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Why Do Maltese Lick So Much? 12 Vet-Reviewed Reasons

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By Kerry-Ann Kerr

Maltese Licking

Vet approved

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Reviewed & Fact-Checked By

Dr. Luqman Javed

DVM (Veterinarian)

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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You might have noticed your Maltese licking themselves, objects, the floor, or you, and most of the time, the reasons are completely innocent. However, sometimes a deeper meaning is behind this behavior. Licking isn’t necessarily something to worry about, but it might warrant a trip to the vet when that behavior becomes obsessive or is accompanied by other signs. So, let’s take a closer look at this behavior and why your Maltese might be dishing out so many kisses.

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The 12 Likely Reasons Your Maltese Is Licking so Much

There are not always definitive answers, but there are some theories about why your dog is licking to excess. If they’re licking you excessively, it could be that you taste good. If they’re licking themselves, they could be healing a wound. And if they’re licking a chair leg after you spilled some BBQ sauce, they’re just being helpful and cleaning it up for you. However, they’re other reasons your pup seems focused on licking everything.

1. Showing Empathy

Your dog might be licking you because they’re concerned about you; they find licking comforting, and it makes sense that they assume you would too. In 2012, a study found that dogs would comfort their owners by nuzzling them if they pretended to cry.1 This reaction occurred more when an owner appeared to cry instead of just talking. So, we can safely assume that dogs can understand and empathize with human emotions to some degree.

close up of a white maltese dog
Image Credit: Muffin Creatives, Pexels

2. Excitement

This is a very common reason for your dog to lick you, which probably isn’t surprising. If your Maltese meets you at the front door with lots of licks, it’s clear that they missed their best friend.

3. For Attention

If you tend to make a fuss of your dog when they lick you by giving them cuddles and kisses, your Maltese has learned that is the best way to get your attention.

4. You Taste Good

If you’ve finished cooking, you might notice your Maltese is interested in your fingers and hands. Or have you just finished exercising? Human sweat is mostly water (99%) but also contains some salt and fat (1%), which may be intriguing for your dog’s taste buds.

Be careful if your dog is interested in licking you when you have skin products or makeup on, as some of these are poisonous; many dermatological creams intended for human use are hazardous to dogs.
Image Credit: Mihalovna, Shutterstock

5. Showing Affection

This instinctive reason to lick is linked to when their mother would lick them, and they would feel comforted. It’s an important way for your Maltese to bond with you; licking releases dopamine and endorphins, which makes them feel happy and relaxed. They also see you as part of their pack and might be trying to groom you.

6. Hunger

A puppy licks its mother’s lips in the wild when it wants food, so your Maltese might be trying to communicate with you that they’re hungry. If it’s mealtime and your dog’s bowl is empty, they may be trying to remind you to bring out the kibble.

Image Credit: Josfor, Shutterstock

7. Healing a Wound

Dog saliva contains certain proteins (called histatins) that reduce healing time by defending against further infection and killing some pathogens. Licking helps with their pain because it releases endorphins, which may help your dog better cope with their ailment. However, excessive licking around a deep wound can worsen the condition, and certain conditions can spread to other parts of your dog’s body if they lick the problem area and then lick other parts of their body, which is why vets will bandage up an injury or give you an e-collar—this will prevent your dog from excessively licking and hurting themselves further.

8. Anxiety

Anxiety can present itself in a few ways, and excessive licking is one. Separation anxiety is an example of something that might make your Maltese lick to calm down. Other signs to be on the lookout for are:

  • Aggression
  • Depression
  • Destructive behavior
  • Drooling
  • Excessive barking
  • Pacing
  • Panting
  • Restlessness
  • Repetitive or compulsive behaviors
  • Urinating or defecating in the house

It’s best to speak to your vet; they can identify the type of anxiety your Maltese is feeling, and you can devise a treatment plan together. It’s also vital for them to rule out any potential health problems.

9. Over-Stimulated

Dogs lick to calm down, so it could be that they’re feeling over-stimulated. You can help your Maltese by offering opportunities to relax, like setting up somewhere comfortable for them in a quiet, calm room. If the licking persists and your dog appears stressed, contact your vet for advice.

person training a white Maltese dog with tennis ball on the beach
Image Credit: Daniel Torobekov, Pexels

10. Allergies

A common reason for excessive licking is allergies, and signs of an allergic reaction include:

  • Chronic ear infections
  • Diarrhea
  • Hives
  • Itchiness
  • Itchy ears
  • Itchy, runny eyes
  • Red, inflamed skin
  • Sneezing
  • Swelling (lips, face, eyelids, ears, or earflaps)
  • Vomiting

If you notice any of these worrying signs, contact your vet. Severe reactions require immediate medical intervention, so be sure to seek help as soon as possible if you’re worried.

11. Toothache

Your Maltese might lick excessively if they suffer from toothaches, sensitive teeth, or sore gums. Other signs of dental pain to be aware of are:

  • Chewing slowly
  • Decreased interest in eating dry food
  • Decreased interest in hard treats
  • Dropping food while chewing
  • Excessive drooling
  • New/worsening resistance to having face/mouth touched
  • Pawing at the mouth

Getting your dog to the vet is essential if you notice any of these signs. Treating the cause of the dental disease is the only way to relieve your dog’s discomfort, as pain medication will only decrease their pain for a short time.

12. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

This is one of the rarest reasons, but your dog might develop OCD from long-term stress or anxiety. These feelings manifest as excessive licking, resulting in sores on the skin and tongue and bald spots on their fur.

You can attempt to distract your Maltese with a walk or another activity they enjoy. However, it is a tricky habit to break, so you might need a behaviorist or your vet’s help. Whatever you do, you should treat this behavior with kindness, as harsh words and impatience can increase your dog’s anxiety and stress levels.

maltese dog licking
Image Credit: smrm1977, Shutterstock

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Final Thoughts

There may not be a reason to worry about your Maltese’s licking, and the chances are, it is nothing. When any behavior is new, or you notice an unusual pattern of behavior that makes you worry, it’s time to contact your vet. In many cases, licking will be accompanied by other signs that might hint at a reason behind their excessive licking. However, sometimes your Maltese wants to show you how much they love and appreciate you!

Featured Image Credit: smrm1977, Shutterstock

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