Licking is very normal among dogs. It is just like we humans crack our knuckles for no particular reason.
It can however get out of control if it is done in excess. But how do you know when it too much. Read on to learn what makes dogs lick obsessively and how you can stop it.
Why Do Dogs Lick?
Dogs might lick each other out of affection. If a dog is comfortable around another dog, she might give her a lick to let her know that. It might seem strange to you but hugs may be just as weird to them. Dogs also lick their owners for the same reason. When you get home, your dog will usually run to you and lick your hands and arms as a sign that she missed you and she is happy you are back.
Dogs lick themselves as a means of grooming. Mother dogs might lick their young ones as a way of cleaning them or getting them to breathe. A pup can also lick her mum out of love or to get her to regurgitate her food.
Dogs may also lick their lips or empty food bowl if they are hungry.
Another reason your dog may lick herself is to let other dogs know that she is not a threat. To achieve this, a dog licks her face several times as she faces the other dog.
What is Excessive Licking in Dogs?
We have seen that licking is normal among dogs but when is it not normal?
Licking becomes abnormal when it is excessive or compulsive. Excessive licking is when a dog constantly licks herself or other objects.
When a dog is licking normally, she will usually lick for 10 seconds to a minute. If your dog is licking herself or other things or people for 10 minutes nonstop, this is seen as excessive licking. It is even worse if she is doing it multiple times a day.
Excessive licking will also usually result in other signs and symptoms like hair loss around the licked area or wear of the surface the dog is licking. Your dog may also obsessively scratch or chew at the spot.
What Causes Excessive Licking?
Dogs can have allergies too. Allergies may be environmental or food-related. Environmental allergies include allergies like perfume, cleaning products, and medication. Environmental allergies usually cause itching at the point of contact and this is where you will most likely see your dog lick herself.
Food allergies tend to affect the whole body. Your dog will most likely lick herself all over to give herself some relief from the food allergy symptoms. An allergic reaction to food will usually be accompanied by digestive symptoms like bloating, gas, and diarrhea.
Dry skin can cause an irritating feeling all over the body. Licking can provide relief to dogs with dry skin as the saliva temporarily moisturizes the skin. Dry skin can be caused by nutrient deficiencies like vitamin A and E, excessive bathing, and weather changes.
External parasites like fleas, ticks, and lice can cause terribly itchy skin in dogs. The itching can result in licking to provide some relief from the itching.
Compulsive licking caused by parasites will be paired with scratching of the ears, legs, base of the tail, and back of the neck. Paw licking may also be seen in dogs that have been attacked by parasites.
Infections from bacteria and fungi can also cause excessive licking behavior in your dog. Infections can cause many signs and symptoms that can trigger excessive licking in dogs. Such signs include itching, fever, and general unwellness.
Hormones play a vital role in body health particularly that of the skin. If they are thrown off balance, different health issues like dry skin may arise. Hormonal imbalances are common in dogs with Cushing’s disease.
If your dog gets injured, the affected area can cause serious discomfort especially if it is not being treated. Injuries like bruises, swellings, and open wounds can cause dogs to constantly lick themselves.
Diseases that cause pain
Diseases like arthritis and other joint problems can cause constant licking in dogs at the joints.
Doing nothing for hours can cause anyone to lose their mind. Dogs also don’t like to sit and do nothing for hours. If you leave your dog unoccupied, she will resort to anything to keep herself occupied.
Bored dogs easily develop compulsive licking to keep themselves busy. Boredom tends to cause licking of objects as the dog is just trying to find something to do rather than relieving herself of discomfort.
How much would you crack your knuckles if you were waiting on a really important job interview? A lot.
Anxiety can cause us and dogs as well to develop compulsive habits like obsessive licking and knuckle cracking. Separation anxiety is a common cause of excessive licking in dogs. Your dog may start to lick herself as soon as she can tell that you are leaving.
Other forms of anxiety can also cause licking for example if you are going to the vet, if you have strangers around, or if there is too much noise.
Stress can cause dogs to lick themselves or other objects. Stress can be caused by illness, old age, or anxiety about something.
Sometimes, your dog’s obsessive licking is caused by nothing. That’s right. Dogs can start to lick themselves and stick with the practice for no discernible reason. It is sometimes a sign of obsessive-compulsive disorder in dogs.
In such cases, a dog will lick you, herself, objects, and anything that crosses her path.
When to Talk to the Vet
Licking behavior can range from normal to obsessive. So, how do you know when to call the vet?
The general rule of thumb is to always consult your vet if you think something is not right with your dog. But how do you tell when something is not right?
If your dog has already developed signs from the licking like redraw spots, see your vet immediately. However, it can be difficult to know that your dog is excessively licking if she is not yet showing any signs.
In such a situation, you should examine your dog’s body to determine if there is a primary problem that could be causing the problem. If there is a problem for example ticks, an injury, or a fever, see your vet still.
If there is no underlying problem, observe your dog for a few days and if the licking does not stop, see your vet just in case.
Why Excessive Licking is a Serious Problem in Dogs
Some dog owners might think to themselves, “how bad can licking really be?” The answer is really bad.
For starters, excessive licking is usually triggered by another issue that may require immediate attention. Some triggers for excessive licking like hormonal imbalance, parasites, and infections require you to see a vet as soon as possible. Ignoring your dog’s bad licking habits in such a situation would result in the progression of the underlying condition.
Excessive licking on its own is also a major problem. It can result in hair loss in the area where the licking is excessive. Additionally, it can cause red raw spots in the area. If not treated the licking can cause a secondary infection of the spot.
Natural Ways to Soothe Your Dog’s Licking
CBD oil can help calm your dog down due to its anxiety-fighting properties. This can be helpful if your dog’s licking habit is caused by anxiety or stress. CBD also has anti-inflammatory properties which can help soothe skin conditions that may be causing your dog to lick herself.
You can give CBD orally as an oil or CBD pet chews. There are some CBD-infused skin and fur care products that may also be of help to your dog.
Adding small amounts of natural herbs to your dog’s food can improve her physical and mental health. Many herbs have health-promoting capabilities because of their anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.
Some of the herbs you can give to your dog include basil, oregano, peppermint, rosemary, and parsley.
Essential oils have been used for thousands of years for their healing properties. These same properties can be applied to dogs to help them through their licking habits. If your dog licks excessively, essential oils might just be what helps her break the habit.
Essential oils have anti-inflammatory properties that can help soothe skin conditions. The relaxing and anti-stress effect of aromatherapy can also calm dogs that are licking because of stress.
You can apply diluted essential oils to your dog’s skin in the bath or certain spots like behind the ears. You can also use a diffuser to release tiny amounts of the essential oil around the house.
A calm vest can be of great help to your dog if anxiety is causing her to lick herself. By imitating the feeling of being swaddled, a calm vest tricks the body into releasing feel-good hormones like endorphins and dopamine.
These hormones can soothe your dog helping her kick compulsive habits like licking.
If you are looking for a calm vest to soothe your dog during tough times, give the Honest Paws Calm Vest a try. The vest is made from a comfortable cotton fabric that is very lightweight yet very durable. It comes with long velcro strips for you to adjust to your dog’s size and liking.
The Honest Paws Calm Vest is easy to wash and is available for all dog sizes.
Playing some music for your dog can be of great benefit for her anxiety, stress, and general mental health. Calming music like reggae and soft rock can help your dog stop her licking.
We saw that licking can be triggered by boredom. By keeping your dog occupied, you can control her licking problem. You can provide mental stimulation by giving her puzzles that take time to solve. You can also teach her new tricks and commands to keep her from sitting around bored all day.
In some cases, your dog might lick herself out of ignorance. She may pick the habit from another dog and think that it is normal behavior. Luckily, you can train your dog out of this phase.
Training techniques like positive reinforcement can help your canine buddy get over bad habits. Give her a treat every time you ask her to stop licking and she does.
You can say, “leave it.” If she does, give her a treat or let her play outside. She should kick the habit in no time if you keep those treats coming.
In conclusion, minimal licking is normal in dogs. However, if your dog licks excessively, there may be cause for concern. Some of the reasons why your dog might obsessively lick herself include allergies, boredom, dry skin, anxiety/stress, pain, and parasite attacks.
You should see your vet as soon as you think your dog is licking abnormally. If left unchecked, the health condition behind the licking can progress into more dangerous stages. The licking itself can also cause more problems like bald patches, wounds, and a lick granuloma.
You can soothe your dog’s anxiety with methods such as CBD Oil, herbs, essential Oils, a calm vest, music, mental Stimulation, and training. To deal with the licking you can give a no lick patch, cone collars, or dogs’ boots.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do I stop my dog from compulsive licking?
You can stop your dog from obsessive licking by treating the underlying medical issue causing the licking. After treating the underlying cause, you can use methods like no lick strips and cone collars to control the licking itself.
Is excessive licking a sign of pain in dogs?
Yes, if your dog is constantly licking herself, it might be a sign of pain. The pain is usually at the point where the dog is licking herself but it can also be found elsewhere for example in the gut.
Why is my dog licking herself?
Some of the reasons why your dog might be licking herself include allergies, boredom, dry skin, anxiety/stress, pain, and parasite attacks.