The Causes of Excessive Licking (and How to Treat It)

If you’re reading this, you probably have dogs and have seen them engage in excessive licking at some point. Excessive licking involves more than standard cleaning efforts, typically results in red skin or hair loss, and often has either a medical or behavioral reason behind it. This might sound scary, but the good news is that excessive licking can be treated rather easily. 

Why Dogs Lick Excessively

Dogs typically lick to clean themselves, something that can happen independently of your efforts to bathe them. In fact, they often lick themselves right after a bath just to get their scent back into their coats! They also lick because: 

  • They love to love. Dogs lick to show they care about you or another human or animal.
  • They like the way it feels. Many dogs enjoy licking because it’s soothing and can help release built-up tension, the way people enjoy massages.
  • They’re trying to get a scent or texture off of their coats. If you’ve taken your pup to a dog park, kennel, swimming in a large body of water, or otherwise exposed him to a new scent, he’ll likely lick wherever he can reach to return to his coat to its normal scent and texture.
  • They like the taste. Sometimes dogs lick because something is yummy, plain and simple.

The difference between run-of-the-mill and excessive licking is what’s behind the action. If your pup is licking a lot, but none of the above seem to apply, there might be a medical or behavioral reason to blame.

Medical and Behavioral Excessive Licking

The most common reasons dogs lick excessively include:

  • Allergies
  • Anxiety or boredom
  • Bad habits
  • To calm themselves
  • Gastrointestinal or digestive issues
  • Infections from bacteria, fungi, or parasites
  • Pain
Dogs lick when they’re experiencing itchy, dry skin from allergies, likely because they’re trying to soothe their discomfort. What starts as an attempt to calm their skin quickly becomes excessive as they can’t alleviate the itchiness by themselves. They do the same when they’re experiencing discomfort from infections, digestive issues, or pain, working to soothe their discomfort by doing whatever they can to calm themselves.

Dogs also lick out of boredom, habit, or because they’re anxious. These can be mitigated by ensuring your pup gets adequate exercise, has plenty of doggie toys with which to play, and by minimizing anxiety-causing factors like loud noises or introducing too many new people, spaces, scents, or things at the same time, among others.

How to Diagnose Excessive Licking

Excessive licking typically leads to raw skin, redness, loss of fur, scabbing, or some combination of the four. If you’ve ruled out too much pent-up energy as the culprit, consider anxiety as a possible cause. This could be due to lifestyle changes, family issues, environmental factors, separation problems, or a number of other instigators. If anxiety isn’t a problem, it’s time to examine medical factors like allergies, gastrointestinal issues, infections, or pain.

Allergies are common in dogs. Many experience seasonal allergies throughout the year, or you might be dealing with a food or environmental cause. Your veterinarian can help you diagnose allergy issues. Gastrointestinal problems usually show up with more than just licking. Your pup might vomit or have diarrhea repeatedly, be uninterested in food or water, or seem lethargic if they have digestive problems, infections, or underlying pain (that doesn’t present as an injury). If your dog displays any of these symptoms, call your vet immediately.

Other Ways to Help with Excessive Licking

If your pup’s excessive licking is the result of boredom, it’s time to make sure he or she has plenty of exercise and play. Dogs love attention and want to go for walks or runs with you! A good rule of thumb is to take a walk together in the morning before work and in the afternoon or evening when you get home. For pups with a ton of energy, consider hiring a dog walker for a midday exercise session or taking them to a doggie day care a couple of times per week.

If the licking results from anxiety or allergies, Healers has products that can help. Our therapeutic wraps are great for reducing anxiety and hiding parts of your dog’s body to prevent further wearing. Our medical wraps and medical booties are also great for safeguarding areas your pooch has impacted with excessive licking, keeping the areas clean and protected so they can begin to heal. Hot spots getting your pup down? Try our Healers Hot Spot Stopper to stop the itch cycle and provide soothing and pain relief.

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published