Why do dogs lick?
Most people wonder why their dogs lick them. The answer is that it varies depending on your particular dog
and circumstances. Some dogs lick their pet parents to show them that they’re loved, some lick to show that they’re relaxed while others lick to demonstrate that they’re unhappy or tense.
Licking for love and affection: Licking is a way for dogs to communicate with each other and with you. In the wild, dogs will lick the pack leader when he returns after an absence. This is a greeting ritual that reinforces the pack social order. Your dog will probably engage in this same greeting ritual when you get up in the morning or return home from work in the evening. You should let your dog lick your hands so he can reassure himself that nothing in his world has changed.
Canine licking is also a way for your pooch to express his affection for you. This is how he tells you that he’s happy to see you, he loves you, and he wants to be with you. So allow your pet this normal outlet for his affection, but don’t let him overdo it, or it can become a bad habit.
Licking in stress: A less desirable reason for excessive licking in dogs is that they are anxious or stressed about something. Licking themselves too much can lead to hair loss and bald spots. You’ll need to do some detective work to figure out why they are anxious.
Licking for itching: Your pooch could also be licking himself simply because he’s itchy due to allergies or dry skin. They may have allergies to food, pollen, mold, house dust mites, insect bites, plants or hundreds of other irritants. If he’s licking his feet all the time, the pads on his paws may be irritated, especially in the winter months, due to snow, ice and road salt. If your pet is focusing all his licking in one spot, he’s probably injured or has a skin infection. Licking all over his body may indicate that he has an allergy or is anxious.
What to do when he licks?
The key to solving his obsessive pet licking behaviour is to change things around. For instance, if you typically work eight hours a day and he is cooped up all day long, perhaps you could leave him at doggy-day care, hire a dog-walker to come in at lunch time, or perhaps take him out for a lunch time stroll.
Another option is to withdraw your affection from him when he licks you constantly. You can do this by turning away from him without making eye contact. Then a ‘NO’. He may then try to follow you. If he tries to lick you again, repeat your actions until he gets the message that his excessive licking is not appreciated.
Measures to stop pets from licking
There are a number of ways to stop the licking and help your pooch’s skin recover.
- Check the area being licked – Pooches sometimes lick at one particular spot if they are trying to get rid of something stuck in their fur or skin. If you see a thorn or burr, gently remove it for him.
- Look closely for fleas – Comb through your pet’s coat with a fine-toothed comb, looking for fleas or gritty particles that look like pepper, which are the wastes fleas leave behind. If you find either, give your dog a bath with a flea shampoo. Then use a flea control powder or spray. Treat your home and yard with an insecticide spray that will kill eggs, larvae and adult fleas. It can take up to seven days after treatment for the itching to go away and for your pet to stop licking.
- Change their diet – Pets who are allergic to certain foods may get skin irritation. Try giving your pet different food that has none of the ingredients of his usual diet. Then, see if the licking stops.
- Refocus their attention – When you see your pooch furiously licking himself, distract him by giving him some attention. Provide something to chew, such as a bone or chew toy. This alleviates licking due to boredom and stress.
- Help relieve the pain – Dogs with painful conditions like arthritis will often lick furiously at the offending spot. In addition to a veterinarian’s care, you can also massage the sore area for 10 minutes at a time.
- Increase his exercise – Some dogs lick excessively because they have pent up energy. Get his paws moving because a tired dog has less energy to lick.
- Keep allergies at bay – Take care during heavy pollination seasons. Keep your dog indoors in the morning (when the pollen count is at its highest) and on windy days.
- Give them fast relief – A cool bath or a spritz of witch hazel gives instant, short term relief.
- Protect their skin – Occasionally, pets will lick themselves so vigorously and for such a long time that they damage the skin. The resulting sores are called lick granulomas, which can lead to serious infections and take a long time to heal. Bandage the area or use the anti-lick spray on the lick granuloma or on the ointments given.
- Try an anti-licking spray – Pet stores now in India are selling topical anti-licking spray products that leave a bitter taste. They train pets to stop licking their fur, skin, paws or even furniture, household items, etc. It is effective, long lasting and it is very useful.
In conclusion, licking is a part of a pet’s innate traits. They use their tongues to explore the world and display happiness and nervousness. However, excessive licking can be problematic so it’s best to consult your veterinarian and take immediate action.
(Dr Debajani Das and Ruchi belong to Dosch Pharmaceuticals Pvt Ltd).