A woman's dog licking her

Dogs have specific calling cards like barking or digging that are quintessentially canine in nature. Another common behavior among dogs is licking. Puppies learn to lick as a way to investigate everything around them, and this behavior matures as they do. Licking allows dogs to not only taste something delicious, but also to figure out what the object is.

Arlington Animal Hospital would love to explain this sometimes cute, other times gross, behavior in canines:

First, Is It Excessive?

Most dogs will occasionally lick the rug, the furniture, or your skin. There are times, however, when behaviors can become compulsive, which is often seen in anxious or ill pets.

Pay attention to how often and how long your dog licks. Do they seem to have a preference in what they’re licking, or is it random? Have you noticed any other behaviors that are unusual, such as eating feces, restlessness, changes in appetite and energy, increased fear or stress, or other signs? If you think their licking is starting to become excessive or if there are some other symptoms that accompany the newfound licking behavior, call us so we can see if there is a larger issue at play.

Why Does My Dog Lick Everything? 

Licking is a behavior that can have several meanings attached to it. Here are a few of the catalysts:

  1. It is a sign of affection. Many dogs lick their owners as a way to communicate their affection to them. This form of affection is soothing and increases the release of natural feel-good hormones in the body. As puppies, the mother would groom her pups often. Experts believe that this is a learned behavior to form a stronger bond with the pack, and you are now a part of this pack. 
  2. We taste good. If your dog licks your skin or face a lot, they may enjoy the taste of the oils, sweat, and other scents and flavors of your skin. You may notice that they like to lick you after you have been outside working or have otherwise worked up a sweat. Sounds unpleasant to us, but to them, these flavors are tasty indeed.
  3. They want your attention. Have you ever noticed that licking goes hand-in-hand with your dog wanting something? If they have any positive outcomes associated with licking, they learned this is a way to get your attention. 
  4. They have allergies. Allergies produce itchiness in pets and cause them to scratch, bite, and lick at the skin often. If your pet’s licking behavior is localized to the paws and other parts of the body, they may be dealing with some form of allergies. Seasonal allergies are common this time of year, so look for other signs of allergies, such as skin problems (hot spots, missing fur), sneezing, ear infection, eye, and nose discharge, etc.
  5. They have anxiety. Noise anxiety, separation anxiety, and other forms of anxiety are often diagnosed in our furry loved ones. Licking because they are anxious releases endorphins that ease their stress. Schedule an appointment to find out if your pet is suffering from anxiety.
  6. They have a condition called pica. Pica is an unusual obsession with eating (or licking) things that are not normally ingested, such as feces, rocks, plastic, sticks, and grass. Pica is often caused by a health condition related to iron deficiency (anemia) or a deficiency of zinc. Observe your pet and make note of any tendencies to try and ingest non-food items. Pica needs to be addressed with your veterinarian to treat the cause of this condition.

For more information on dog licking or to schedule a wellness appointment, contact us at (703) 920-5300.