Is Your Dog Licking His Lips? This Could Be Why

dog licking lips
dog licking lips

Have you ever wondered why your dog may lick his lips? There are numerous reasons for dog licking lips and some may have serious health consequences. This article contains information for dog owners looking into why their dogs may be licking their lips.

Causes of Dog Licking Lips

Some pet owners believe their dogs may lick their lips because they may be dry or sunburned because those are reasons people may lick their lips. This may be true however, there are different and more common reasons for dogs to lick their lips.

In general, some dogs tend to lick their lips more than others. The biggest concern is when the lip licking becomes excessive or is a new behavior. Lip licking in dogs can be a symptom of a health problem or a communication tool. Below are some possible causes for lip licking in dogs:

Behavioral Causes of Dog Licking Lips

  • Normal behavior. Some dogs will licks their lips when their lips feel dry, a bug hits their lip or face, or something is stuck near their lip such as a piece of food or a blade of grass. Another normal cause for lip licking is when a dog is about ready to eat or anticipates eating. A normal physiologic response is for their salivary glands to get flowing and they often lick their lips as they anticipate their snack.
  • Anxiety. Some dogs will lick their lips when they are confused or maybe even a little frustrated. For example, if a dog is being trained, he or she may lick their lips when they are baffled about their training and unsure about what is expected of them. Some behaviorists refer to dog lip licking as an “appeasement gesture”. An appeasement gesture is a behavior that acts as a calming signal. Dogs will use their body to communicate that they are the stressed or frightened. Other appeasement gestures are yawning. A classic use of lip licking will be when a dog is approached by another dog. A dog may then avoid direct eye contact and lick his lips. This communicates to the other dog to say, “Hi – I don’t want to fight”.

Medical Causes of Dog Licking Lips

Various health problems can cause lip licking. Some problems can be minor issues and others are more serious. Causes may include:

  • Unpleasant tastes. Dogs that lick something different or unpleasant can develop a funny taste in their mouth and lick their lips. Common causes can be from licking or eating a different food or from licking a cleaning chemical such as Windex®, various soaps, or other cleaners. Some cleaners can not only be unpleasant but can also be caustic resulting in oral ulcerations. Poisonous toads such as the Marine or Cane toad and Sonoran Desert toad can be toxic. Symptoms of toad venom toxicity include drooling, lip licking, and foaming at the mouth. Signs can progress quickly. Learn more about canine toad toxicity.
  • Dehydration. Some dogs that are sick and not eating or drinking or are suffering from fluid losses from vomiting and/or diarrhea can become dehydrated. This can cause a dog to lick their lips.
  • Trauma. Any cut, puncture, abrasion or other trauma to the lip area can feel funny and can cause lip licking. Some wounds can become infected which itch, causing dogs to rub or scratch their faces and/or lick their lips. It is also possible to notice a discharge or a foul odor from infected wounds.
  • Bites. Any type of bite to the face or around the lips can cause dog lip licking. This includes insect bites from spiders, horse flies, mosquitos, and/or a bee or wasp sting. Snakebites can also occur around the face and mouth and cause pain, swelling, discharge, and/or lip licking.
  • Foreign body. Dogs with something caught in their mouth, also known as a “foreign body”, can have excessive lip licking. Items commonly caught in the mouth are bones, rawhides, toys, and sticks. Plants, such as foxtails, can also become lodged in the mouth and cause lip licking.
  • Dental disease. A sign of dental disease in dogs can be lip licking. As dental disease advances, plaque turns to tartar and bacteria can create gum disease (also known as periodontal disease) and tooth loss. As dental disease progresses, most dog owners notice a foul odor from their dog’s mouth and can see red inflamed gums.
  • Nausea. A very common sign of nausea in dogs is lip licking. Dogs with nausea will often hypersalivate which results in lip licking. This commonly occurs just prior to the act of vomiting. Some dogs may also eat grass when they are nauseated. Learn more about nausea in dogs and vomiting in dogs.
  • Oral ulcers. Oral ulcerations can develop from oral infections, dental disease, systemic infections such as kidney disease, and from ingestion of caustic substances. Examples of caustic products include laundry or dishwasher detergent pods or liquid potpourri. These both can seem appealing to pets based on texture or smell, and oral exposure can cause severe mouth and esophageal burns.
  • Seizures. Canine seizures can result in different types of behaviors or movements. Some dogs will lie on their sides with full grand-mal seizures while other dogs with partial seizures can result in more subtle signs of a seizure such as lip licking.

What to Do if You See Dog Licking Lips

The first thing to if your dog is licking his or her lips is to look at this relative to the behavior and determine if there is an underlying medical problem.

  1. The most important thing is to try to determine if the dog licking lip behavior is a message of anxiety. Some dogs can lick their lips when they are nervous, which can escalate to aggression. It is important to be safe and ensure those around you are safe. If your dog is cornered, in a situation that you believe may make him or her or uncomfortable, then give your dog some space. Back off. If a child or other person is making your dog nervous, remove them from close proximity to the dog. Some behaviorists recommend that you redirect the dog lip licking behavior by offering a toy. It is recommended that you avoid giving a dog with this behavior special attention so as not to reinforce his anxiety or fear.
  2. If your dog is lip licking during training, it is possible he is worried or confused by what you are training. Consider offering your dog a task that he clearly understands and when successful offer a reward. Consider other ways to communicate your training or stop for the day and begin again another day when your dog is refreshed.
  3. It is important to determine if the dog lip licking is due to a medical problem. The best approach is to have your dog examined by your veterinarian. They will likely want to examine the skin around the face, lips, gums, teeth and a complete oral examination. They will also want a detailed history of your dog eating patterns, overall appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, and weight loss.

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