When a dog begins an obsessive pattern of constant licking of paws, flooring, furniture or peoples’ skin, owners become both annoyed and worried about the reason behind the behavior. This is generally not the canine “getting a taste” of an object. Rather, it is a repetitive behavior that can be indicative of a number of problems. A look at some of the possible causes can help you find the reason behind the behavior, so you and your veterinarian can determine the best solution for the problem.
Pent Up Energy
One of the most common reasons behind obsessive licking is simple boredom. Many dogs are bred for very vigorous physical activity. They may find their domestic life with humans a bit uninteresting and dull. In order to burn off their natural energy, they begin licking their fur or objects in the house. For these dogs, a simple increase in their daily exercise can help to dissipate their pent-up energy. Longer walks, Frisbee in the park or doggie daycare can use up that extra energy. They will enjoy their relaxation time without the need to constantly lick objects.
Licking can also be a sign that a dog is anxious. Dogs cannot express their anxiety like people do. They resort to repetitive behaviors to calm themselves. Licking objects may simply be a need for sensory stimulation to distract them from their internal stress. If your dog demonstrates this type of anxious licking behavior, try to limit their encounters with strange dogs and strange situations. Gradual exposure to new situations, along with your emotional support, can help your dog to begin to feel more confident.
Canines are quick to catch on to what pushes their owners’ buttons. If you react to the licking behavior with concern or anxiety, the dog will repeat the behavior whenever he wants a bit of your attention. Don’t call attention to the behavior. Simple divert his attention to a toy or going out for some exercise. He will soon learn there are better ways to get you to pay attention to him.
If your dog is troubled with allergies, it may be his skin is also affected by reactions to allergens and he is licking to soothe his skin. Talk to your veterinarian about changing to a low-allergy food. A number of formulas are commercially made to help dogs with allergy problems.
Dogs often ease a feeling of nausea by licking objects or their own fur. If you suspect that stomach upsets are causing your dog’s licking problem, try changing his diet and see if the problem improves. Always remember to change foods gradually over a period of days to avoid digestive upsets.
Dental or Mouth Disorders
Discomfort in the mouth, whether because of teeth or oral tissues, can be a cause of obsessive licking behavior. Make an appointment with your veterinarian to have a thorough dental and oral check-up to determine if there is a problem.
Neurological problems related to minor seizures and other issues can also cause obsessive licking. Careful evaluation by your veterinarian can determine the source of the problem. Certain medications can be helpful in controlling this type of problem.
Some adrenal gland disorders such as Cushing’s disease can cause irritation of the skin of the extremities that can result in repetitive licking. Proper treatment of the underlying problems can help to minimize the irritation. In addition, your veterinarian will be able to prescribe topical medications to soothe troubled areas.
When the obsessive behavior occurs in an older dog, you must consider whether cognitive problems are beginning to occur because of aging. Your veterinarian can help determine if aging is the cause and may have suggestions on how it can be treated.