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canine health problems
dog-licking-lips

The essentials

  • Licking of the lips is usually harmless — Your dog may be licking its lips in anticipation of mealtime or to communicate with you, and many do this often.
  • It could be a sign of an underlying health condition — Oral ulcerations, tooth infections, and a piece of foreign material stuck between the teeth can all cause excessive lip licking in dogs.
  • Keep circumstances in mind — Look at the surrounding circumstances to narrow down why your dog is licking its lips. Always consult a vet if you aren’t sure.

When your dog licks its lips waiting for dinner or a treat, it can be cute. But when they start doing it often or near your face, it can get frustrating. The noises and smells might be unsettling, but canine lip licking is typically harmless. Dogs may lick their lips for many reasons, including to tell you they feel excited or nervous. But licking can also be a sign of an underlying health problem. It’s important to understand a dog’s body language and the many potential reasons for lip licking. Here are five common reasons for this behavior, and what to do to help.

Reasons why dogs lick their lips

Dogs lick their lips for a variety of reasons. Consider the following causes for a dog licking its lips, and keep in mind the circumstances surrounding the behavior. They might lick their lips during meal time, which can be harmless, but sudden and excessive licking may mean it’s time to give the vet a call.

1. Irritation

They may have a piece of food or foreign material stuck between their teeth. Sometimes, a dog is licking its lips simply to try and dislodge debris or food that is stuck in their mouth.

2. Excitement

Like humans, dogs lick their lips when it’s time to eat. This may mean that they are excited for dinner or they are hungry and ready to eat. Perhaps something on the human dinner table looks appetizing, or they smell something tasty. Once they anticipate food, dogs’ salivary glands start working, and they often begin licking their lips in response.

Knowing this, you might be a little offended when your dog doesn’t lick its lips for meal time. If you have a pet that’s a canine foodie, you may need to find the best dog food for your picky eater.

3. Communication

If your dog is licking its lips, this could be a way to communicate with you. For example, they might be feeling calm or trying to calm down, or they may be showing signs of submission. Licking the lips may also signal that a dog feels nervous, anxious, or stressed. Canine anxiety may come about due to fear of loud noises or strange environments or separation from their owners, like when you head off to work.

4. Nausea

Dogs may start to lick their lips suddenly and excessively when they are about to vomit, so keep an eye out for this behavior. They may lick their lips when feeling nauseous, even if this doesn’t precede vomiting. If your dog does have an upset stomach, it could be something they ate or a result of overeating. Other symptoms of nausea may include drooling, vomiting, decreased appetite, or the sudden need to eat lots of grass. You may need to give your dog a bland food diet and plenty of water to soothe nausea. Also, consult with a veterinarian when your dog is sick for the best treatment options.

5. Underlying illness

Some health conditions may cause dogs to lick their lips. Here are some common health conditions that may trigger the behavior in your pet:

  • Lip fold pyoderma. This bacterial skin infection is common for dog breeds with wrinkled faces. Lip fold pyoderma can cause redness and inflammation, and dogs may lick their lips for relief or because their lips are itchy or uncomfortable.
  • Tooth infection. Dogs love to chew on hard toys, rocks, sticks, and other tough objects that may fracture their teeth. If the fracture is severe, oral pain and a tooth root abscess may develop. Lip licking may be a sign of oral pain or infection in the mouth.
  • Ulcerated gums. Oral inflammation and oral ulcerations can be painful and irritating for pups. This can happen due to severe periodontal disease, kidney disease, trauma, or other health conditions. In addition to licking lips, a dog may paw at its mouth, drool more than usual, or experience a loss of appetite. There also may be a foul odor coming from the mouth.
  • Dehydration. Dogs need to stay hydrated, but they can lose fluids when they are sick, when they have a lot of exercise, or when they just struggle to drink enough water. Licking the lips is one sign that the dog is dehydrated. They may also pant, have a dry nose, or seem lethargic when dehydrated .
  • Foreign objects. Your dog may lick its lips if something is stuck inside their mouth. It’s important to check for a foreign body, such as pieces of rawhide, chew toys, sticks, or other materials that could be caught in their mouth and could puncture the mouth or cause the dog to choke.

If you notice that your dog is licking its lips more than normal consistently or showing any other symptoms like drooling or a decreased appetite, then scheduling a vet appointment is advised.

Dr. Michelle Diener

What to do if your dog is licking its lips

Depending on the cause of the lip licking, there are different ways to handle the situation. Your dog could be ready for dinnertime or in need of a vet visit. Here’s what to do when dogs start licking their lips excessively:

React based on the situation — If you’re eating something tasty on the couch or you’re grabbing the scoop for the dog food and your dogs starts lip licking, they are probably just hungry or excited to eat. But if a new dog moves in next door or fireworks are going off in the neighborhood, they may be feeling anxious or scared, and you should try to remove them from the situation.

Look out for other symptoms — This behavior could be one of many symptoms for an underlying health condition. They might be licking their lips then vomiting. Or, they might start licking their lips after licking their paws or fur, which could be a sign of other health issues, such as a skin infection. Note any and all symptoms or body language they are exhibiting to determine if the lip licking is a sign of a medical issue. 

Consider seeing a vet — When in doubt, call the vet. If your dog begins excessively licking its lips and you aren’t sure why, you should visit the vet for an evaluation. If your dog is showing other concerning symptoms like vomiting or inappetence, quick and efficient treatment is essential.

Should you see a vet for your dog’s lip licking?

For dogs with anxiety or underlying health concerns, you should take them to the vet for care. Since lip licking is one symptom for a wide variety of health conditions, such as an oral foreign body or a tooth infection, it’s important to get professional treatment as quickly as possible. If you can’t pinpoint why your dog is licking its lips, it’s always a good idea to make a video of what your pet is doing and show the video to your local vet at the time of your dog’s appointment as this may help your vet pinpoint the cause.

Frequently asked questions

What does it mean when a dog licks its lips and nose?

Dogs usually lick their nose and lips to calm themselves down, show submission in tense situations, or express they feel scared or nervous. It may be a stress response. Some breeds, like those with compressed faces, naturally lick their nose and lips more. In some cases, they may be licking due to health conditions, like dehydration, nausea, oral infections, or dental disease.

Why does my dog lick its lips when getting petted?

Your dog may be excited or happy, or they may be showing signs of submission. The dog may also smell something tasty on your hands from your recent snack.

Why is my dog licking everything all the time?

Dogs who lick their face, paws, the sofa, and the floors may just want attention or feel bored. But licking can also be a sign of irritation or pain. The dog may have an infection or an upset stomach. If your dog starts licking everything often, you should schedule a vet visit as soon as possible.

Why do dogs lick their lips when I stare at them?

The dog probably feels anxious or uncomfortable, or is trying to express uncertainty if they lick their lips when a person stares at them.