Our canines have plenty of lovely habits, and pups licking their lips is up there on the list of the sweetest things they habitually do. Dogs will often lick their lips when they sniff something yummy, but why do dogs lick their lips when you pet them?
It turns out that there are numerous reasons why dogs lick their lips when you pet them. It could be an indication of love, hunger, thirst, happiness, stress, anxiety, neurological disorders, cognitive dysfunction, or even a sign of underlying medical problems.
Read on for detailed information on the potential causes for this behavior and what it might mean when your pup continues to lick their lips each time your pet them.
Why do dogs lick their lips when you pet them?
As mentioned above, there are quite a few reasons your dog may be licking its lips when you pet him or her, so it’s good to be educated on these causes so you know how to handle the situation and when it may be time to worry.
Here are the main reasons which may contribute to lip-licking behavior in dogs when you pet them.
1. Showing Love or Affection
Licking is a sign of affection in the canine world; it’s how these wonderful companion animals show comfort and care towards one another. Whether it’s mother-to-pup, between one pack member and another, or simply best friends greeting each other after an extended separation, licking is a way for dogs to show that they care. When your pup licks you when you pet them, it’s his or her way of showing love and affection in return.
2. Hunger or Thirst
A dog licking its lips can also signify that your pet is hungry or thirsty. If he stops eating his food suddenly but continues to lick his lips, try offering him some more water or mix in some moist canned food with the dry kibble. Also, make sure that the food and water bowls are clean and fresh. Sometimes, the issue may not be hunger at all but simply distaste for old or dirty water or food bowls.
You can also try some wet dog food if it’s available as this tends to have more moisture content than dry and may alleviate your dog’s incessant mealtime-related licking when it comes to his food.
Keep in mind your pet is likely receiving enough water since dogs don’t typically get dehydrated. If he stops eating altogether and drinks a lot of water, this could indicate an underlying health condition such as diabetes or kidney disease, so take him to the vet right away to ensure he isn’t suffering from any of these conditions.
3. Happiness and Excitement
Licking its lips is also something that happens when a dog is excited. The excitement may be due to simple things you might not even notice, like going outside to go potty, the anticipation before a meal or a walk, greeting family members when they come home from work, or seeing a friend and getting to play with another pet. The excitement can also be from something more extreme, like chasing squirrels in the yard or meeting up with other pets for playtime!
Dogs will very often show their excitement through excessive licking of objects, people, or other animals. For pet parents with dogs prone to drooling, this excitement will also typically lead to a slobber overload, too!
4. Stress or Discomfort
If your pet is stressed out about something, he may start to lick you or himself excessively to soothe himself. This behavior serves as a nervous habit for your dog due to his anxiety about an event, object, or even a particular person. Typically, this will happen when introducing your dog to new surroundings or new people. Monitor the situation closely, and if you see that the stress only occurs in certain settings, try taking your pup to these places less often until things calm down a bit.
If your pet licks excessively while you are petting him, he could be indicating that there’s some discomfort by way of illness or injury somewhere on his body that needs attention. For example, if he has fleas even though you have been giving him flea treatments, he may lick himself to soothe the itching.
If your pet is licking his feet, there could be something stuck in between his toes that is causing him discomfort, and this can also be a sign of a worm infestation, too. He might also lick if he has an injury or wound somewhere on his body that’s causing him pain. Be sure to check your dog’s entire body for anything unusual the next time he goes into a licking frenzy, and contact your vet if anything looks out of place.
Sometimes, dogs will lick their lips when they feel anxious about something. Since stress can cause physical symptoms like nausea or vomiting, it makes sense that licking would follow suit as well. When this happens, monitor the situation closely to see if there’s anything that is causing your dog anxiety.
If your pet only licks during specific situations, try to help him relax before taking care of the activity that causes him stress. You can also give him some special treats like a beef bone or wet dog food whenever he appears stressed in order to make these events more positive for him.
6. Neurological Disorders
Focal seizures, which are less severe than full seizures, are something that can occur in certain dogs. As opposed to complete seizures, focal seizures are often caused by epilepsy and are characterized by odd behavior that lasts for just a brief period of time. Most individuals would not be able to distinguish between the two types of seizures when seeing their dog experience such a distressing medical event.
Lip licking is a typical indicator in dogs suffering from a focal seizure. Other symptoms include twitching and other involuntary and repetitive moments as well as pupil dilation, excessive salivation with no reasonable cause, and unusual changes in behavior. If your pet is experiencing focal seizures, your veterinarian will be able to provide assistance.
7. Cognitive Dysfunction
As some canines get older, they may become confused and disoriented at times as they navigate the natural decline in their mental functioning and comprehension. Due to this degradation in their cognitive function, they may experience tension and anxiety due to their inability to grasp what is going on around them completely. They will oftentimes feel disoriented and become stressed due to such an experience.
Additionally, dogs that are advanced in age may also require additional assistance in order to continue enjoying life as they once did. They frequently find that they need to spend less time alone, and they instead grow to benefit more from the presence of people or other familiar canines in their environment.
During their senior years, dogs suffering from cognitive impairment may begin to roam the home or pace about the house at night, as well as vocalize excessively and lose their previous house training. Licking of the lips in an elderly dog suffering from cognitive decline might indicate that he or she is no longer confident in certain circumstances and feels frightened or confused.
When you notice this particular indicator in an older dog, make an effort to provide your elderly canine companion with plenty of additional comfort and encouragement.
8. Presence of a foreign body
It is quite common for canines to lick their lips excessively and even aggressively when they have something unwanted stuck in their mouth, also known as a “foreign body” present in their teeth or gum areas. Bones, rawhides, and even pieces of toys and sticks that may have broken or splintered off are some of the items that are frequently stuck in a dog’s mouth.
If you notice a damaged toy or other food or chew item near your dog and see them engaging in excessive lip licking, try to check their mouth and assist them in dislodging any uncomfortable fragments that may be stuck in a part of their mouth they can’t get to by themselves.
9. Underlying medical issues
Dogs may also lick their lips from time to time when their mouths are itchy or painful due to certain illnesses or medical conditions. As always, if you have reason to believe that your pup is experiencing any type of physical discomfort or suffering from any health issues, be sure to contact your veterinarian right away to receive proper medical care.
The following are some of the common health conditions that may cause excessive lip licking in your dog:
It is possible that dental illness can induce oral pain as well as excessive salivation, and this will then result in noticeable amounts of lip licking. In the case of a tooth problem in your dog, you may observe that he anticipates food with enthusiasm but then backs away from it because his mouth aches when he attempts to eat.
Oral ulcers or tumors in the mouth might be causing these sorts of symptoms as well. Oral ulcers can form due to oral infections, dental illness, systemic ailments (such as kidney disease), or as a result of the consumption of hot items or caustic chemicals.
Caustic items that can cause these sores and even worse in your dog include things like bleach, abrasive cleansers, laundry or dishwashing detergent pods, and liquid potpourri. Because of their texture or fragrance, these substances may appear tempting to dogs, but oral consumption of such products can result in serious mouth and esophagus burns. Your veterinarian will be able to examine your dog’s mouth and teeth and treat any problems that are identified.
Any form of bite to the nose, the face, or around the lips might result in a dog licking its lips. A sting from a bee or wasp is also included in this category, along with spider bites, horsefly bites, tick bites, and mosquito bites. Snake bites can also occur around the lips and face, resulting in discomfort, edema, drainage, and lip licking.
Whenever you dog appears to have been bitten and you are unsure of what exactly caused it, it’s always wise to immediately seek medical care in the event of an allergic reaction or the risk of a bite being venomous (such as those from a black widow spider or various snake breeds).
Unpleasant tastes and/or exposure to unusual substances
A strange taste in their mouth and licking their lips frequently go hand in hand when a dog has licked anything new or unpleasant. The licking or eating of a new food product—as well as the licking of cleaning agents, various detergents, or other cleaning fluids—are all common reasons for excessive licking when you are petting him. Even though your dog may be enjoying the attention from you, that won’t prevent him or her from experiencing the unusual taste or sensation in its mouth. Some cleansers are not only unpleasant to use, but they can also be toxic, resulting in mouth ulcers as stated above.
Dogs suffering from sickness are prone to hypersalivation, and this causes them to lick their lips excessively. This is a regular occurrence immediately before the act of vomiting takes place. Grass may also be consumed by certain dogs when they are nauseated as well, so keep an eye out for these symptoms to determine what exactly is bothering your dog.
The dehydration of certain dogs can occur when they are unwell and do not eat or drink or when they are experiencing fluid losses due to vomiting and diarrhea. Dehydration and the need for more fluids can easily lead a dog to lick its mouth excessively.
Any cut, piercing, abrasion, or other harm to the lip area can be problematic and result in lip licking due to the unpleasant sensation and trying to soothe the area. Some lesions can become infected and itchy, prompting dogs to touch or scratch their mouths and lick their lips in an attempt to relieve the itching and irritation. Another symptom of infection is the presence of a discharge or the presence of a foul odor emanating from the wound.
What do you do if you notice your dog licking its lips?
If your pup is licking his or her lips, the first thing you should do is assess the situation in relation to their behavior and identify whether or not there is an underlying medical concern. Determining whether or not the lip-licking activity is a sign of something you should worry about is the most critical thing to do.
When some dogs are frightened, they may lick their lips. If your canine is cornered or otherwise in an unpleasant situation, offer them some space and back away from the situation completely. Keep children and other people away from your dog if they are contributing to your dog feeling anxious or frightened.
If your pup’s lip licking is excessive, some behaviorists propose you divert the behavior by presenting a toy. While it may be better to avoid providing a dog with this additional attention in order to prevent reinforcing their nervousness or fear, this may not always be the case, and a pleasant interaction may help calm the dog and reduce the frequency or severity of the behavior.
While petting (during training), your dog may lick their lips to indicate that they are nervous or puzzled about what is going on. Consider assigning your dog a task that they can plainly comprehend and rewarding them when they complete it successfully. You may also want to come up with alternative methods of communicating your message or call a halt to your efforts for the day if the dog is overwhelmed and can’t seemingly process much more. Restart the training session the next day after your dog has had a chance to rest.
It is critical to evaluate whether or not a medical condition causes lip-licking. Your first goal should be to identify the source of the new and excessive licking behavior. The best course of action is to take your dog to a veterinarian for an examination in nearly all cases. They will most likely want to inspect the skin surrounding the face, the lips, the gums, and the teeth—as well as the entire oral cavity—during the examination.
A dog may also be licking another region of their body, and this may be an indication of localized skin disease, an allergic reaction to something in the environment, discomfort, or nervousness. Your veterinarian will also want to know about your dog’s skin problems, feeding habits, overall hunger, vomiting, incontinence, energy level, and any pattern of weight loss or gain to determine the appropriate course of treatment.
Another approach, if applicable and possible, is to videotape or photograph your dog’s actions. Providing your veterinarian with video footage may assist them in determining the problem and initiating therapy more quickly.
When a dog licks its lips, is it possible that he is in discomfort or pain?
There are certain medical issues that your dog may be experiencing that may be causing him to lick his lips excessively. Almost any ailment that gives your pet oral discomfort might drive him to lick his lips more often. In addition to metabolic illnesses—which frequently result in nausea—and some neurological conditions, aberrant lip licking can be caused by various health factors as discussed above.
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Family Dog Expert Author
Hi there! I’m Stuart, a devoted dog lover and family dog expert with over a decade of experience working with our furry companions. My passion for dogs drives me to share my knowledge and expertise, helping families build strong, loving bonds with their four-legged friends. When I’m not writing for SirDoggie, you’ll find me hiking, playing with my beautiful dog, or studying music.