Why Does My Dog Keep Licking the Air?

A Jack Russell Terrier licks the air.A Jack Russell Terrier licks the air.
A Jack Russell Terrier licks the air.A Jack Russell Terrier licks the air.

Table of Contents:

  1. Reasons Your Dog Licks Things (Including the Air)
  2. What to Do if You See Your Dog Licking the Air
  3. How to Prevent Excessive Licking
  4. Additional Articles About Canine Licking Habits

Have you ever wondered why your dog keeps licking the air? There are a variety of reasons why dogs lick the air and some can have serious health consequences. Normal reasons include hunger and thirst, while abnormal causes include nausea, pain, oral trauma, or dental disease… just to name a few. There can also be systemic causes for dogs to lick the air, such as secondary to seizures.

Reasons Your Dog Licks Things (Including the Air)

Some dogs are bigger lickers than others. Many pups will lick their owner’s hands and faces, as well as floors, their own lips, and every last morsel in their food bowl. Licking the air is also rather common for dogs.

Here’s a list of normal causes for licking, as well as potential behavioral reasons and medical problems:

Normal Causes for Licking

  • Dogs often lick when they are hungry. This behavior may be caused by excitement and anticipation, as well as activation of digestive enzymes.
  • Thirst can cause a dry mouth, which leads to licking.
  • Many dogs will appear to lick the air when they have been fed something sticky, such as peanut butter.
  • Dogs may lick the air when you scratch them in a place they can’t reach. This may mimic the sensation they get when licking or scratching themselves.
  • The Flehmen response may resemble licking. This consists of a dog pushing up and curling back their 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 of an area or item. Dogs usually respond this way when they smell biological odors like urine, blood, or feces.
  • Some dogs like to lick for pleasure or comfort.

Abnormal Behavioral Causes for Licking

  • Dogs may lick the air when they are confused, stressed, or anxious. For example, dogs with storm phobias will lick the air when they are nervous or in situations they perceive as stressful.
  • Any behavior can be attention seeking behavior in dogs. If you respond to your dog either positively or negatively for their licking behavior, they’ll take that into consideration. Some dogs will continue this behavior anytime they want your undivided attention.
  • Some dogs will lick the air due to a compulsive disorder. Compulsive disorders 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 here.
  • Dogs with canine cognitive dysfunction, referred to by some as doggy Alzheimer’s or senility, can present various signs, such as decreased interaction with owners, changes in sleep-wake cycles, and other behavior changes.

Medical Causes

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

  • Seizures. Canine seizures can result in different types of behaviors or physical movements. Some dogs will lie on their sides paddling their legs, specifically those having a grand mal seizure. Other dogs with partial seizures can have subtle signs like 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 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.
  • Chronic pancreatitis. The pancreas is an organ located near the stomach that functions to regulate blood sugar and provide enzymes necessary for the digestion of food. Pancreatitis is the inflammation of the pancreas. When inflamed, it can release digestive secretions into itself causing swelling, fibrosis, and severe permanent damage. This can lead to chronic pain and nausea, which can result in excessive licking.
  • Esophagitis. The esophagus is the tube that takes food from the mouth into the stomach. Esophagitis is the inflammation of this organ. This can cause pain, trouble swallowing, nausea, and burning. Symptoms of this problem can include drooling, reluctance to eat, and licking.
  • 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, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), and ulcers of the stomach or intestines. 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 a dog and cause them to scratch, rub, or lick their nose or lick the air. Some dogs will also rub 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 the air or paw at their mouth. Common oral foreign bodies are bones and sticks, which can be caught in the roof of the mouth or around the lower jaw.
  • Dental disease. 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 include anorexia, a foul odor to the mouth (halitosis), drooling, and licking the air, lips, or nose.
  • 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 spiders and horse flies, mosquito bites, and bee and wasp stings.
  • Skin problems. Skin problems that cause a dog to itch can also cause them to lick the air. Dogs with allergies may also have ear infections or lick their paws. Most dogs with skin infections have red, inflamed skin.

What to Do if You See Your Dog Licking the Air

The best approach is to have your dog examined by your veterinarian. Because this behavior may not be constant, it’s best to obtain a video of them in the act if possible. Take notes of when it is happening, how often, for how long, and any associated events.

Your veterinarian will likely want to examine your dog’s skin around the face, nose, and lips, as well as perform a complete oral and neurological examination. They will also want a detailed history of your dog’s eating patterns, breathing patterns, appetite, as well as documentation of vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, sneezing, weight loss or gain, seizures, trouble walking, and/or other abnormalities. From there, they can provide recommendations for additional testing.

How to Prevent Excessive Licking

Prevention of licking will depend on the underlying cause. Some options include:

  • Minimizing situations that cause excessive anxiety and stress.
  • Feeding a high-quality diet formulated to meet nutritional standards.
  • Offering plenty of high-quality, durable play toys and daily exercise time.
  • Preventing exposure to trash and garbage.
  • Following your veterinarian’s recommendations for yearly examinations and dental procedures.
  • Brushing your dog’s teeth on a daily basis.

Additional Articles About Canine Licking Habits

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