Adrienne is a certified dog trainer and former veterinarian assistant who partners with some of the best veterinarians worldwide.
Help! My Dog Is Licking His Lips a Lot!
One day, out of nowhere, your dog suddenly starts continuously licking his lips as if he had some peanut butter on his nose. As the smacking persists, your dog starts looking uncomfortable. Perhaps he also tries to lick the carpet or the floor, or he may lick the air as though he were attempting to get rid of something.
He may be drooling, too—more than usual. You look at your dog's nose, gums, and teeth, and all seems normal, yet the behavior continues. What could it be? You take your dog out, and he starts to frantically eat grass.
What is going on?
Why Is My Dog Constantly Licking Its Lips?
Dogs will lick their lips non-stop as an appeasement gesture when feeling threatened, anxious, or nervous, or when they experience a health-related problem such as nausea, oral discomfort, allergies, or internal pain.
According to veterinarian Dr. Katie Grzyb, dogs who keep licking their lips for no reason are most likely feeling nauseous, have allergies, or are dehydrated. Constant lip licking and smacking can also be caused by abnormal medical conditions or learned behaviors.
If you notice this behavior when you scold your dog or when he is at the vet or in some other uncomfortable situation, then lip licking is a stress response. Turid Rugaas, a Norwegian dog trainer and behaviorist, came up with the term "calming signal" to refer to lip-licking that is instigated by stress, fear, or confusion.
Your dog licks his lips as a way of saying, "I feel threatened or nervous. Please go away." Of course, this behavior can start as a stress response, but over time, it can turn into an obsessive habit, similar to nail-biting in humans.
10 Reasons Why Your Dog Keeps Licking His Lips
- A calming signal
- Oral discomfort
- Swallowed a foxtail
- Licked a toad
- Sign of Pain
- Attention-seeking behavior
Each of these situations is described in detail below, with tips and suggestions.
Let's Explore Each Reason In Detail
1. Your Dog May Be Nauseous
- If your dog is licking and swallowing, she is most likely nauseous.
- The feeling of nausea makes her drool, and she may lick her lips and swallow to get rid of excessive saliva.
- She may also eat grass, which is a natural way for dogs to make themselves vomit.
- Licking and gulping may mean your dog ate something that didn’t agree with her stomach or, worse, something toxic.
If you don't think your dog has eaten any of the toxic foods on this list, then try these home remedies for vomiting and vet-approved remedies for an upset stomach. If vomiting or nausea continues for more than 24 hours, see a vet immediately. It may be a critical medical condition or a sign of poisoning.
2. Your Dog Is Displaying a Calming Signal
- Dogs who are faced with a perceived threat may lick their lips as a sign of appeasement.
- It is a pacifying behavior that dogs display when they are stressed, fearful, or anxious.
- By licking their lips, they are sending the message that they would rather not confront their fear. It's helpful to look at the context.
- If your dog licks his lips every time you come home, then it may be possible that you have scolded him several times in the past when you saw a puddle of pee that he left while you were away.
- Your dog cannot associate your scolding with what he did hours ago, so he might be frightened of you every time you come home.
- Lip licking may also become a nervous habit similar to nail-biting behavior in humans.
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3. Your Dog May Have Oral Discomfort
If there is something wrong in a dog’s mouth, it can cause oral pain and discomfort. Owners should check for signs of:
- tooth decay
- periodontal disease
- objects embedded in the mouth
- 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.
4. Your Dog May Have Swallowed a Foxtail
- Foxtails are awns (spiky grass seeds) that 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, she will likely appear panicky and will constantly lick, swallow, and sneeze.
- She might also eat anything she finds on the ground (i.e., grass or leaves).
- 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 it. This may require sedation, depending on where the seed is.
5. Your Dog May Have Licked a Poisonous Toad
The two most common species of deadly toads are the Sonoran Desert (Colorado River) toad and the cane toad. Signs of toad venom toxicity appear within minutes. Symptoms include:
- severe drooling
- very red gums
- hyperthermia (body temperature rises)
- head shaking
- foaming at the mouth
- loss of coordination
If these signs appear, wash your dog's mouth out thoroughly with water and rush your dog to the vet immediately. The woman in the following article was able to save her dog from toad poisoning, but her friend's dog was not so lucky. She shares what she did to save her dog and offers tips on preventing dogs from coming into contact with poisonous toads.
6. Your Dog May Have a Partial (Focal) Seizure
In some cases, dogs may develop partial seizures. Dogs with partial seizures may be conscious and responsive but may lick the air and snap as if catching imaginary flies. If your dog seems listless or depressed after having an episode like this, then it is very likely that your pet is suffering from epilepsy. Speak to a vet immediately. They may prescribe medication to control the seizures.
7. Your Dog Is Showing Signs of Pain
- Some dogs whine or bark when they are in pain.
- Others show more subtle signs, like lip licking.
- Any cause of pain could lead to this behavior in pets, so it is imperative that a vet checks your dog to avoid faulty guesswork.
- Common causes include liver or kidney diseases or any conditions that cause dehydration.
8. Your Dog Is Dehydrated
- Dogs smack their lips when they are dehydrated.
- Dehydration may be brought on by hot weather (or heat stroke), strenuous physical activity, or an underlying medical condition, such as kidney or liver disease.
- Signs of dehydration include dull and sticky gums, sunken eyes, and loss of skin elasticity.
- To check for dehydration, pinch your dog's skin and lift it as high as you can.
- When you release it, the skin should quickly snap back into place.
- If the skin slowly collapses or forms a tent, then you have a dehydrated dog.
- Feed water vigorously, and take your pet to the vet if dehydration is accompanied by vomiting, lethargy, and/or diarrhea.
9. 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.
- It can come on suddenly and is seen mostly in deep-chested dog breeds.
- It can be dangerous and even fatal if not treated by a vet.
10. It's Just Attention-Seeking Behavior
- If you can confidently rule out any medical conditions, then your dog may be using lip-licking as a way to get your attention.
- Do you pet your dog or turn around and talk to her every time she licks her lips?
- If so, she may have associated this behavior with getting your attention and is now using it as a way to get you to pet her or display other signs of affection towards her.
Other Signs and Behavior To Look For
Nausea and eating non-food items (e.g., balls of dust or clumps of hair) are the most common reasons for unexplained swallowing or licking, but esophagitis (an inflammation of the esophagus) caused by acid reflux or oral diseases that affect the tongue or gums may also result in constant licking and gulping.