Why Is My Dog Smacking His Lips?

Does your dog lick his lips a lot? There are several possible explanations, including thirst, anxiousness, or irritated stomach.
Does your dog lick his lips a lot? There are several possible explanations, including thirst, anxiousness, or irritated stomach. | Source

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 would a dog smack 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 it 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.

Causes of Lip-Smacking in Dogs

Six Causes of Lip Smacking in Dogs

These are only possible causes. Keep in mind that only a veterinarian can diagnose the problem with absolute certainty.

  • Something 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. A late-evening snack can help prevent this condition.

  • 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? Does he yelp if you touch him in a certain area? It can quite difficult to pinpoint exactly where 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 id 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 may 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 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


As with any medical condition, if you are concerned about your pet's health, ask a veterinarian's opinion. If your dog is exhibiting out-of-context lip smacking, please see your vet for proper assessment and treatment. By reading this article you accept this disclaimer.

© 2013 Adrienne Janet Farricelli

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Comments 17 comments

Bob Bamberg profile image

Bob Bamberg 3 years ago from Southeastern Massachusetts

That's a behavior observed in cats, too, alexadry. I'd be pushed back in my recliner and my cat would jump up, sit on my chest and sniff my mouth. Then she'd engage in that lip smacking. It's a way to direct molecules of scent to the vomeronasal organ in the roof of the mouth. It would gross me's really an unpleasant sound (to me, anyway). Good information, voted up, useful and interesting.

alexadry profile image

alexadry 3 years ago from USA Author

Thanks for stopping by, sounds like you are describing a "flehmen response" which is seen a lot in felines, but not so often in canines. In canines it is known as " tonguing" as the tongue is pushed back and the dog may foam at the mouth a bit while his teeth chatter. This is often done upon smelling a urine spot for the reasons you explained.

MJennifer profile image

MJennifer 3 years ago from Arizona

Excellent hub, Adrienne. One of my furries has a significant lip-smacking habit, particularly at night, that I have ascribed to the discomfort of his spondylosis. During the day, he's extremely happy and active, and we've made great strides in his treatment -- he's doing better than he was three years ago, if you can imagine -- but I believe that at night, when he's not moving about as much, his achy bones catch up with him.

I've also noted the "tonguing" you mention in our youngest member of the pack, the McNab. You've described it perfectly. He does it when he's just sniffed the sole female's rear -- and he looks possessed when he does it. I never made the connection to the flehmen (which I see in my horses). Very interesting.

I'm glad you thought to write on the subject, since I haven't seen it covered anywhere before!

alexadry profile image

alexadry 3 years ago from USA Author

Thanks for stopping by MJennifer! I wrote this also because my girl Rottie who is recovering from a torn cruciate ligament started doing it as well at night, right when I tried to lower the dosage of her pain meds and my vet once mentioned this can be due to pain. I think at night the home is also quiet and just like us, dogs concentrate on their pain more during this time. My horse used to "flehem" every time I offered him honey for some reason, so I sometimes used that to my advantage to get great pictures of him "smiling!"

Eiddwen profile image

Eiddwen 3 years ago from Wales

as always another truly interesting hub for all dog owners.


Monis Mas profile image

Monis Mas 3 years ago

Excellent infirmation. MY doggie does it, when he doesn't feel well, and is about to vomit. I have some time to grab a newpaper or take him on a tiled floor!

Andreea Cojocariu profile image

Andreea Cojocariu 3 years ago from Atlanta, GA

Did not know it was a sign of pain! Good to know!

alexadry profile image

alexadry 3 years ago from USA Author

Monis Mas, my dogs do that too prior to vomiting, they smack their lips, drool ans swallow a lot. Sometimes though I noticed it happened when my dog swallowed something that was irritating her throat and giving her bread helped her feel better.

Monis Mas profile image

Monis Mas 3 years ago

That's great idea. I did not think of it! I was always trying to give him water to drink, but he didn't want it.

epbooks profile image

epbooks 3 years ago from Las Vegas, NV

Excellent hub. I've also noticed my dogs will nibble on their legs if they are feeling uncomfortable or stressed. Usually distraction helps them and they forget all about what is disturbing them. Thanks for writing!

alexadry profile image

alexadry 3 years ago from USA Author

Thanks for stopping by epbooks. Sounds like a displacement behavior,

samsowner 21 months ago

I have a yellow lab. He smacks his lips as a form of talking. Whenever I am petting him he is fine, but if I start talking to him, he starts smacking his lips. Sometimes when I stop petting him, he will look at me and smack his lips. It's really annoying, but I guess better than barking!

alexadry profile image

alexadry 21 months ago from USA Author

Dogs are so interesting, they each seem to have their own personalities! Thanks for sharing your story, it adds another reason for dogs smacking their lips that wasn't included in the article.

bob 17 months ago

Can it be stopped

alexadry profile image

alexadry 17 months ago from USA Author

Hello bob, it depends on what is causing the lip smacking behavior in the first place.

Andrew 9 months ago

My pit doing this at night is one of the most obnoxious things to me. I want her to stop but I have no idea how to go about it since she doesn't exactly understand English. She will do it pretty much every night when I let her up on the bed to sleep. She'll jump up and get next to me, but instead of laying all they way down she will do this awkward sulking posture where she keeps her front legs extended with her head facing down as if she's a sad beaten step child. (I've had her since a pup and I have never beaten her as discipline btw) When I tell her to lay down all the way she will sigh/grumble and hesitantly flatten out. This is when she will start the God awful lip smacking and teeth clicking every couple seconds that she will continue to do for a good 5 min. What gives? She seems nervous or resistant to getting comfortable even though she came to the end of the bed to stare at me obviously wanting up. I don't think any of the things mentioned in the article because she's happy and healthy throughout the day. Do I just have to accept this as part of her going to bed ritual?

alexadry profile image

alexadry 9 months ago from USA Author

Maybe see the vet to just rule anything medical out? Some dogs are reluctant to lie down because they have abdominal pain. If this is a new behavior, it could be medically related , something to rule out just in case.

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