All dogs lick themselves, whether it’s for grooming, comfort, or showing affection. But obsessive licking can be an indicator of a problem.

By Lucy Wendel
Updated December 02, 2019

Like wagging her tail or tilting her head, licking is a common dog behavior. Sometimes, though, obsessive licking can signal a serious issue. Here, experts decode five common causes and advise how to address them.

Image courtesy of Getty.


Licking can be one way to alleviate pain. If your dog is consistently licking the same spot, there’s a good chance something is bothering her in that area. Check for bumps, lesions, and foreign bodies, and monitor the way she moves to see if arthritis or an injury may be the issue.

Contact your vet if you think your pup might be in pain. They will be able to help diagnose any problems and provide options for medication. (CBD oil, if available in your area, can be a great natural option for pain relief and anxiety.)


Itchy skin can trigger obsessive licking in a certain area as well. Inspect your pooch for hives, rashes, or fleas that might be bothering her. If she’s recently been outside, it could be a reaction to an environmental allergen, particularly if the issue is on or near her feet. Treat her to a nice warm bath to remove any potential irritants and sooth her skin.

An over-the-counter medication like Benadryl can also be used to alleviate allergy-caused itching (consult your vet about dosage amount).


Occasional licking to relieve anxiety is perfectly normal. But if your dog continues to lick, it could turn into an obsessive-compulsive habit. Licking carpets or blankets is another indication that the behavior is rooted in anxiety. “OCD in pets is caused by stress, so it’s important to try and figure out what environmental stressors could be causing the excessive licking,” says Jennifer Freeman, PetSmart’s resident veterinarian and pet care expert. Another reason your dog might be licking things other than herself is early maternal separation. Dogs who are separated from their mother too soon can develop compulsive licking later in life, Freeman says.

If you suspect your dog is licking too much as an emotional issue, check with your vet to see if she might benefit from visiting a behavioral specialist.

Dietary Issues

Dogs have sensitive digestive systems, and licking may be an indicator of nausea or gastrointestinal discomfort. Many dogs have an intolerance to grains, starches, and soy. They can even be negatively affected by the diet of the chicken or beef in their dog food.

Talk to your vet about switching your dog to a grain-free, non-GMO food with grass-fed meats. Any changes to her diet should be made gradually. Mix in the new food with her regular food over the course of several days, increasing the ratio until she’s used to the new flavors.


“If you have ruled out medical issues as the cause of your dog’s licking, the root may be behavioral,” says Whitney Miller, director of veterinary medicine at Petco. “Dogs use licking as a way to release endorphins that make them feel good. Dogs also groom their fur by licking and often express affection by licking their pet parents, just like their mothers did to them. For some pups, licking is just a behavioral impulse.”

Plus, dogs lick people because they like us! Tasting our salty skin is one way that dogs experience the world around them. We respond to their “kisses” with attention; that positive reinforcement trains them to continue this behavior.

Related: New Study Finds Dogs Mimic the Personalities of Their Owners



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