My Dog Keeps Licking The Air — What Does That Mean?

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

Some dogs are bigger lickers than others. Some dogs will lick their owner’s hands, lick faces, floors, their lips, and lap up every last morsel in their dishes while other dogs don’t lick as much. Some dogs will also lick the air.

Causes of Dog Keeps Licking Air

Below are some possible causes for dogs licking the air:

Behavioral Causes of a Dog Who Keeps Licking Air

  • Normal behavior
    • Dogs may lick the air when you scratch them in a place they generally can’t reach. This may mimic the sensation they get when licking or scratching themselves.
    • Flehmen response. This response can appear like a dog that is licking air. The typical flehmen response consists of the dog pushing up and curling back the upper lip and wrinkling their nose to expose the vomeronasal organ (also known as the Jacobson’s organ). This allows them to take in the full smell. Dogs most often do this response when they smell different odors such as urine, blood or feces.
    • Some dogs lick just because they like to. Some dogs will lick floors, faces, hands, legs and even the air. The sensation of licking may give some dogs comfort in some way.
  • Behavioral reasons
    • Some dogs will lick the air when they are confused or anxious. For example, some dogs with storm phobias may lick the air when they are nervous.
    • Some dogs will lick the air due to a behavioral problem such as a compulsive disorder. Compulsive behaviors are repetitive sequences of behavior that are fairly consistent in their presentation. They do not appear to serve any obvious purpose, although some argue that they function to reduce a dog’s stress level. Learn more about Compulsive Behavior in Dogs.

Medical Causes of a Dog Who Keeps Licking Air

Various health problems can cause a dog to constantly lick the air and can vary from minor issues to very serious issues. Air licking is most concerning when the air licking is new, excessive, persistent, or is associated with other symptoms such as seizures.

  • Seizures. Canine seizures can result in different types of behaviors or movements from the seizure. Some dogs that have seizures will lie on their sides paddling their legs as with full grand-mal seizures. Other dogs with partial seizures can result in more subtle signs that appear as lip licking, nose licking or air licking. Some dogs will actually look like they are trying to catch a bug. This can be caused by a partial seizure.
  • Nausea. Dogs with nausea may drool, lick their lips, or they may lick the air. This may occur 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.
  • Pain. Some dogs may lick the air when they experience pain. Pain can originate from the gastrointestinal tract such as the stomach or intestines. Possible problems causing gastrointestinal pain include a gastrointestinal foreign body, pancreatitis, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), ulcers of the stomach or intestine, or other causes of pain. Other signs of gastrointestinal problems are decreased appetite, vomiting and/or diarrhea.
  • Trauma. Any cut, puncture, abrasion or other trauma to the nose, face or mouth area can feel funny to your dog and can cause a dog to scratch, rub or lick his nose or lick at the air. Some dogs will also rub at their faces. It is also possible to notice a scab, puncture, abrasion or discharge and a foul odor if a wound becomes infected.
  • Foreign body. Some dogs with something stuck in their mouths may lick at the air or paw at the mouth. Common foreign bodies that occur in the mouth are bones and sticks.
  • Dental disease. A sign of dental disease in dogs can be not eating, a foul odor to the mouth (halitosis), and sometimes drooling, and licking the air, lips or their noses. 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, in very severe cases, teeth can abscess causing pain and the desire to lick. Signs of dental disease in dogs may include red inflamed gum, severe tartar, and pain.
  • Bites and stings. Any type of bite to the face or around the nose can cause a dog to lick the air as they try to comfort themselves. Bites may include those from insects such as spiders, horse flies, mosquitos, and/or a bee or wasp sting.
  • Skin problems. Skin problems that cause a dog to itch can cause them to lick the air when they are scratching themselves or when you scratch your dog. Dogs with allergies may also have ear infections or lick their paws. Most dogs with skin infections will have red inflamed skin.

What to Do if You See Dog Licking the Air

The best approach to a dog that is licking the air is to have your dog examined by your veterinarian. Because this behavior may not be constant, if possible, obtain a video of your dog’s behavior. Log how often it happens and for how long.

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