Licking Behavior


Licking household surfaces

Question: Dr. Richards,

I think I wrote this post to you earlier, but that other one too seems to have disappeared. So I don't know if you actually received it. But anyway, this is concerning my two Poms I got a little over a month ago. I discovered to my horror the other day that both were licking the back of a chair leg. I have also occasionally seen one lick the concrete floor, the tile floor, cloth, the metal strut of another chair. What could be some of the causes? Could it be a dietary problem? Could it be something psychological? These two came from a kennel where they had spent their lives until now. It seems the longer I've had them the more I am noticing some idiosyncrasies.


Answer: Tony-

Lots of dogs lick floors, walls, concrete, metal, etc. I do not know of a consistent link to any particular problem that underlies this behavior. There are a lot of things that might cause these problems in a particular patient, though. Hyperadrenocorticism (Cushing's disease), hypoadrenocorticism, liver failure, obsessive-compulsive disorders, seizures, hydrocephalus and other neurologic disease and probably a number of other conditions have occasionally been linked with this behavior.

Dogs that have been stressed or that are excessively bored seem to develop obsessive disorders at times. With your dog's histories this seems possible. If they can be distracted from the licking and if it really isn't excessive it might be easiest just to live with it. If it really does seem excessive to you, your vet or a veterinary behaviorist may be able to help design a behavioral modification program and medical therapy to help alleviate the condition, if one of the medical causes doesn't seem to fit, of course.

Mike Richards, DVM 9/18/2001

Licking behavior

Q: Dear Doctor, I have a one and a half year old female Jack Russell Terrier. I rescued her from a shelter in New York City when she was four months old, after I had learned that she had been abused (kicked/hit). I have since spent a great deal of time training her and helping her build her confidence. She has developed into a wonderful little companion except she continues to exhibit a couple of behaviors that I can't seem to help her get over. First, she frequently licks the floor or whatever it is she is on top of (the couch, carpet, bed, etc.) She doesn't stop unless I give her something else to do that REALLY distracts her (like a pig ear, which I don't always have.) The first time I noticed her licking was when I relocated to a new city and a new apartment. The very first night, she licked every inch of the floor! Now, it seems she licks when she's bored or perhaps nervous? (Though I can't tell what might be making her feel anxious.)

The other thing she does is whenever it's time to go to sleep (she sleeps with me,) she cannot settle down unless she has her stuffed animal. Not only can't she settle down, but she can't sleep unless it is in her mouth! In the morning, I often find her stuffed toy drenched with her saliva. Help! Just a little history: She gets plenty of exercise every day, lot of mental stimulation and attention, as well as quiet time. She eats dry dog food (PetSmart's Authority brand) and she eats WELL. She has been spayed and is very obedient and well socialized. Your advice would be greatly appreciated. Sincerely, Christine

A: Christine- The only help I can offer is to let you know that both of the behaviors you describe seem to be pretty common in my patients. Floor, wall, metal and bedspread licking seem to be very very common and I have not found much success in treating it or identifying a cause. Sleeping while holding a particular toy or object in the mouth is less common but I am pretty sure there are at least 4 or 5 patients in our practice whose owners have reported this behavior. So far, no one has really thought of it as a problem and I haven't tried to treat for this. I do have one owner who has purchased a couple of identical toys so that one can be washed while another is "in use".

Mike Richards DVM

Licking Behavior

Q: Question: our 14 year old mini dachshund keeps licking us, where ever we are and every time he can 'get' us. We tried everything to stop him from doing this. It can be very annoying. Do you have any idea, what causes him to do it?? Another question: Could this licking cause me to have allergies? Thanks! Hoping to hear from you with some advise! G.R.

A: G.R. - I have checked into this but really have not found much information for either of your questions. This is the best that I can do:

Licking can be a sign of submission or it can be a sign of dominance. It also probably occurs in some dogs because they like the taste of sweat on the skin or some other product applied by the owner.

In the case of submissive licking it may help a great deal to give the dog an acceptable alternative behavior -- like sit and stay or fetching an object -- that will substitute for the behavior. Spending a few minutes a day at a regular time with the pet can help a lot. In these dogs, giving a treat is OK if that helps to reinforce the new behavior. Trying to reduce the stress levels in multiple pet households or in busy households can help a lot, too.

In the case of dominance aggression (more likely if your dog growls at you if you try to stop the licking) it is much more important to work on gaining control of your dog -- teach the same commands but insist on them being carried out and do things like making your dog sit prior to giving him his food so that the dominance of family members is reinforced. This is a situation where utilizing the services of a behaviorist would be good idea, too.

In some dogs this is considered to be an obsessive/compulsive behavior and may respond to medications for these disorders, such as Anafranil (Rx) or Prozac (Rx). Your vet would be able to help determine if these medications are appropriate.

Mike Richards DVM


Michael Richards, D.V.M. co-owns a small animal general veterinary practice in rural tidewater Virginia. Dr. Richards graduated from Iowa State University's College of Veterinary Medicine in 1979, and has been in private practice ever since. Dr. Richards has been the director of the PetCare Forum...