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Why Do Dogs Lick Themselves? 4 Reasons & What To Do About It

Grant Piper

By Grant Piper

malamute dog licking itself

If you have a dog, you will likely notice them licking themselves. Some owners find this behavior aggravating and annoying, but it is very natural. Dogs lick themselves for a number of different reasons based on their mental state and environment. Occasionally, dogs will lick themselves too much, and that can be a problem that needs to be addressed. This brief guide will cover everything you need to know about why your dog licks itself so much and what to do if you think they might be licking too much.

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The 4 Reasons Dogs Lick Themselves

Dogs lick themselves for a number of reasons, and many of them are of little concern. Licking only becomes a problem when it is excessive, constant, or causing harm to your dog. Otherwise, licking is a totally natural behavior. Some dogs lick themselves more than other dogs. Dogs lick for many different reasons. Here are four of the most common reasons that dogs lick themselves.

1. Grooming

Dogs are not known for grooming themselves as much as cats are, but they still partake in the activity. Dogs lick themselves to groom their coats. Licking removes dirt, dust, and other debris from the top layer of the coat. If you spot your dog licking themselves when they are calm or resting, they are likely just grooming themselves. Dogs also like to groom themselves after they urinate. If your dog is constantly licking their rear end, they could be trying to express their anal glands, and that could be something worth keeping an eye on.

2. Healing

Many people don’t realize that dogs’ tongues have healing properties. Your dog’s saliva has a cocktail of special enzymes that are designed to kill harmful bacteria. Dogs will lick wounds or sores in order to infuse some of this saliva into the area in hopes of killing any bacteria that might be trying to cause an infection. If you see your dog licking a wound or cut, do not be alarmed unless the area starts showing signs of infection (redness, heat, pus, etc.).

dog licking its paw
Image Credit: KPhrom, Shutterstock

3. Anxiety

One concerning reason that dogs lick themselves is because of stress or anxiety. If your dog is constantly anxious, it could lead to excessive licking. Some dogs will lick their paws, or lick the air, as a way to attempt to soothe themselves. If your dog shows signs of anxiety or stress that leads to intense or constant licking, you might want to talk to your veterinarian about getting some medications or advice to try and reduce your dog’s anxiety levels.

4. Itchy

Dogs can also lick themselves if they are itchy. Many dogs get itchy. Some itches are minor, but other times the itch can be indicative of a more significant or chronic problem. Some of the most common causes of itchiness include allergies, contact dermatitis, and fleas. If the itchiness is consistent and doesn’t seem to go away, then your dog could have allergies that will need medication to treat. Dogs will lick themselves to try and reduce the itchiness, like how people scratch themselves.

dog licking its butt
Image Credit: Jiramath Noomuan, Shutterstock

How to Stop Your Dog from Licking Too Much

Licking is a natural behavior in dogs, and you will not be able to stop it completely. Licking in moderation is natural, healthy, and instinctual. If your dog seems to be licking too much, it could be a problem. The way to stop your dog from licking too much is to identify the cause of the excessive licking and treat it at the root. If your dog is licking due to itchiness, you should treat the itch. If your dog is licking due to anxiety, you should work to reduce their stress levels.

What you should not do is to try and discourage licking by yelling at them or punishing them for licking. Since licking is so instinctual and habitual, trying to punish them for licking will only be confusing and can actually cause their anxiety to rise and lead to further licking. That will be counterproductive to your overall goal.

When to Contact Your Veterinarian

Licking can be problematic if it starts causing issues with your dog. Signs that your dog is licking too much include redness, loss of hair, or signs of infection. Dogs that lick too much will typically focus on one specific area, like the paws, that they lick over and over again until they start to cause damage to the skin. If your dog’s licking is causing this kind of damage, you should make an appointment with your veterinarian to identify the root cause of the licking so that you can treat it. Most excessive licking issues can be treated and reduced with professional help.

woman talking to vet
Image Credit: SeventyFour, Shutterstock

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If you are curious about the amount of licking that your dog does, there are fitness trackers and smart collars that will let you know how much time they spend licking. This can help you detect allergy flare-ups or periods of anxiety when you are not around. If you suspect your dog is licking themselves too much, contact your veterinarian. In most cases licking is totally natural and benign behavior.


Featured Image Credit: Julia Kaysa, Shutterstock

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