Many dog owners think that excessive licking represents a big problem for the dog, which makes the dog nervous and sometimes angry. That isn’t always the case, but excessive licking should not be ignored. In addition to that, often different parts of the dog’s body are constantly wet; and because of that, the dog easily transfers the saliva onto many household objects. The sound that they produce during licking can also be annoying to some people.
There are many potential reasons why dogs lick themselves too often. Some of them can be quite serious and require proper medical attention. Sometimes dogs are licking themselves just because they are needy for attention or they do it as stress relief therapy. You can read more about the most common causes of excessive licking in dogs further in the article.
Why Do Dogs Lick Themselves? (Causes of Excessive Licking in Dogs)
There are many causes of licking in dogs. Some of them are as simple as cleaning the dirty spots on the dog’s fur, but sometimes, excessive licking can be a sign that something more complex is happening, such as hormonal disbalance, skin inflammations, allergies, ectoparasites, behavioral issues, etc.
Allergies as a Cause of Excessive Licking
Different kinds of allergies can cause excessive licking or scratching in dogs. The most common allergies are airborne (atopic dermatitis) and food allergies.
Atopic dermatitis is caused by different allergens (for example pollen) from the surrounding area. This happens when a dog inhales or ingests the allergens. All breeds can get this kind of allergy, but the most susceptible are the following:
- Wirehaired Fox Terriers
- Golden Retrievers
- Boston Terriers
- Labrador Retrievers
- Scottish Terriers
- West Highland White Terriers1https://www.msdvetmanual.com/dog-owners/skin-disorders-of-dogs/allergies-in-dogs
Some of the symptoms of allergies are excessive licking, scratching, self-biting, red skin, flaky skin, and hair loss. Sometimes, licking and scratching can be so intense that open wounds occur. In some cases, when the dogs have this type of allergy, they can develop some respiratory symptoms such as a runny nose. To minimize the chance of contact with an allergen, you should regularly bathe your dog, clean the household (cleaning dust, vacuuming), and wash the dog’s bedding.
Dry Skin as a Cause of Excessive Licking
Dry skin can also be one of the causes of excessive licking in dogs. Dogs that are suffering from dry skin will lick certain parts of their body to relieve the discomfort caused by dry skin. Dry skin in dogs can be caused by parasite infestation (mites), different skin infections (fungal, bacterial), frequent bathing, food allergies, lack of nutrients (vitamin A, omega 3), etc.
The main symptom is itchy and flaky skin. You will easily notice small white skin flakes (1-2 millimeters) on the dog and the dog’s bedding. To learn more about this condition and the ways you can help your dog if he has dry skin, read our article “Dry Skin on Dogs“.
Behavioral Issues as a Cause of Excessive Licking
Often, when the dog has suffered some kind of stress due to separation from the owner, bad weather (storm, thunder, etc.), firecrackers, or other loud noises and fear, he can start excessively licking himself or things around him.
Boredom or some kind of physical trauma can also be the cause of excessive licking in dogs. When the dog is bored, you should take him out on a walk more frequently, play with him, or at least provide different dog toys, so he can focus his attention on it.
In the case of anxiety, they can lick their owners in the search for their attention. Anxiety is usually caused by some life changes, such as moving to a new house, separation from the owner, or the death of the owner. Dogs lick themselves, especially in this case, because by licking, hormones called endorphins are released, which gives them a feeling of pleasure and dogs feel calmer. If the anxiety is constant, loss of hair can occur (bald patches) and you should contact your veterinarian right away.
Parasites as a Cause of Excessive Licking
The presence and bites of ectoparasites irritate dogs, and because of that, they start to lick themselves in order to remove the irritants. This is usually combined with scratching. The most usual parasites are mites, but they also do this in the case of fleas and ticks. If you suspect that your dog is bothered by these parasites, you can learn more about them and about treatment methods in our articles “Fleas on dogs” and “Ticks on dogs“.
Hormonal Imbalance as a Cause of Excessive Licking
Dogs, just like humans, can suffer from different diseases caused by hormonal imbalance.
The most common is hypothyroidism. Dogs suffering from hypothyroidism usually have dry and flaky skin, and to alleviate their discomfort, they are prone to excessive licking of the most affected parts of the skin.
Pain as a Cause of Excessive Licking
Pain can be a symptom of many different diseases and injuries. Dogs have a tendency to lick painful areas, such as wounds, and in the cases of dermatitis, broken bones, and arthritis, they lick sensitive areas. The licking of open wounds can be dangerous because the wound can easily be infected and further complications can occur. By licking and scratching a certain spot too intensively, the dog can easily remove the hair and skin layer, which again leads to infection.
Also, foreign objects such as splinters, glass shards, and small stones can easily be stuck between the paws or cause injury. This makes the dogs nervous and uncomfortable, and dogs usually lick and bite these areas in order to remove the foreign object.
What Does It Mean If the Dogs Lick the Certain Parts of the Body?
Licking certain body areas usually means that the dog has some kind of discomfort in that area. For example, if the dog licks the hip area it can mean that there is a problem in the hip joint. This can be one of the symptoms of hip arthritis. You can learn more about other symptoms and everything related to arthritis in our article “Arthritis in Dogs.”
Keep an eye on your dog’s behavior to determine if the dog only licks a certain spot, or if the licking is general because this can be helpful information for your veterinarian.
Licking Paws in Dogs
Dogs usually lick their paws because of an injury, parasites, foreign bodies, or some bacterial or fungal skin infection. During walks, dogs easily step on sharp objects, which leads to different injuries (sharp splinters, stones, etc.); they can also get insect bites (bees and hornets). Also, if the dog has arthritis in the joints of the paw area, he will lick the paw to relieve the pain.
In some cases, the cause of excessive licking can be some behavioral issues, such as stress, fear, and even boredom. After identifying the exact cause and appropriate treatment, the dog should stop with excessive licking.
If the dog licks his paws out of the habit or due to some kind of stress, you can try to solve the issue with bitter lemon-based sprays. The bitter taste of these sprays will deflect the dog from licking, and they are safe to use, depending on the manufacturer.
Licking Lips in Dogs
It is common for dogs to lick their lips after eating and drinking, but in some cases, licking this part of the body can also be linked to some dental diseases and behavioral issues like stress, anxiety, etc. If the constant licking is combined with drooling (hypersalivation), it can mean that your dog has nausea or some other gastrointestinal discomfort. To solve this problem, the main cause of it should be treated first.
Licking the Genital Area in Dogs
A dog usually licks his genital area after urination because dogs clean themselves this way. If the licking is too often, you might check the genitals to look for signs of dermatitis, like redness and bald patches (alopecia). This type of dermatitis is caused by friction from skin to skin, and the genital area is susceptible because there is a lot of loose skin between the leg and genitals.
If you notice that your dog has a problem with its genitals, such as redness, discharge (e.g. blood or pus), pustules, problems with urination, etc., you should immediately contact your veterinarian.2https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/why-dogs-lick-their-privates
Problems Excessive Licking Can Cause
The main problem excessive licking can cause is persistent and slow healing dermatitis. This happens when the dog is licking or scratching a certain area of the body for too long, which creates so-called “hot spots.”
Hot spots are skin injuries (lesions) caused by persistent friction of the tongue, which makes the perfect condition for dermatitis development, especially because of the moisture. The moisture benefits the bacteria growth, and the process easily takes advantage. These wounds usually contain pus, and persistent treatment is necessary sometimes to heal, which can be very slow and exhausting. After the wounds are healed, sometimes it can leave bald patches because of the destruction of the hair follicle.
How to Prevent Excessive Licking in Dogs?
Depending on the nature and cause of licking in dogs, your veterinarian will find a suitable solution for the treatment.
If the licking is caused by an allergy, the main goal is to determine the cause of the allergy. If the allergy is food-based, your veterinarian will prescribe a suitable diet and food advice for your dog, which you will have to strictly follow. The food you will use can be commercial or homemade, which is usually based on the fish because omega-3 fatty acids from fish benefit the skin. In addition to diet, another way to ensure your dog has a sufficient intake of omega-3 fatty acids is to give him supplements.
If the allergy is environmental, you will have to keep your dog away and avoid any unnecessary contact with the allergen. Besides this, your veterinarian can prescribe certain drugs to your dog (antihistamine) to relieve the allergy symptoms. The usual choice is Benadryl, which has shown to be safe.
If dry skin is the cause of excessive licking, then you should reconsider whether you bathe your dog too often and use the wrong products. When the dog has dry skin due to frequent baths or using too strong shampoos or the ones that are not intended for dogs, you need to change his bathing routine. You should bathe your dog less frequently (twice per month) and use shampoos with natural ingredients, like Pup Science 5-in-1 Pet Wash, which contains oatmeal and aloe extract, the ingredients that moisturize the skin.
If the stress or anxiety is the cause of licking, you can try sprays that contain lavender, which calms the dog in unpleasant situations. Also, your attention can be very helpful. This means that you have to take your dog out more often and play with him.
If the dog licks himself because of a lack of the nutrients, your veterinarian will prescribe you supplements to give with the food, or he will prescribe you food that already contains these nutrients (vitamin A, calcium, phosphorus, etc.).
Excessive licking that happens due to ectoparasites is usually gone after the treatment of the ectoparasites. After the diagnosis, your veterinarian can prescribe spot-on, chewable, sprays, collars, and shampoos that contain antiparasitic drugs.
In the case of hormonal imbalance, to get rid of the excessive licking, it’s necessary to get the hormones under control first and to improve the dog’s health.
Licking painful areas is also solved by treating the main cause (certain disease or other conditions that causes pain). To minimize the pain, the veterinarian can prescribe NSAIDs to your dog, to make it easier for them.
If you have noticed that your dog is licking too much, you should contact your veterinarian to determine the cause of it. This is very important because licking can be a symptom of various diseases and skin conditions, which should be discovered and treated on time, to prevent any further complications and problems that can occur. Some of these causes are allergies (food and airborne), dermatitis, wounds, ectoparasites, stress, anxiety, boredom, pain, hormonal problems, frequent bathing, etc.
If the dog licks a certain part of his body, it probably means there is some process going on in that area of the body. To stop the excessive licking, it’s very important to determine the exact cause. If the cause is as simple as boredom, you can use sprays with bitter lemon; because of its bad taste, the dog will probably stop with the licking.
If your dog licks himself excessively due to dry skin, this might mean that you are bathing him too often or that you are using the wrong products. You should bathe your dog less frequently (twice per month) with an oatmeal dog shampoo, to regenerate the skin and the hair.
If you think your dog licks himself excessively because of the presence of some disease, allergies, or ectoparasites, you should visit your veterinarian to solve the existing problem.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Excessive Licking in Dogs
Why Is My Dog Constantly Licking?
Your dog can lick himself constantly for a variety of reasons. The most usual reasons are ectoparasites, allergies, dermatitis, dry skin, hormonal disbalance, painful areas, etc.
How Do I Stop My Dog from Compulsive Licking?
You can stop this by treating the main cause of the licking. Sometimes your dog just needs more attention. Besides this, many diseases can cause compulsive licking. Some of these are arthritis, different wounds, broken bones, hypothyroidism (because of dry and flaky skin), allergies, etc. If you doubt that your dog has some of these problems, contact your veterinarian for the proper diagnosis and treatment.
If your dog is just bored, what you can do is to take your dog on a walk more regularly, play with him, and do other similar activities.
To find out more about all possible causes of compulsive licking in dogs, check the “Why Do Dogs Lick (Causes)” section, and if you want to know how you can prevent this behavior, go to “How to Prevent Excessive Licking in Dogs” section.
Is Excessive Licking a Sign of Pain in Dogs?
Yes, pain is one of the main causes of excessive licking in dogs. You can learn more about this in the section “Pain as a Cause of Excessive Licking.”
Why Do Dogs Lick You?
Dogs can lick their owners out of affection, because of happiness, euphoria, stress, and anxiety, but it can also mean that your dog is just bored and that you should give him more of your attention. The reason dogs most often lick the owner’s face is excitement.
Is It Normal for a Dog to Lick Their Paws?
Dogs usually lick the paws for cleaning reasons, but if the licking is too frequent and persistent, it can mean that there is a problem with the paw such as interdigital dermatitis, foreign bodies, etc. You can find out more about this in the section “Licking Paws in Dogs.”
What Your Dog Is Trying to Warn You about When Licking Their Paws?
This can mean that your dog is in pain in that area (foreign bodies such as stones and wooden splinters), interdigital dermatitis, or that he is just bored and maybe looking for your attention.
How Do I Get My Dog to Stop Licking His Paws?
If your dog does not have any serious problem with the paws (in which case it should be treated medically) you can try using bitter lemon-based sprays, which deflect the dogs from licking because of its bad taste.