In a lot of ways, dogs are like toddlers –they use all of their senses to investigate the world around them, including taste. Dogs explore the world through smell, touch and taste, which means it’s likely that only occasionally you’ll catch your dog licking something that may harm her.
And then some dogs take it to the next level.
They lick everything in sight. Walls, floors, other pets, furniture, people — you name it, they’ve taste-tested it. If you’ve seen this behavior in your dog and wonder what the appeal is, we’ve laid out some reasons she may be a “licker” of certain things.
1. The Floors
Although it’s a nice thought, your dog is likely not trying to help you with housework. If she’s licking the carpet or floors, someone may have brought a scent in on their shoes (yep, like feces — dogs don’t think it smells gross, even if we do) or food.
But the problem is that your dog may eat things she shouldn’t, such as:
- Carpet fibers
- Small objects like marbles, tacks or pins
- Cleaning agents or chemicals
All of these things can cause stomach and digestive issues. In addition to using nontoxic cleansers to make your floors shine, try to distract your dog from licking the floors too much. Even if the floor smells interesting to her, it’s a safe bet she’ll find that treat in your hand much more fascinating.
2. Other Animals
We all know that dogs will often lick themselves or other pets — and even their humans.
In Why Dogs Do That: A Collection of Curious Canine Behaviors, author Tom Davis explains that “Dams lick their puppies to clean them (thus removing scent that could be detected by predators) and stimulate breathing and elimination…. Dogs lick one another out of affection, playfulness, deference and occasionally for the simple reason that there’s something good to eat — a salty ‘eye booger,’ for example — clinging to the other dog’s coat.”
Dogs may lick other pets out of affection as well. My German Shepherd would do this to my cat all the time, and both of them seemed to enjoy it.
As a pet sitter, I see dogs licking other pets constantly — though I confess to being mildly grossed out that one of my charges has actually been consuming another’s eye boogers.
3. New Paint or Solvents
Occasionally dogs will obsess over licking new paint or plaster off the walls. As frustrating as this is for you, it’s even more dangerous for them.
In The Dog’s Drugstore, authors Richard W. Redding, Myrna L. Papurt and Lisa Makarchuk warn that this can have severe consequences if not prevented: “Petroleum products such as gasoline, paint, paint thinner, motor oil and organic solvents can cause irritation and damage to the skin. If the dog licks the substance, it will cause irritation to the inside of the mouth. If swallowed, petroleum products may cause internal poisoning. Signs [include]: skin irritation, licking of fur, salivation and incoordination.”
Prevention is the best cure. If you are painting or using solvents in your home, keep your dog away from that area until all materials are totally dry. If your dog continues to lick these surfaces, she may need a lifetime ban from these areas.
When will this licking marathon end?:
Dogs often lick themselves or other animals where an injury is present. This is extremely difficult behavior to curb simply because it’s instinctual.
Dr. Marty Becker, DVM, and writer Gina Spadafori explain in their book Why Do Dogs Drink Out of the Toilet?: “The main reason that dogs lick their wounds is that the weepy moisture in the sore contains the sweet taste of blood sugar (glucose). The most valuable healing function of licking is that the dog’s raspy tongue serves to debride (remove dead tissue) and clean (remove dirt, hair and other contaminants) the wound. Licking may also stimulate circulation, which hastens healing.”
So there is a reason your dog licks her wounds, but with the effectiveness of today’s medicines, she’s better off in the Elizabethan collar (a.k.a. the “cone of shame”) — even if she doesn’t agree.
When in Doubt, See the Vet
These are just some of the things that dogs find appealing to lick. But if your dog is licking constantly and you are concerned, it never hurts to check in with the veterinarian.