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Why Do Dogs Lick The Air?

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Unlike us, dogs use their tongues to explore and understand the world. They can also use their tongues to express themselves and communicate with us how they are feeling. Whilst you may think that licking is a normal behavior for dogs, excessive licking is something else entirely.

Have you ever noticed that your dog seems to be licking the air a lot? This can be a cause for concern as it can be a sign that something is not quite right. It could be a number of reasons, from anxiety, to stress or even digestive and intestinal issues. 

With this guide, you can find out exactly why your dog is licking the air, what the reason could be, and how to prevent excessive licking. 

Why do dogs lick the air?

Small dog licks the air as it waits to be given a treat.

Licking the air can seem like a strange habit to us, but it is actually much deeper than just an odd doggie behavior. Licking the air could mean that there is something wrong with your dog. 

For instance, if your dog is licking the air, then it could be that something is lodged in the mouth, or stuck in the roof of your dog’s mouth.

In other cases, it could be that they are trying to get that last scrap of peanut butter that is stuck on their nose. 

If it seems like your dog is licking upwards, trying to get at something in its mouth, then you could check its mouth for obstructions. Usually, if it is just a bit of food stuck to the mouth, then there is no issue, and it should wash away.

If there is a serious obstruction, then try to remove it or take your pet to the veterinarian. 

Dogs can also lick the air if they have a skin issue, and licking is a way of calming any irritation of the skin. Whilst most dogs in these cases will try to lick paws, if you have chastised them for this before, then they will lick the air.

If this is the issue, then you may need to change their diet, or take them to a veterinarian for a consultation. 

One of the more common reasons for licking is if a dog is anxious or stressed. This is a very obvious sign of discomfort in dogs, as they may lick repeatedly and excessively when anxious. This is actually a compulsive disorder and behavioral issue.

You may notice that this happens in certain situations, or around certain people or animals, so keep an eye out for what is causing this behavior. 

Another reason your dog may be licking the air is due to a gastrointestinal issue. Excessively licking is a disorder referred to as ELS. Recent studies show that ELS strongly correlates with gastrointestinal disorders, along with issues such as reflux, nausea and esophagitis. 

Finally, a common reason for licking is to taste a particularly strong scent. By licking the air, they are trying to ingest the molecules and take in a very potent smell.

Normal reasons for licking

  • Hunger – your dog is excited and anticipating its next meal
  • Thirst – your dog may have a dry mouth
  • Something is lodged on the roof of the mouth
  • Pulling back the lip and licking air to take in the scent
  • For pleasure or comfort
  • To mimic the feeling of scratching themselves – your dog may lick whilst you scratch them in a place that they cannot reach

Abnormal reasons for licking

  • Attention seeking behavior – if you respond either positively or negatively to the behavior, they may continue because they want your attention
  • Stress or anxiety – dogs can lick excessively when distressed
  • Compulsive disorder 
  • ELS – can be due to GI problems or digestive issues
  • Cognitive dysfunction – as dogs age they can become senile and exhibit new behaviors
  • In pain
  • Foreign body is lodged in mouth or throat
  • Skin problems – can cause irritation, allergic reactions and excessive licking 

How to stop your dog licking excessively

To prevent excessive licking in your dog, there are a few things that you can do. First of all, try to minimize or eliminate situations that make your dog stressed or anxious, as this can lead them to lick a lot. 

In addition, try changing your dog’s diet, as the licking could be due to allergies or other gastrointestinal problems.

Instead, feed them a high quality diet formulated for the breed or specific health conditions. You should also make sure that they are not eating trash, or anything that they find on walks or in the yard. 

You should also make sure that your dog is stimulated with plenty of exercise, toys and playtime with you, so that they are not bored and licking for that reason. Finally, ensure that they are examined yearly by the veterinarian, and that you are keeping up with their dental hygiene on a daily basis. 

When to see a veterinarian

If you are concerned about your dog’s health and wellbeing, then take them to the veterinarian. The veterinarian will be able to examine the skin, nose and mouth for either obstructions or allergies, to see what is causing the excessive licking. 

They may also ask questions regarding diet, appetite, weight loss, or behavioral patterns. From those queries, they may be able to provide a diagnosis, or recommend further testing to help your pet.

They may even suggest changing the food you are providing, or changing up the feeding schedule or exercise schedule to help your dog. 

Make sure that you are honest with the veterinarian as they are there to help you and your pet, not judge you. Only then will you be able to get to the bottom of the issue, or come out with a reason for the excessive licking issue.