Dog licking can be a very frustrating experience for a pet owner. Whether a dog is licking their paws, their pet parents, or the furniture, it’s an odd quirk that can be irksome for owners. And when it comes to licking, dogs often like licking surfaces, like the carpet, or the floor.
The question is: why? What are some of the reasons for this obsessive dog behavior? There are several reasons – some are relatively harmless; others could be a cause for concern.
A dog licking a carpet, or anything else, over and over again could be a sign of stress.1 This bad habit could be a sign you need to take action before the problem becomes worse.
When dogs are feeling good, you know it. Sometimes, dogs will almost even seem like they’re smiling at you. An anxious dog, however, will often give off negative signs. They might, for example, constantly be licking surfaces around your home. They might also start panting, or drooling excessively.2
The way dogs hold their ears can be a great indication as to whether or not they’re experiencing anxiety.
Dogs with floppy ears will sometimes move them back a bit if they’re stressed. If they have short ears, they might either lay flat, or be more erect than usual. The lips are also good indicators of dog behavior. If a dog is feeling stress, they might appear to be grimacing. Other signs of possible problems are growling, barking, or whimpering more than normal.3
If your dog is showing signs of stress, talk to your veterinarian. They can recommend different ways of addressing the issue.
Potential Health Problems
Sometimes, a dog licking in an obsessive fashion can be the sign of some type of health issue. Compulsive licking doesn’t just mean a dog licks the floor or carpet. It can also refer to licking their paws, or another part of their body.
Compulsive licking can, in some instances, be an indication that something is going on that needs to be addressed by a vet. In one study, researchers looked at 29 dogs. Nineteen of them licked obsessively. The researchers found that 14 of the dogs with excessive licking issues also had an underlying gastrointestinal issue, such as giardiasis, pancreatitis, or delayed gastric emptying. After addressing the problems, the researchers continued to watch the dogs for three months.
Licking was substantially reduced in 10 of the dogs who were diagnosed with stomach problems.4
Here’s some additional information on health issues that could cause dogs to lick the carpet. Keep in mind, a dog licking obsessively isn’t necessarily a definitive sign of one of these problems – but it’s worth keeping in mind.
Giardiasis is a condition caused by a parasite that infects the intestinal tract. This can not only lead to weight loss and lethargy, but also vomiting and diarrhea. Dogs with giardiasis will sometimes show no signs of the problem, however. When a dog drinks contaminated water, the parasite gets into their small intestine. Other areas where the giardia parasite is found include soil and feces.5
A dog licking themselves, or the carpet, or some other object, isn’t always an indication of giardiasis. However, if your dog obsessively licks while they’re outside, the chances of picking up the parasite could increase substantially. Schedule an appointment with your vet to make sure your pet doesn’t have this condition.
This is a severe health problem that affects your dog’s pancreas – an organ that plays a major role in helping their body break down the food they eat. The pancreas secretes digestive enzymes that help with digestion. If the pancreas becomes irritated, digestive enzymes can move into your dog’s abdomen. This often leads to the enzymes actually breaking down other organs, such as the liver and kidneys. As you might well imagine, pancreatitis in dogs can, in some extreme cases, be fatal. Symptoms include fatigue, loss of appetite, difficulty breathing, vomiting, and diarrhea. While too much fat or calcium in the blood are the more common causes, obesity and licking toxic materials (such as rancid foods) can also be a contributing factor.6
Delayed Gastric Emptying
As the name implies, delayed gastric emptying occurs when food doesn’t move through your dog’s digestive system at the proper rate. This movement is also known as gastric motility. If your dog vomits undigested food around 12 hours or so after eating, this is a sign of a problem. A dog’s stomach should be empty anywhere from 6-8 hours after a meal. Lack of appetite, sudden weight loss and repeated belching are other signs of delayed gastric emptying. One potential contributing factor to this condition is an intestinal blockage.7
Constant licking of the carpet could result in the ingestion of carpet fibers. Over time, this could contribute to a blockage.8
There are some instances where a dog licks compulsively simply because they’re bored. Licking is one common outlet for a bored dog, as is chewing. This type of dog behavior can be troublesome, but it can also be fixed.
The first thing you should do if you suspect you have a bored dog is to make sure they’re getting as much exercise as possible. Some breeds are much more energetic than others, and the high-energy breeds can become easily bored as a result. Instead of watching your dog licking the carpet all day, get outside and play with them! Hide-and-go-seek and fetch are just two of the activities that dogs just love.
You might also want to consider getting some new toys every once in a while, so your best buddy will have something different to play with. Doing so will help keep them happy and active.9
A lot of dogs can’t stand being away from their owners for any extended period of time. Separation anxiety is, unfortunately, common among dogs. A dog with separation anxiety will sometimes obsessively lick the floor, carpet, a body part, or something else as a sort of coping mechanism.
Some researchers believe that when a dog licks something, it releases endorphins in their brain. These chemicals help calm the dog down. The more a dog licks, the more often these endorphins will be released. The more these endorphins are released, the more the dog will lick.10
How to Stop Dog Licking Behavior
If you’ve had enough dog licking around your home, you’ve ruled out a medical cause for the bad habit, and you’re ready to do something about it, there are a few things you can try. One method is to make your home environment as stress-free, yet stimulating, as possible.
An animal behaviorist may be able to help you pinpoint the source of anxiety and remove it.
If it can’t be removed (for example, if the source is a new pet, or a new baby recently introduced to the home), there are other ways to address the issue.11
Some people use homemade “lick repellents” to stop this bad habit. Dilute some hot sauce or pepper sauce with water, and then put the mixture in a spray bottle. If your dog licks a particular area of the floor or carpet on a regular basis, spray a little bit of the mixture on that area, and see if that solves the problem. If your dog licks their paws, or another body part, spray the mixture on that part. You’ll have to make sure the spray isn’t too hot, of course, because you don’t want to run the risk of your pet burning their tongue or skin. There are also over-the-counter products that are designed to stop dog licking.12
Wrapping it Up
As annoying as obsessive licking can be, it’s important to focus on determining the reason or reasons behind it. Don’t get angry with your dog. Find out why it’s happening, and then take the steps necessary to stop this frustrating dog behavior. If your vet has ruled out any sort of health problem, ask them what you can do to address other potential reasons why your dog continues to lick.
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