of the time your pet will do it for normal reasons such as showing affection or grooming. But excessive licking can be a sign that something is wrong with your four legged companion. If you detect that your dog’s licking goes beyond what would be considered normal, get her into the vet for an evaluation. She will be happy you did!