My Dog Keeps Licking His Lips — What’s Happening?

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Have you ever wondered why your dog may lick his lips and then keep licking his lips? This article contains information for dog owners looking into why their dog is constantly licking their lips to the point it may seem to be excessive.

In general, some dogs tend to be bigger “lickers” than others. Some dogs lick their lips as well as their owner’s faces, hands, floors, doors and more. Some dogs will lick their bowls for seconds even after they are empty while other dogs walk away and don’t lick at all. There are dogs that also will even lick the air. On the other hand, some dogs rarely lick.

Licking and lip licking can be normal in some circumstances. Dogs will do it when they are bored, nervous, anxious, have something on their face or lips, or even when they have a dental problem or oral pain. The problem is when the lip licking becomes excessive or is caused by a medical problem.

What is Licking and Why Do Dogs Lick?

Let’s look at licking in general. Why do dogs lick?

  • Licking is a natural part of life starting with puppies being licked by their mothers when they are born. The licking stimulates breathing immediately after birth, removes fluids and blood, and creates a bond.
  • Licking is a normal part of grooming. The tongues of dogs are rough and licking helps to remove dirt and germs from their skin, fur and feet. It also helps dogs clean themselves after urinating and defecating in some cases. Minimizing odors is a natural protective instinct.
  • Licking can be a natural way to comfort oneself. For example, if we hurt our wrist, we may rub it. Dogs may lick at a wound or a sore area in an attempt to comfort that area. Physiologically, it may also increase circulation and aid wound healing if the licking is not excessive.
  • Licking can also be a way of getting attention. If a dog is licking your face for example, pet owners will often react. Depending on your response, you may be giving your dog positive reinforcement that encourages continued licking.
  • Other dogs lick…just because they like to. Some dogs enjoy the sensation of licking and find comfort in the sensation.

When is Licking a Problem?

Dogs that just like to lick and are not hurting anything may not be a problem. Some pet owners don’t mind. However, licking is a problem when it is excessive and causes harm or appears to be uncontrollable such as from a seizure disorder.

Below are some problems that can develop from or be from excessive licking.

Wound Problems

Wounds can cause dogs to lick. A wound can be infected and itch or a dog may instinctively want to keep the wound clean. A little is okay, but excessive licking can prevent wounds from healing. If a wound is treated with sutures, some dogs will lick out the sutures. Wounds around the face and mouth can cause excessive lip licking.

Lick Granuloma From Excessive Licking

Some dogs can create a wound by licking the same spot over and over. They can often create a lesion referred to as a lick granuloma or “acral lick dermatitis”. This compulsive repetitive behavior might be done out of boredom or anxiety. For some dogs, licking can comfort them in a similar way that sucking one’s thumb can comfort a child. The most common area for a lick granuloma to occur is on the front legs. Some dogs will lay and lick the same spot on their legs for hours.

Uncontrollable Lip Licking

Some dogs can suffer from a seizure disorder that appears as chomping at the mouth, biting at the air or even excessive and uncontrollable lip licking. This is most often a “focal seizure”. Learn more about Seizures in Dogs.

Oral Problems

Dogs that are nauseated or dehydrated can excessively lick their lips. Medical problems of dental disease, oral infections, suffering from trauma in or around the mouth, or having something stuck in their mouth (such as a stick or bone) can also have excessive lip licking. Dogs that lick the floor that has cleaning chemicals or soap can have a funny taste that can cause dogs to lick their lips.

How to Stop Your Dog From Lip Licking

The most important thing to do if your dog is excessively licking and it is a new behavior is to determine the underlying cause.

If your dog is licking excessively at a paw or wound, you can help to stop your dog from licking by using an e-collar. It is also important to understand why a pet is licking at the paw. Is there a wound? Is it infected? Does it hurt? Or is it a compulsive behavioral issue? But when a dog is licking its lips, an e-collar won’t work.

The best approach to a dog that keeps licking their lips is to have your dog examined by your veterinarian. They will likely want to examine the skin around the face, lips, gums and teeth, and to perform a complete oral examination. They will also want a detailed history of your dog’s eating patterns, diet, overall appetite, diarrhea, vomiting, lethargy, weakness, and weight loss. They will also want to know if there has been any known seizure activity. They may also want to know when the lip licking happens. Is it constant? Is it new? Is it only after eating? Does it occur when your dog is anxious or nervous? Learn more about some normal causes of lip licking in this article – Is Your Dog Licking His Lips? This Could Be Why. If there is a medical problem, then it should be addressed by your veterinarian.

If your dog is licking for attention and you don’t want this behavior, you can withdraw your attention from your dog. This is a way of giving negative reinforcement. When your dog is not licking and behaving in an appropriate manner, that is a good time for a reward or positive reinforcement.

If your dog is bored, schedule some playtime. Dogs should go on walks at least twice daily and have some scheduled times to stretch their legs and play. Chose some toys that will engage your dog.

Additional articles on lip licking that may be of interest:

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