Our dogs have plenty of everyday quirks. Sneezing, barking at the delivery driver, napping in strange spots...the list goes on. You're probably used to seeing your dog lick parts of their body, objects in their environment, other pets, your leg, or even the air.
Dog lip licking is a common behavior. In and of itself, it’s not a major cause for concern. As you'll learn below, dogs lick their lips for many normal reasons. However, it's possible for licking to occur frequently or without stopping, and excessive licking usually indicates that something is wrong.
Let's explore the reasons why your dog is licking their lips. Then, you'll be able to tell whether or not this behavior is something you should be concerned about. If it is, you'll want to work with your veterinarian to make sure your pet gets back to normal as soon as possible.
Why Dogs Lick Their Lips
Often, a dog will lick their lips for an obvious reason: They're hungry, or they smell something they'd love to chow down on. You may also see your dog licking their lips after they've finished a meal. This kind of lip licking is perfectly normal behavior.
If you see lip-licking behavior when there’s no food around, something else is probably going on. There are both behavioral and medical reasons why a dog might be licking their lips.
These are some of the most common causes of excessive licking in dogs.
Fear or Anxiety
Did you know that dogs often lick their lips when they feel threatened, fearful, or anxious? In the world of dog body language, it's your pooch's way of showing another dog or a human they're frightened or submissive. This is in hopes the other party won't be aggressive toward them. This is known in dog training circles as a calming signal or an appeasement gesture.
Other signs of fear or anxiety include avoiding direct eye contact, body tension, a tucked tail, and ears pinned against the head. If your dog exhibits these behaviors, fear or anxiety is a likely cause.
That's right — dogs can suffer from Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) just like humans. Excessive lip licking is one symptom of this. OCD is more common in young dogs, but it can affect a dog of any age. Since this can be a difficult condition to treat, you'll want to seek the advice of your veterinarian or a veterinary behaviorist. Vet-recommended medication or professional training might be helpful.
There are a variety of reasons for dog lip licking that relate to medical issues. They include:
Lip smacking (a more forceful and audible type of lip licking) is a common symptom of dehydration in dogs. Other symptoms include dry or sticky gums, sunken eyes, and a loss of elasticity in the skin. Dehydration is brought on by hot, humid weather, vigorous physical activity, or a combination of both.
Dehydration is a serious medical concern. If you think your dog is dehydrated, move them indoors to a cooler spot and give them fresh water. Call your veterinarian's office to find out if you should bring your dog in.
Mouth pain or discomfort is another common reason dog owners might see their dog licking their lips. Oral discomfort could be caused by:
- Periodontal disease (also known as dental disease or gum disease)
- Rotting teeth
- Foreign objects embedded in the oral tissue, such as a foxtail
- Swollen salivary glands
If you see excessive drooling, signs of pain like yelping or wincing, or red and swollen gums along with frequent lip licking, one of the above issues might be to blame. It's time to set up an appointment at the vet's office to get your dog's mouth examined.
When your dog feels nauseous, it makes them drool. Dogs tend to lick and swallow to get rid of that extra saliva. Of course, all sorts of medical problems could make a dog nauseous, from diseases like distemper to ingesting a toxin. Or, your pup could have simply eaten something that didn't agree with their stomach.
If your dog is licking their lips excessively because they're feeling nauseous, they might vomit. One isolated incident of vomiting usually isn’t a concern, although you should keep a close eye on Fido. If vomiting persists, it's time to see the vet.
Is your dog prone to a sensitive stomach? One way to help combat the problem is with a probiotic. Native Pet’s all-natural probiotic formula can help to support a healthy digestive system and avoid upset stomachs.
Bloat is a condition most commonly seen in large-breed, large-chested dogs like St. Bernards and Great Danes. But it’s much more serious than the bloat we experience after a large meal. Bloat in dogs involves gas, fluid, or food trapped inside the stomach, resulting in an enlarged and potentially twisted stomach. This is a life-threatening condition that requires emergency medical care. If you see your pet drooling, licking their lips, pacing, and retching without producing any vomit, you could have a case of bloat on your hands. Rush your pet to the emergency room.
Partial seizures, otherwise known as focal seizures, affect only a portion of your dog's brain. Lip licking is one symptom of this kind of neurological condition. Your veterinarian can advise you on the best ways to manage your dog’s seizures and keep them safe when a seizure occurs.
Canine Cognitive Dysfunction
Canine cognitive dysfunction is the dog's version of Alzheimer's disease in humans. As your dog gets older, their brain function starts to decline. Symptoms like pacing, restlessness (especially in the night), house soiling, and — you guessed it — lip licking are common.
Cognitive dysfunction can't be cured, but dog owners can manage the symptoms to help their pets enjoy a good quality of life. Ask your vet for help.
Give your dog a good amount of exercise, and feed them a high-quality diet to keep the brain functioning at a high level throughout your pet's life. You can also give them an added boost of nutrition with a dietary supplement. Native Pet's Probiotic for Dogs is a good choice — it can help promote a thriving environment in the gut.
When to Be Concerned About Your Dog Licking Their Lips
Why do dogs lick their lips? As we've learned, there are plenty of possibilities. The trick is figuring out why your dog keeps licking their lips. That way, you know whether it's something to be concerned about.
Is your dog licking their lips in anticipation of a meal? Do you have something tasty cooking on the stove? If your dog is licking their lips in these situations, it's perfectly normal.
If your dog is fearful or anxious, perhaps during a thunderstorm or near a larger, aggressive dog, the lip licking is probably related to that. Remove your dog from the anxiety-inducing situation if you can, and ask a dog trainer or your veterinarian for more tips on reducing your pet's anxiety.
If you can't determine another cause for your pet's behavior, obsessive-compulsive disorder or a medical cause could be to blame. Health problems such as dehydration, periodontitis and other dental problems, nausea, bloat, seizure disorders, and even canine cognitive dysfunction could be the root cause.
When you can't find a cause for your dog licking their lips on your own, give your vet a call. It's better to play it safe and get your pet examined as soon as their lip-licking behavior concerns you.
When Is Dog Lip Licking a Problem?
There are plenty of normal reasons that a dog licks their lips. Dog owners should be aware of these. That's why it's important to keep a close eye on your dog's behavior.
You know your dog best. If their lip licking or any other behavior starts to concern you, don't delay. Call your vet's office to get a professional's opinion.Would you like to learn more about pet care and your dog's health and wellness? Visit the Native Pet blog for more articles.