Help! my dog licks everything: although many owners think it is simply annoying, excessive licking can harm a dog or be a sign of medical problems. learn to identify the causes of repetitive licking in dogs and how to treat it, so you are ready the next time owners bring up the issue

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Date: Apr. 2008
From: Veterinary Medicine(Vol. 103, Issue 4)
Publisher: Intellisphere, LLC
Document Type: Article
Length: 6,167 words
Lexile Measure: 1590L

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A dog's constant, repetitive licking of objects or surfaces is a problem whose frequency is difficult to determine. This licking may occur often, but because it seems harmless and may only be somewhat annoying, many owners accept this unusual behavior or simply ignore it. However, some owners will inquire about it during a routine checkup and ask for advice.

Such owners often describe a dog that licks floors, carpets, walls, furniture, its own lips, and even the owner's legs, hands, or arms constantly. When not a result of an underlying medical problem, the behavior is unlikely to cause harm. However, if hair and fibers are ingested, constant licking can potentially result in life-threatening intestinal blockage that requires surgical intervention.

This article will help you identify the reason a dog licks surfaces excessively and treat this condition. I only focus on the licking of surfaces in the focus on the licking of surfaces in the environment and do not cover excessive self-licking, such as that resulting in acral lick dermatitis.


The first and most important step when presented with a dog that licks excessively is to define the behavior as accurately as possible. Excessive licking must be differentiated from pica. An observant owner can usually describe exactly what behavior the dog is performing. Some dogs may exhibit the behavior in the veterinary clinic, but their tendency to do so or not is unlikely to be diagnostic. If there is any doubt about what behavior the dog is performing, videotaping the dog in its home can be useful. Instruct clients to collect 10 to 15 minutes of their dogs performing the behavior, both with and without the owners interrupting the behavior.

Although some dogs may only lick objects excessively, others may exhibit pica and excessive licking as part of the same set of behaviors. The potential medical causes and treatment of pica have been well-covered elsewhere, so they are not included here. (1)


Once you have determined that the problem is limited to excessive licking, collect a thorough history, including the age of onset, the length and frequency of licking episodes, any changes in the frequency or intensity of the behavior, and any stimuli that appear to lead to the behavior (see "Ask owners to keep a record of behavior problems" on page 200). If no external stimuli appear to provoke the behavior and it is a relatively new behavior, then a medical cause may be likely.

Ask clients if the behavior can be interrupted, and if so, how do they interrupt it (yelling, physically stopping the behavior, chasing the animal away). A behavior that is difficult to interrupt may be more likely to be caused by a medical condition that causes distress than is a behavior that is easily interrupted. However, a true compulsive disorder that has been present for months or years may also be difficult to interrupt. Once interrupted, how long before the dog begins licking again? A dog that immediately returns to licking after...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A178704666