Why Dogs Sometimes Lick their Lips Excessively
One day, out of nowhere, your dog starts licking his lips, as if he had some peanut butter on his nose. At first it looks like heis just momentarily annoyed or distracted by something, but as time goes by the licking persists and your dog starts looking uncomfortable.
Perhaps your dog will also try to lick the carpet or the floor, or lick the air, as if in an attempt to get rid of something. He may be drooling, too, more than usual. Concerned, you take a look at your dog's nose, gums and teeth. All seems normal. Yet the behavior continues. You take your dog out, and he starts to frantically eat grass, almost like a cow. So what is going on?
Of course, dogs may drool for obvious reasons: for example, if they see food, or they are a breed prone to drooling. Or a dog sometimes licks his lips to try to calm himself: for example, if he is anxious about something you are doing.
But lip-licking and drooling may also be caused by abnormal medical conditions.
Possible Medical Causes of Lip-Licking and Drooling
Your Dog May Be Nauseous
In some cases, dogs lick their lips because they are nauseous. The nausea makes them drool, they may lick their lips to get rid of excessive saliva, and they may eat grass, a natural way to make themselves vomit. Drooling may mean your dog ate something that didn’t agree with his stomach, or worse, something toxic.
Your Dog May Have a Case of Bloat
If the dog drools, paces nervously, and retches, but nothing comes out, the dog should be seen by a vet immediately as this can be a symptom of bloat. Bloat is an enlarged stomach, caused by food, fluid, or gas, that can come on suddenly and is seen mostly in deep-chested dog breeds. It can be dangerous, even fatal, if not treated by a vet.
Your Dog May Have Oral Discomfort
Something wrong in a dog’s mouth can cause oral pain and discomfort. Owners should check for signs of tooth decay, periodontal disease, objects embedded in the mouth, or swollen salivary glands.
In particular, owners should look under the dog's jawline or under the dog's tongue for swelling. These are the locations of the salivary glands. If such areas appear swollen then this may be an indication of accumulated fluid in the surrounding tissues, known as a sialocele. This condition needs to be seen by a vet promptly. An owner may be able to inspect the teeth, tongue, and gums, but it can be difficult to see the larynx. A vet may have to sedate the pet so he or she can see over the soft palate.
Your Dog May Have Swallowed a Foxtail
Foxtails are awns (spiky grass seeds), known to cause a lot of trouble in dogs. These seeds have been known to travel up the dog's nose, into the ears, between the toes, and even into the lungs. If your dog swallowed a foxtail, very likely she will appear panicky, swallowing frequently, licking her lips a lot, and eating anything she finds on the ground (grass or leaves, for example). She may also lick the floor, people, or walls for comfort.
If you think your dog swallowed a foxtail, see a vet immediately. The vet will determine the best way to remove the foxtail, which may require sedation, depending on where the seed is.
Your Dog May Have Had a Partial (Focal) Seizure
In some cases, dogs may develop partial seizures. A dog having a partial seizure may be conscious and responsive, but may lick the air and snap, as if catching imaginary flies.
Your Dog May Suffer From Pica
Finally, a condition known as pica (compulsive eating of non-food items) can be a possibility if a dog licks floors, carpets, or walls, or shows interest in eating foreign objects.
When to See a Vet
If you think your dog may have eaten something toxic, for example if he is nauseous or eating grass, report this to your veterinarian. Vomiting up some toxic substances, such as caustics, may cause more harm than good.
A dog that licks its lips and seems very uncomfortable, and does not seem to be getting better, should be seen by a vet promptly, especially when this happens for no obvious reason. If this behavior is due to something toxic your dog was exposed to, or to bloat, immediate treatment can really make a difference.
If you have reason to think your dog is licking his lips due to something stuck in the throat, it may help to give him several “meatballs” made of bread, or mashed potatoes mixed with water and bran.
If your dog has diarrhea or vomiting, see my other article on when and whether to treat a dog’s upset stomach at home.
"Fly Catching" Behavior, Possibly Due to a Partial Seizure
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