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What To Do If Your Dog Won't Stop Licking Itself

Updated on March 6, 2014
What are the reasons a dog may constanly lick itself?
What are the reasons a dog may constanly lick itself? | Source

For pet owners, one frustrating aspect of pet ownership is having a pet display a behavior that is both puzzling and frustrating.

One of those behaviors is dogs excessively licking themselves. While some breeds may be more prone to this than others, it is important to try to determine why your dog is licking itself and try to change the behavior.

Unfortunately, excessive licking may cause the dog to develop an odor rather quickly. Unlike cats, dogs' tongues do not contain natural detergents that deodorize and clean their fur.

Some of the reasons that a dog my lick itself include:

  • Anxiety and/or Boredom
  • Itching Due to External Factors
  • Itching Due to Internal Factors
  • Obsession

Here is a breakdown of why a dog may be licking itself and how to get it to stop. Remember that if you suspect an illness in your dog, it is always best to consult with a veterinarian.

Is The Licking Caused By Anxiety?

Just like people, dogs can develop nervous habits and one of those may include licking.

So if you suspect that your dog is over-anxious or licks because it is nervous or upset, you need to figure out the external factor causing the anxiety and try to alleviate it. The changes that may need to be made range from simple to routine-altering.

You love your dog and you want them to stop licking.
You love your dog and you want them to stop licking. | Source
  • Home Alone

If you are gone for long periods of time from your home, your dog may be getting anxious about when you will return. Out of both boredom and nerves it may start licking itself in one spot or all over.

Since you most likely are gone from the home out of necessity, you will likely have to look at other ways to help your dog feel less anxious.

Some ways to alleviate the anxiety of being home along include:

How Alleviate A Lonely Dog's Boredom

What To Do
How It May Help
Leave On A TV or Radio
The music, talking and noise may help the dog to feel a human presence and allow it to relax.
Present The Dog With Some New Toys
If your dog is a puppy or young adult, they may enjoy playing with some new, pet-safe toys that they have not seen before. This will help them forget they are lonely
Try Crating
For some dogs, crating may actually make them feel more safe and secure. Dogs have a natural denning instinct when they are anxious or are seeking safety.
Consider Doggy Daycare
For some dogs, the best way to make them feel better is to find a playgroup for them. There are many reputable places that have day boarding for dogs and include play and social time.
Get A Companion
Your dog may benefit from a companion to keep it from getting bored. Getting another dog or even a cat may give them the companionship they crave.
If your dog is licking itself out of boredom or anxiety, these ideas might help. Always consult your vet about any health or behavioral issues concerning your dog.

Consider a Dog Crate To Help Alleviate Anxiety

  • Anxiety Due To Environment

Other forms of dog anxiety may be due to environmental reasons. The dog may be stressed because of noise, weather or even family members.

These kinds of problems are harder to alleviate, especially if moving is not an option, so you may need to work on a plan with your vet that could include some type of medication.

If your dog is scared of loud noises such as storms, you might try crating them during the event and covering the crate to make them feel safe.

Is The Licking Due To External Factors?

Some dogs may be licking because they are itchy due to external factors. External problems that cause itching and then excessive licking can include:

  • Fleas
  • Dermatitis Allergies
  • Healing Wounds

If your dog is licking because of these reasons you will likely be able to visually inspect the dog to find the source of licking. However, long term treatment may require a visit to your vet.

If your dog is licking often, check it for fleas.
If your dog is licking often, check it for fleas. | Source

Fleas Causing Licking

Scratching is not the only sign of a flea infestation in your dog. It may also start licking the places on its body that are itchy. Even a few fleas can cause a dog to be miserable and react. And for some dogs, that reaction includes licking.

You can visibly search through your dog for fleas. But sometimes they are hard to spot. You can also look for small red bumps where the flea has bitten or black specks of flea dirt (which is flea waste mixed with old blood).

If you suspect fleas it is important to take action. There are many great products both over-the-counter and prescription. For over-the-counter try Advantage or Frontline.

For faster relief you can get a prescription from your vet. My favorite, quick way to get rid of fleas is with Comfortis, which is a pill you give your dog that lasts a month.

Allergies Causing Licking

Dogs may not only be allergic to flea bites, they may be allergic to other external items in their environment.

Dogs can be allergic to outside pollen, laundry detergent and floor/carpet cleaners and some may show their irritation by licking themselves.

One tell-tale way to know if it is laundry detergent or cleanser is if there is a rash or licking on the belly or side---areas that touch the bedding or floor when they lay down.

If you suspect seasonal allergies, ask your vet about allergy medication or the proper dose of an OTC such as Benadryl for your dog.

If you suspect your dog is allergic to your cleaner or the detergent you use to wash its bedding, treat the problem like you would if you had an allergy sensitive human. Try unscented laundry detergent or unscented floor cleanser. You can also use detergent designed for babies.

Why do you think that your dog is licking obsessively?

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Wounds Causing Licking

Sometimes dogs can get scratches that get infected or "hot spots" that are itchy and become raw and infected.

Check the areas that the dog has been licking frequently. There may be an open wound either from the excessive licking (caused by one of the other reasons) of the wound may be itchy or infected and causing the dog to lick it.

It is important to treat any open wounds with the correct medication. There are OTC Hot Spot medications but if the wound looks really bad, is open and oozing or your dog is lethargic, you may want to check with a vet for a stronger medication or an antibiotic.

Obsessive Disorder

While, according to PetMD, dogs do not get full-blown OCD the way that human beings do, they can still develop obsessive tendencies that are bad for their health.

Licking can be one of those obsessive disorders that becomes a habit with your dog.

Once any other health issues have been ruled out, your vet may prescribe medication for your dog that will help to lower its anxiety and make it feel less stressed, hopefully breaking it of the licking habit.

This is one of the least common reasons for the obsessive licking so your vet will likely rule out all the other reasons first.

The Cone of Shame

If your dog continues to have licking problems due to any of the above reasons, one more method that you might try is purchasing an e-collar (Elizabethan collar) for you dog also known as the cone of shame.

The collar fits around the dogs head and keeps them from being able to lick themselves.

Because it does restrict movement it's important that you consult a vet and only have them wear it when it is safe to do so.

In Extreme Cases, The Cone of Shame May Have To Be Worn Until Your Dog Gets Better

Excessive licking can be a frustrating habit for your dog to break. But with a little sleuthing you may be able to correct the problem, making you and your dog happier.

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    • VirginiaLynne profile image

      Virginia Kearney 

      4 years ago from United States

      Thanks for the information. My husband is irritated by our dog licking. I don't think she overdoes it but I'll have to look into some of these issues.

    • LCDWriter profile imageAUTHOR

      L C David 

      4 years ago from Florida

      Thanks bilybuc. Yes I've dealt with this with my dog and some of my cats too. Hopefully these tips will help the dog to stop.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Not a terribly appealing topic, but one all dog owners face and the information is very handy. Thank you!

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