It’s normal for dogs to lick, scratch, and chew, even on themselves. This behavior is their way of grooming themselves, or it could be out of habit (al biet a bad one) or just plain boredom. While licking is a harmless habit among pets, it can be a cause for alarm when your dog licks too much.
But what is considered excessive licking in dogs? This article will explore why dogs lick themselves and when to know if it’s time to visit the vet.
Grooming vs. Excessive Dog Licking: What’s the Difference?
Dogs typically lick their paws, forearms, bellies, and private areas. But unlike cats, dogs are not self-groomers and therefore aren't expected to lick themselves regularly (aren’t you glad dogs don’t caugh up furballs?)
When a dog starts licking obsessively, it could indicate something is wrong. But how can you tell if your dog is licking too much?
There are three key signs of excessive dog licking: hair loss, moaning, and drastic changes in mood or behavior. If you observe your dog doing any of these, it’s crucial to keep an eye on their condition and seek the advice of a medical professional.
For instance, if you see your dog licking its back leg excessively late at night, its likely that they can’t get comfortable because the affected area is causing them significant discomfort. They could be doing this to soothe themselves.
Common Causes of Excessive Licking in Dogs
There are several reasons why your dog is obsessing over a spot on their hindquarters. The solution to this problem will largely depend on what exactly is causing their discomfort, which could be any of the following:
Ectoparasites are the most common culprits behind persistent scratching and licking. Fleas and mites are notoriously itchy and can sometimes even be contagious to humans.
To determine whether your dog is suffering from parasites, your vet will perform a deep skin scrape on your dog. The test will look deep into the follicles of the affected area to identify any parasites in your dog so they can prescribe the best treatment.
If there seems to be no sign of ectoparasites, your veterinarian will look for yeast, bacteria, or fungal infections on your dog's skin and fur. Conditions that involve bacteria or yeast can cause extreme itchiness and redness in the affected area.
Yeast infections thrive in warm and moist environments, manifesting between our pets' toes, groin area, and ears. On the other hand, fungal infections such as ringworms are identifiable by a ring pattern of hair loss on the skin.
Depending on the test results, your vet may prescribe antibiotics or antifungal treatments.
Just like us, our beloved dogs are also prone to allergies. If their skin test results come out negative, allergies are probably the cause of the obsessive licking.
Typically, there are two types of dog allergies; environmental and food. Your vet may recommend following an anti-inflammatory diet for one to three months.
If there's no improvement after the food trial, your vet will prescribe the proper treatment for environmental allergies. Keep in mind that allergy treatment takes time. Depending on your furry companion's diagnosis, it could take them a while to feel better.
Some vets suggest immunotherapy for puppies that suffer from environmental allergies.
Injury or arthritis
Injuries can also cause excessive licking. Due to the active lifestyle that our pets have, they’re constantly at risk of sprains and other forms of physical trauma.
Dogs will typically lick painful areas of their body as a coping mechanism. Sometimes the injury may not be visible to our eyes, but overgrooming signifies your dog is trying to soothe itself.
Some of the common causes of extreme pain besides injuries and wounds are arthritis. Older dogs are more prone to painful arthritis.
If your dog isn't excessively licking itself but instead licking the air, it could be that it's feeling nauseous.
Many digestive issues like eating non-food items, pancreatitis, and poisoning can induce nausea. If you see other signs like drooling, lip-smacking, or lethargy, seek urgent help as soon as possible.
Anxiety or boredom
Our dogs can also feel anxious and bored. Some breeds need constant stimulation to stay healthy and happy, while other dogs tend to become nervous and scared when overstimulated.
You can ask your dog's vet for over-the-counter therapies to help them cope with these feelings,
Ways to Treat Your Dog's Excessive Licking
Fortunately, there are many solutions for obsessive licking. Here are some measures you can try:
Treat for Parasites
If your dog has fleas or other parasites, make sure that you wash your dog's bed and vacuum your carpets and apply an effective treatment to your yard.
Your vet will suggest flea products, but your dog will get reinfected if you don't keep their environment clean. If you have other pets, you should also check and treat them for fleas as well.
Change Their Food
If your dog is diagnosed with food allergies, make sure that you eliminate any potential trigger foods like beef or wheat.
And if they suffer from dry skin, you can always incorporate fatty acid supplements to keep their coat looking shiny and thick.
Follow Their Prescription
Depending on the diagnosis, dogs suffering from infections will likely be prescribed topical ointments, steroids, or antibiotics.
As pet owners, we must ensure that our beloved pets follow their prescriptions. It’s critical to keep track of the schedule for their meds and other necessary topical treatments.
Entertain Your Pet
To prevent your dog from becoming bored, provide them with toys to keep them occupied, like chew toys or bones.
If your dog seems stressed or anxious, diffusers are becoming one of the most popular treatments used these days. These pheromone sprays help provide a calming pheromone to lessen your dog's stress.
Get a Lick Sleeve
Lick Sleeve is an e-collar alternative that prevents your dog from obsessively licking its body while helping them maintain an active lifestyle.
Unlike pet collars that prevent them from moving freely, the Lick Sleeve allows your dog to go about their daily lives while treating excessive licking.
Keep Your Pets Healthy and Happy
Over time, obsessive licking and overgrooming can be painful and stressful for dogs. And the one thing that we can do as pet owners is to help them curb this behavior, by treating the cause or preventing the habit.
Learn more about how to keep your dogs healthy and happy by visiting our blog here.