Licking is normal behavior for all dogs, but when they form an extreme habit out of it, should dog parents be concerned? 

It can be worrisome to see your dog constantly licking one spot or chewing at its legs, particularly when you aren’t exactly sure what’s wrong. The following information can help you better understand what’s going on with your dog’s health or mental state. 

dog excessively licking its paw

Before you can solve the issue of licking, we need to get to the root of what is causing it. Generally, excessive licking will correlate to a behavioral problem rather than a medical one. However, there might be a medical cause for concern if your dog’s skin is growing irritated or, in some cases when you see patches of scabby skin and no fur.

Figuring out what is wrong could be a lengthy process, so don’t lose hope if you try one thing with no result; excessive licking can have many causes with a variety of treatments. 

Most Common Causes Of Excessive Licking

The following are the most common reasons your dog might be excessively licking themselves (or others).

Behavioral Licking

There are a few behavioral reasons why a dog might be excessively licking its fur. The most common reason for licking that a dog parent may encounter is boredom. Just like humans, dogs can get easily bored and turn to a stimulus of habit to keep themselves entertained. 

If you feel your dog might be licking out of boredom, try playing with them and see if they immediately respond. If so, they likely were just looking for something to do! 

Dogs also feel anxiety, and similarly to how a human may bite their nails or shake their leg, a dog can show that they are feeling anxious through excessive licking. If this is the case, you must determine what is making your dog nervous and seek to eliminate it or desensitize your pup. 

One idea is to redirect your dog,” certified applied animal behaviorist Dr. Mary Burch tells the American Kennel Club. “When they lick, switch up the activity. A good option is to choose a behavior that is incompatible with licking, such as using an interactive puzzle to get a treat. You can also have the dog engage in other behaviors such as ball play or trick training.”

To be sure, try both of these methods — alleviating stress or boredom — on multiple different occasions to see if you’re able to get them to stop, or if they instead ignore you and focus on their licking habit. 

Medical Reasons For Excessive Licking

If you have determined that your dog’s habit is not a simple behavioral response, you should consider the possibility of canine allergies or parasites. 

Excessive licking or scratching is a prime indicator of a flea or tick infestation. Flea and tick bites can be irritating, especially if an infestation is left untreated. Worse, many animals will develop an allergy sensitivity to these bites over time, to the point that their skin gets inflamed and irritated even if they receive a few flea bites that day. Fortunately, fleas and ticks can usually be warded off with a good quality flea/tick prevention medication. Speak with your vet to determine the best flea/tick prevention treatment for your dog,

A dog that excessively licks could also be trying to communicate that they are in pain. Just like humans may excessively scratch or rub at an area of their body that’s hurting them, dogs can lick on themselves in areas where there is underlying pain, soreness, or irritation. If you suspect this to be the case, immediately schedule a visit with your vet.

Another possibility is that your dog could also simply have dry skin. Dry skin can be improved by using a humidifier, applying moisturizer, making dietary changes, and regular brushing to keep the dog’s natural skin and coat oils well spread out.

How Excessive Licking Could Be Serious If Untreated

After keeping a close eye on your pup, and ruling out multiple reasons for excessive licking with no improvement, a vet visit is highly encouraged. If you can rule out anxiety, boredom, habit, minor flea/tick infestation that is solved with over-the-counter medication, or allergies, the likelihood of the licking being a medical issue increases. Veterinary attention can be the best way to offer your fur baby some relief in these cases. 

At the vet, they will be able to determine if your dog has a hormonal imbalance, an undetected allergy, or something else! An untreated hormonal imbalance can increase the risk of thyroid or kidney-related problems. 

At-Home Treatment For Excessive Licking

If you want to explore the possibility of at-home treatments for excessive licking, there are some popular options that have worked for other dog parents like you. You can find over-the-counter treatments at your local pet supply store, like washes and balms, to help moisturize your dog’s skin and prevent licking due to common irritation. Dogs with a licking problem are usually experiencing some sort of skin sensitivity, no matter what the underlying cause is. Therefore, if you explore using a skin or coat product, be sure to do a test patch on your dog and see how they react to it. 

This is also a chance to utilize a very common training technique called Positive Reinforcement Training. This is when you reward your animal for following a command and after a while, you won’t need a reward and your pup has learned how to follow a new command on instinct. In this case, you could teach “leave it” and reward your dog with a treat for each time they listen and disengage from licking.  

Changing Your Dog’s Diet And Understanding Food Allergies

If all else fails, the issue may lie in the food you feed your dog. Some dogs have food-related allergies. Most commonly, these are wheat or grain allergies, but allergies can also be protein-related. 

The best way to identify the underlying issue is to experiment with different food and see where they improve. If you want to skip the hassle, but suspect a food allergy is related, you can bring in a sample of your dog’s current diet and have them tested for food allergies at the vet. 

The most common diet change that helps dog parents see irritation improvement is by switching to grain-free options. As previously mentioned, many canine food allergies can be traced back to grains, so eliminating that possibility can help you and your dog’s vet get to the bottom of the real issue quickly and efficiently. You can also add a mild probiotic or add something like yogurt, pumpkin, or fish oil to your dog’s meals for an added boost in their gut health. The quality of your dog’s gut health can be displayed in many ways throughout their bodies, including excessive licking. 

A Spa Day At Greenlin Pet Resorts

Maybe it’s time to pamper your pup! Our popular Greenlin Pet Resort spa services are all available to mix and match for a customizable experience for your beloved dog. Our team of professionals is not only trained to be comforting and patient with your pup as we care for them, but also trained to examine your dog’s overall skin health and point out any abnormalities that we find. This experience can aid you in finding the proper treatment for your dog or help pinpoint something for a vet to take a special look at. 

We also provide dog training to help you get undesired behaviors under control, and there’s always our dog daycare that can help them relieve their boredom and anxiety amongst like-minded friends.

We’d love to help your pup! Check out our website to schedule an appointment with one of our FIVE locations in the Harrisburg area.