Lip licking is a fairly common habit among dogs. It can be endearing to watch, but it’s also an action that can come across as slightly weird and concerning for dog parents who don’t understand why their dog does it in the first place. But why does my dog keep licking its lips?
Lip licking in dogs could be something medical or a sign of stress triggered by some external stimuli they find unpleasant. Or it could simply be because they are happy to see you!
In this article, I’ll take you through several of the most common reasons why your dog might keep lapping its lips and what you should do if you notice this behavior in your pooch — read on for more details.
- 1 Dogs Have 4 Unique Methods of Communication
- 2 Why Does my Dog Keep Licking Its Lips?
- 3 When to be Concerned
- 4 Conclusion
Dogs Have 4 Unique Methods of Communication
In addition to using their voices (growling, whining, etc.), they use their senses of smell, sight, and touch. Did you also know that licking is one of the most common dog communication signals?
- If your dog licks its lips often or appears to be doing so in response to an aroma, or other activity, it is most likely expressing itself in dog language.
- Licking the lips is also a gesture of submission and appeasement among canines. Therefore, if your dog licks its lips around other dogs, it’s usually a show of deference and a signal that it means no harm.
However, not all lip-licking responses are submissive and humble. If your pooch licks its lips when looking at you or seeing you eat, it could mean something else entirely.
Why Does my Dog Keep Licking Its Lips?
It’s normal for dogs to lip-lick in response to scents that they find pleasant. This can be found in the wild, licking the ground for insects to consume. It’s also normal for young pups to lip-lick to show hunger.
However, adult dogs lip-licking because of scents that they find pleasant or out of hunger can sometimes indicate that something is wrong with their health.
For example, allergies can trigger lip-licking, as can gastrointestinal disorders or a liver condition — more on health reasons in a bit! But let’s first take a look at behavioral reasons.
1. They are Feeling Anxious
The lip-licking is an instinctive response meant to help regulate the dog’s body temperature. Cortisol (the stress hormone) raises blood pressure and heart rate, making symptoms such as muscle tension, trembling, and rapid breathing more likely.
When dogs lick their lips while stressed, they might attempt to relieve these symptoms by cooling down their body or calming down their brain.
Other Anxiety-Related Behavior
Although dogs can lick their lips when they are feeling anxious, this does not mean that stress causes anxiety.
Other things that cause anxiety in dogs include:
- Excitement: When you’re about to feed them their food or about to take them for a walk
- Nerves: If your dog has done something it knows it shouldn’t, it will lick its lips in recognition and acknowledgment of bad behavior – especially if it has been scolded for it previously
When you see them doing this, take a moment to reassure them. This is as simple as giving them a pat, cuddle, or treat.
2. They are Happy to See You
When your dog licks its lips in response to you, it can mean a few different things. Rhythmic and repetitive lip-licking might be a sign that your canine is bored, happy, or looking for something to do.
It’s also an indication of the following:
- They want you to pet them or give them more attention.
- Because they’re excited and salivating in anticipation of treats or food
- While staring at a particular person, it’s because they are anticipating attention from that person.
- While sniffing the floor or a person’s leg, they are smelling something that only dogs find interesting.
3. In Response to Another Dog Or to You
You can’t generalize all types of lip-licking across dogs, but it’s typically a sign that they are irritated or angry.
For example, a low-level lip-licking among adult dogs is usually a signal of appeasement. However, high-intensity lip-licking with the lips retracted back inside the mouth is a manifestation of annoyance or anger.
- Low-intensity lip-licking is a submissive gesture.
- High-intensity lip-licking is a way to demonstrate dominance.
Adult dogs that are lip-licking with the lips retracted inside the mouth seek to get the attention of another canine or you.
The lip-licking is usually a precursor to the dog putting its head down with its ears pressed down against its head. It’s a shame-faced, aggressive, or shame-worthy gesture.
When to be Concerned
If your dog’s licking persists for a long period of time or if it is showing other signs of distress, it might be time to take it to the vet. Severe loss of appetite, decreased thirst, lethargy, and excessive drooling could be signs of something more serious.
Licking can indicate a variety of health conditions. In some of these cases, licking can actually help your dog feel better, for example, if its mouth is sore from an injury or if it has an oral disease like gingivitis.
Licking can also be a sign that your pooch has been exposed to toxins or bacteria. This includes substances like poison Ivy and mold in the environment.
Some medications can also cause your dog to lick its lips due to side effects like dry mouth or changes in taste perception.
4. They are Dehydrated
By doing so, they attempt to increase their moisture content in the mouth. Additionally, it serves as a way for them to cool down the tongue, which can become too warm when dehydrated.
Licking lips, especially if it’s warm, can also be a sign that something is wrong with the dog’s body and should be diagnosed by a veterinarian as soon as possible if they present some of these symptoms, along with lip licking:
- Dry mouth and tongue
- Dark urine
- Pale gums
- Panting, weak, or heavy breathing
If your dog isn’t interested in drinking water, try adding ice cubes to the bowl. This is especially useful for puppies. For sick dogs, try giving them unsalted beef or chicken broth.
5. They Feel Nauseous
They do this because it’s a way to relieve themselves of excess saliva, which is a sign that they’re feeling queasy. This could be the issue, especially if they are also drooling and swallowing.
If you suspect sickness is the issue, keep an eye out for them eating grass. They might have an upset stomach and want to relieve the pain by eating grass.
#Keep an eye on your dog if it starts to eat a lot of grass, as this could be a sign that it needs to see a vet right away.
6. They have Dental Issues
While dogs don’t have teeth as humans do, they still need to keep their teeth clean and free of tartar buildup.
Pups who lick their lips, especially after they eat or drink, means that there are too many bacteria on the surface of the teeth, causing pain when the dog chews.
This can also lead to tooth decay and gum diseases. If you notice that your canine is licking its lips frequently or that the area around its mouth is red and tender, contact your vet for an appointment to check for oral problems.
You might also want to switch up your dog’s diet to see if this helps.
7. They are in Pain
If your dog shows any discomfort, such as drooling or licking its lips more than usual, you should take it to a veterinarian immediately. This could indicate a serious health condition, so it’s important to act quickly.
Other signs to keep an eye out for pain symptoms include:
- Yelping, barking or whining more than usual
- Flattened ears
- Seeming withdrawn
- Lack of appetite
8. They Have Had a Partial (Focal) Seizure
A partial seizure is an electrical disturbance in the brain that sometimes (although not always) causes a brief loss of consciousness. They cause the dog to lose awareness of its surroundings and are often accompanied by abnormal behavior or movements.
The dog might see, hear, smell, or feel things that are not actually there or perceive things in a distorted way.
This will make dogs try to lick away the taste of the seizure or see things that aren’t really there. They will also lick themselves to try and increase blood flow to the affected areas, including the muzzle, neck, legs, or back.
You should take your pooch to the vet immediately if they seem disoriented and licking its lips excessively. The vet will be knowledgeable enough to diagnose and treat potential underlying epilepsy issues or at least provide advice on what to do if your dog has had a partial seizure.
Dogs are incredible creatures that rely on a wide range of body language signals to communicate. The act of tongue movement is one of these communications, and it can be used in a variety of situations. For example, dogs use lip-licking to show hunger, a desire for affection, or to indicate a particular smell.
In addition, dogs also use lip-licking as a defensive or offensive strategy in the presence of other canines. If you notice that your companion is engaging in excessive or repetitive licking, it could indicate more serious health problems. This habit could be a warning sign for some underlying medical problem and not just an itch that needs scratching!
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