Why Is My Dog Smacking His Lips?
You are trying to rest but can't fall asleep because your dog is loudly smacking his lips over and over. What gives?
You get up and offer him some water. Yet, after drinking a bit, your dog's annoying lip-smacking is back. It's almost as if he had peanut butter stuck to the roof of his mouth.
Why Is My Dog Smacking His Lips?
- In a normal scenario, a dog licks his chops repeatedly when he's hungry. If you show a dog a tasty treat or are preparing his meal, you'll likely hear him smacking his chops. In this case, your dog is drooling, and the lip-licking prevents little dribbles of saliva from pouring out of his mouth. He licks his lips because food is around.
- Dogs also lick their lips when they are stressed or uneasy. Usually, this is a very fast lip-lick. It may be almost imperceptible. This is known as a calming signal, as it appears most often when a dog is uncomfortable and under pressure. It's similar to that fast, nervous lip-lick you may see from a politician when he's asked a difficult question. You'll likely see this type of lip-licking if you scold your dog, after another dog growls at him, or when he is startled.
What do both these scenarios have in common? There is a visible explanation for the lip-smacking behavior. The behavior occurs in precise circumstances and not out of context. Coming up, we will address some possible causes for out-of-context lip-smacking, when a reasonable explanation cannot be found.
Six Causes of Lip-Smacking in Dogs
Of course, these are only some possible causes. Keep in mind that only a veterinarian can diagnose the problem with absolute certainty.
- Something is Stuck in Your Dog's Mouth: A good place to start is to carefully inspect your dog's mouth, if your dog allows it. Sometimes a piece of stick may be caught somewhere, there may be a bad tooth, or your dog may have gingivitis (a bacterial infection). Both can cause drooling and lip-smacking. If you're not comfortable inspecting your dog's mouth, see your vet.
- Nausea and Digestive Upset: When the dog feels nauseous, he may drool and smack his lips as he gulps down saliva. If the dog is sent out, he'll often try to eat grass. If this is not possible, he may frantically lick other available surfaces, including carpets and walls. If he vomits, the nausea and lip-smacking will probably subside. If your dog seems to become nauseous at night, it may be that excessive bile is building up in his stomach. Some dogs will smack their lips a lot before vomiting yellow bile at night or in the early morning. A late-evening snack can help prevent this condition. More severe cases may require antacid medications.
- Discomfort or Pain: In some cases, lip-smacking is a response to pain. Has your dog been limping recently? Does he have some sort of orthopedic disorder? Perhaps neck pain? Does he yelp if you touch him in a certain area? It can quite difficult to pinpoint exactly where the pain is located in a dog. Your vet may be able to figure it out.
- Dehydration and Dry Mouth: When a dog is dehydrated, they may smack their lips to wet their gums. A good way to assess for dehydration is to lift the skin over the dog's shoulder blades and back. If it immediately springs back, then your dog is still well hydrated. If there is a delay, check your dog's gums. If they are dry and tacky, then your dog is dehydrated. Depending upon the severity of the problem, they will need to be hydrated either orally, subcutaneously, or intravenously.
- Nervous System Disorder or Seizure: If your dog ingested something toxic, it might affect their nervous system. This can lead a dog to lick their lips excessively. For example, if a dog ingests any part of a poisonous toad, the dog may immediately start to drool, lick his lips, and foam at the mouth. In some cases, even exposure to bitter-tasting substances can make a dog lick their lips over and over. Finally, some types of partial or simple seizures can lead a dog to excessive lip-licking.
- Salivary Gland Problem: A dog's salivary glands can swell, causing what is called a sialocele. When this happens, the saliva pools in the mouth and doesn't flow normally. It can cause the dog to lick their lips to move the saliva around their mouth normally. Look under your dog's tongue where the salivary glands are located. If you see any swelling, see your vet. This condition can be resolved with a simple surgical drain.
Dog With a Partial Seizure That Causes Lip-Licking
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
© 2013 Adrienne Farricelli