How to Curb Your Dog's Excessive Licking
Dogs have limited ways to communicate with their pet parents. Some dogs whine when they're anxious during severe thunderstorms, they bark loudly when delivery workers approach their front doors, and others thump their tails when they're happy to see their owners.
Unfortunately, most dogs can't tell their human companions when something is wrong with their bodies. Some pet parents don't know that there is something wrong with their fur babies until they behave abnormally. One such abnormal behavior is excessive licking. While not always serious, excessive licking is a sign that your dog may have an undiagnosed medical or behavioral condition.
What is Excessive Licking?
Excessive licking occurs when dogs compulsively lick everything within their environments. Compulsive licking behaviors include:
- Dogs who constantly lick their muzzles, paws, and genitalia.
- Canines who compulsively lick faces, furniture, carpeting, and other objects.
- Pets who lick objects for prolonged periods.
- Pets with sores, fur loss, and hot spots on their bodies.
There are two types of compulsive licking.
- Excessive Self Licking - These canines have allergies, parasites, or health conditions. They develop Acral Lick Dermatitis because of their incessant licking. This skin condition occurs because pets continuously lick a single area. Dermatitis symptoms include fur loss and infected, red skin.
- Compulsive Licking of Surfaces - These pets lick every object in their home environment to explore it. These pets can have psychological or medical issues.
Causes of Excessive Licking
Researchers have identified twelve causes of excessive licking. They include irritants and health conditions. If your dog is a compulsive licker, your veterinarian will examine her to learn the causes of her excessive licking.
- Allergies - Environmental allergens can trigger skin inflammation in dogs. These pets lap itchy skin to get relief from their condition. Common irritants include mold, pollens, and grains. Pesticides, chemicals, and shampoos may initiate a chronic skin condition called contact dermatitis.
- Dry Skin - Seasonal weather can inflame your puppy's skin, making it dry, cracked, and sensitive. Canines may lick to ease uncomfortable dryness. Fatty acid deficiencies can also cause dry skin issues.
- Infections - Excessive lickers can have a skin infection. Common conditions include bacterial, fungal or parasitic infections.
- Parasites - Bites from fleas, mites, and ticks can make your dog's skin itchy. Most ticks are visible to the naked eye; other pests are not. Mites are microscopic, and fleas aren't noticed unless there's a large infestation. Bring your pet to our office if you suspect a parasitic skin infection.
- Aches and Pains - Sore muscles are another issue that triggers excessive licking. Licking can also be a sign of orthopedic issues like arthritis.
- Boredom and Anxiety - Dogs can have psychological responses to stress, just like human beings. Pets may lick objects (or themselves) to relieve anxiety and boredom. This chronic behavior is similar to obsessive-compulsive disorders in people. Their actions can result in hot spots and other dermal issues.
- Hormonal Imbalances - Some pets' organs produce too many hormones (or not enough). For example, their thyroid might produce too much cortisol. These internal fluctuations can lead to skin infections that may trigger licking. These behaviors can ultimately lead to Acral Lick Dermatitis.
- Dental Disease - Problems in dogs' mouth can cause them to lick more often.
- Neurological Problems - Pets suffering from diseases like canine distemper may have a condition called "chewing gum fits" that may cause them to lick more.
- Hunger or dehydration - Canines may lick more often when they want something to eat.
- Anal Sac Issues - Your pet may drag its behind across a floor or lick its anal region if it's infected or swollen.
- Gastrointestinal Illness - Excessive lickers can also have nausea or intestinal tract illnesses. These patients will constantly lick their muzzles (or the air). They may also lap odd places like walls or surfaces. Owners should pay close attention to this behavior. If it continues for more than 24 hours, bring your pet to South Boston Animal Hospital.
"From neurological problems to skin issues, there are many causes of compulsive licking in #dogs." TWEET THIS
Treatments to Stop Excessive Licking
Your vet will ask you the following questions to get a detailed history of your dog's licking problem.
- When did the licking start?
- When does it happen?
- How often does it happen?
- How long does it go on?
- Can you distract your pet to stop its behavior?
- Does your dog continue the behavior when you're not at home? (You may know this through video footage.)
Once your veterinarian identifies your dog's health issues, we'll prescribe a regimen to help your furry friend. Here are common treatments that help reduce excessive licking.
- Get Rid of Parasites - Owners can use over-the-counter products to eliminate pests. Our veterinarians can recommend effective treatments. Next, wash all bedding in hot water. Vacuum any furniture and carpeting to eliminate fleas. Treat all pets in your household with tick or flea medications.
- Treat Underlying Conditions - Our animal hospital will treat any health issues triggering the behavior. Your pet may receive steroids, antibiotics, and anti-itch creams to improve skin issues.
- Changing Your Pet's Diet - Our veterinarians can test your pet for food allergies. Common allergens are wheat, soy, corn, and beef. Once the allergen is eliminated from your pet's diet, its licking may decrease. We can also add fatty acid supplements to your dog's food.
- Preventive Treatments - Pet parents may use bitter-tasting sprays to discourage your dog from licking an area. You can also collar your dog to stop repetitive lapping.
- Calm Down Your Pet - You can use diversions to ease any anxiety that may trigger excessive licking. First, increase the amount of exercise your dog receives. Start an obedience training program to relieve its boredom. Go on daily walks. Take your pet to an agility course. Give them fun toys to maintain interest. Finally, give your dog attention and love.
- Buy New Grooming Products - You should use hypoallergenic shampoo for your pet if it develops contact dermatitis.
- Hormonal Supplements - Your veterinarian can provide hormonal replacements for dogs with thyroid or pituitary gland conditions.
- Surgery - Your pet may lick one area if its body if it has an internal blockage. We'll recommend surgery to treat the area, if necessary.
Contact South Boston Animal Hospital
Does your pet have a problem with excessive licking? Schedule an appointment with South Boston Animal Hospital. Our expert veterinarians will prescribe a plan to help your pet stop licking. Contact us today for more information.
About Dr. Natalie Waggener
Dr. Natalie Waggener has 17 years of experience in emergency work and general practice in Rhode Island, Florida and Massachusetts. She has a special interest in dentistry, wellness care and rehabilitation therapy. She is currently licensed in both Massachusetts and Rhode Island.