Your dog's obsessive licking may be sign of a hidden health problem - Dr. Marty Becker

Your dog’s obsessive licking may be sign of a hidden health problem

Monday, Mar 14th, 2016 | By Dr. Marty Becker

brown dog in soft focus licking his nose closeup outdoors

** Note: Soft Focus at 100%, best at smaller sizes

Has your dog ever seemed to go into a trance while licking furniture, her bed, or your hand? A health problem might be behind this behavior. Here’s what a reader asked, and my answer:

Q: One of my dogs goes around licking the other dogs’ empty bowls for several minutes after eating. He also likes to lick one of our area rugs and sometimes the sofa upholstery. My other dog has a foot fetish: She loves to lick my feet. What’s going on with them?

A: Compulsive licking sounds like it should be an underlying behavioral problem, doesn’t it? That’s certainly a possibility, but it can also be a sign of a physical problem. My colleague Gary Landsberg, a veterinary behaviorist, says a large proportion of these environmental licking behaviors are due to underlying health issues that cause gastrointestinal upset.

Among the conditions that might be causing a dog to feel nauseated are adrenal disorders, inflammatory bowel disease, intestinal lymphosarcoma and liver disease. Some dogs lick because they have dental or other mouth pain. Excessive licking can also be a sign of hunger — it’s called an appetitive behavior. On the behavior side of things, excessive licking might signal anxiety or some type of conflict.

Obviously, a veterinary exam can be a good idea. Consider filming the behavior so your veterinarian can see what’s going on.

“A colleague did a study a couple of years ago and found that many dogs were improved when gastrointestinal signs were treated,” Dr. Landsberg says. “However, licking can arise in situations of anxiety and conflict, can be a reinforced behavior and can be a compulsive disorder. Therefore, look for behavioral, but rule out gastrointestinal or medical first.”

And if it turns out that there’s nothing physically or mentally wrong with your dogs, well, maybe one just likes to make sure he’s getting every last molecule of food from his dish and the other simply loves the taste of your feet.

Read more, including how experts can’t identify “pit bulls” from looks alone, in this week’s Pet Connection!