If you're a dog owner, you may have noticed your furry friend licking its lips frequently, sometimes to the point of being annoying or concerning. While occasional lip-licking is normal and harmless, persistent or excessive lip-licking may indicate various underlying issues that require attention.
In this article, why dog keeps licking its lips, we'll discuss the common reasons why, how to tell if it's a problem, and what you can do to help your pup feel better.
Reasons for Dog Lip-Licking
1. Hunger or thirst
One of the most obvious reasons why a dog licks its lips is to indicate that it wants food or water. Dogs can't speak like humans, so they use body language and vocalizations to communicate their needs and wants.
If your dog is licking its lips while staring at you or the food bowl, it's likely telling you that it's hungry or thirsty. To avoid this behavior, make sure your dog has access to clean water and nutritious food at regular intervals. If your dog is on a strict diet, consult your veterinarian before giving treats or table scraps.
2. Anxiety or stress
Another common reason why dogs lick their lips is to relieve anxiety or stress. Dogs, like humans, can experience a range of emotions, from joy and excitement to fear and worry. If your dog is in a new environment, surrounded by strangers or loud noises, or undergoing a medical procedure, it may feel anxious or stressed.
Licking its lips can be a self-soothing behavior that calms the nerves and distracts from the triggers. However, if the anxiety is chronic or severe, the lip-licking may become compulsive and lead to other issues, such as skin irritation, digestive problems, or aggression.
3. Medical conditions
Sometimes, lip-licking in dogs can be a sign of underlying medical conditions that affect the mouth, throat, or digestive system. For example, if your dog has dental problems, such as a broken tooth, gum disease, or an abscess, it may lick its lips to ease the pain or discomfort.
Similarly, if your dog has a sore throat, acid reflux, or other gastrointestinal issues, it may lick its lips as a reflex to clear the saliva or vomit. In some cases, lip-licking can be a symptom of more serious conditions, such as liver disease, kidney failure, or cancer.
Therefore, if your dog's lip-licking persists or worsens despite changing the diet, environment, or behavior, it's essential to take your dog to the vet for a thorough checkup and diagnosis.
4. Allergies or irritants
Another possible cause of dog lip licking is allergies or irritants that affect the skin, mouth, or nose. Dogs, like humans, can be sensitive to various substances, such as dust, pollen, mold, chemicals, or certain foods.
If your dog is allergic to something, it may develop symptoms such as itching, sneezing, coughing, or licking. The lips are a common target for allergies because they are exposed to the environment and can get irritated easily. If you notice redness, swelling, or crusts around your dog's lips, it may indicate an allergic reaction or infection that requires treatment.
5. Behavioral issues
Finally, lip licking in dogs can be a result of behavioral issues that stem from inadequate training or socialization.
For example, if your dog has a habit of begging, stealing, or jumping on the table, it may lick its lips to signal submission or anticipation of the reward. If your dog is not taught proper manners and boundaries, it may resort to lip smacking or other unwanted behaviors to get attention or treats.
Similarly, if your dog is not exposed to diverse environments, people, and animals during its critical socialization period (between 3 and 14 weeks of age), it may develop fear, anxiety, or aggression towards unfamiliar stimuli. Lip licking can be a manifestation of these emotions and may lead to further behavioral problems if not addressed early on.
How to Tell if Your Dog's Lip Licking Is a Problem
While some it is normal and harmless, excessive or persistent lip licking can be a sign of underlying issues that require attention. Here are some signs that your dog's lip-licking may be a problem:
- It is frequent, intense, or prolonged
- It is accompanied by other symptoms, such as drooling, panting, whining, or pacing
- It is interfering with your dog's daily activities, such as eating, sleeping, or playing
- It is causing physical damage, such as skin lesions, hair loss, or infections
- It is a new or sudden behavior that is not typical of your dog's personality or routine
If you notice any of these signs, it's recommended to consult your veterinarian to rule out any medical or behavioral issues and provide appropriate treatment or management.
Medical Causes of Excessive Lip Licking
Allergies are one of the possible causes of lip licking in dogs. Canines exhibiting allergies may present with itching, scratching, redness, hair loss, and recurrent skin and/or ear infections. Additionally, they may demonstrate behavior such as licking, face rubbing, and gastrointestinal issues.
If the cause is an environmental allergen such as pollen, dust, or mold, the dog may lick their lips as a way of dealing with the irritation. Allergies can also be caused by certain foods, which can lead to digestion problems and lip licking as a result.
It is important to note that allergies may manifest themselves as only one symptom. Therefore, if your canine companion is displaying signs of lip-licking and vomiting without any discernible cause, it is recommended to take your dog to the veterinarian for diagnosis.
If your dog is displaying signs of excessive lip licking, it is important to consider allergies as a potential cause and seek veterinary advice.
Skin conditions can be a cause of excessive lip licking in dogs. When a canine is afflicted with a skin condition, it may manifest itself through intense itching, redness, sores, hair loss, flaky skin, texture changes, scabs, lumps, and an unpleasant odor. Additionally, dogs may display behaviors such as rubbing against the carpet, chewing their paws, and reddening of the ear flaps.
Furthermore, cold sores on the lips can cause excessive licking, and swelling, inflammation, and discomfort may be present. If you suspect your dog has a skin condition, it is important to take them to the vet for a diagnosis and treatment.
Oral Health Issues
Oral health issues can be a cause of excessive lip licking in dogs. Dental disease, oral infections, trauma in or around the mouth, or the presence of an object such as a stick or bone may be responsible for excessive lip licking behavior. Additionally, wounds around the face and mouth can result in an elevated rate of lip licking. Signs that your dog may be experiencing a dental issue include lip licking and drooling.
Furthermore, it is a common indication of partial seizures. It is possible for food particles or other foreign substances to become lodged between a canine's teeth. Oral discomfort is often indicated by excessive drooling, vocalizations of pain such as yelping or wincing, and redness or swelling of the gums.
It is important to consult a veterinarian to determine the best course of action to address any underlying oral health issues.
What You Can Do to Help Your Dog Stop Licking Its Lips
Depending on the cause and severity of your dog's condition, there are various ways to help your pup feel better and reduce the behavior. Here are some tips:
- Address the underlying cause
If it is caused by hunger, thirst, anxiety, medical conditions, allergies, or behavioral issues, the first step is to identify and treat the root cause. For example, if your dog has dental problems, your vet may recommend cleaning, extraction, or medication. If your dog has separation anxiety, you may need to work with a professional trainer or behaviorist to desensitize your dog to your absence and provide positive reinforcement. If your dog has food allergies, you may need to switch to a hypoallergenic diet or eliminate certain ingredients.
- Provide distractions and enrichment
If your dog's lip-licking is a result of boredom, lack of exercise, or excess energy, providing distractions and enrichment can help redirect the behavior. For example, you can give your dog puzzle toys, chew toys, or interactive games that challenge the mind and stimulate the senses. You can also take your dog for walks, runs, or play sessions that release the pent-up energy and provide socialization opportunities.
- Avoid reinforcing the behavior
If your dog's lip licking is a learned behavior that is reinforced by your reactions, you may need to change your responses to discourage the behavior. For example, if your dog licks its lips to get your attention or treats, you can ignore the behavior or redirect your dog's focus to a more appropriate activity. You can also train your dog to perform alternative behaviors, such as sitting or lying down, and reward those behaviors instead.
- Use positive reinforcement
If your dog's lip licking is a symptom of anxiety or stress, using positive reinforcement can help calm your dog's nerves and reinforce the desired behaviors. For example, you can teach your dog to associate certain cues or actions with rewards, such as treats, toys, or praise. You can also provide a safe and comfortable space for your dog to retreat to, such as a crate, bed, or room, and use calming aids, such as pheromone diffusers or herbal supplements, to reduce the anxiety.
- Consult a veterinarian or behaviorist
If your dog's lip-licking persists or worsens despite your efforts, or if you suspect that there may be underlying medical or behavioral issues, it's important to seek professional advice. Your veterinarian can perform a thorough physical exam and diagnostic tests to rule out any medical conditions and recommend appropriate treatment or management. Your behaviorist can assess your dog's behavior and environment, and design a customized behavior modification plan that addresses the root cause of the lip-licking and promotes positive reinforcement and training.
When to See a Vet
When it comes to excessive lip licking in dogs, it is important to understand when to seek professional help. Dog owners should consider seeing a veterinarian if their dog is persistently licking its lips, particularly if the behavior is accompanied by other symptoms such as nausea, drooling, dehydration, or skin irritation. Veterinary assistance should also be sought if the lip licking is accompanied by a lack of appetite, seizures, or hair loss.
In addition, it is advisable to take your dog to the veterinarian if they are exhibiting signs of oral health issues such as bad breath, gum inflammation, or excessive salivation. These may be indicative of a more serious issue that requires prompt medical attention. If your dog is unwell, it is important to seek the counsel of a veterinarian to determine the root cause and address it accordingly.
Lip licking is a common behavior in dogs that can signify a range of emotions, from hunger and anticipation to anxiety and stress. While some lip-licking is normal and harmless, excessive or persistent lip-licking can be a sign of underlying issues that require attention.
Overall, it is perfectly normal in dogs and should not be seen as a harmful experience for either the canine or its owner. Simply being aware of any visible symptoms that accompany such behavior and recognizing it as a warning sign before situations escalate is the key to welcoming a safe and happy pet into the household.
By understanding the causes and signs of lip smacking in dogs, and implementing appropriate strategies to address the behavior, you can help your pup feel better and live a happy and healthy life.