If you’re a dog owner, you’ll know that dogs can display some pretty strange and perplexing behaviors. You may have seen this happen: doggo begins to lick the air. There’s nothing physical to lick. Just spontaneous and repetitive licking of… well, the air.
Strange, right? Not really when you consider it’s brought to you by the same creature that chases their own tail and greets their buddies with a good ol’ butt sniff.
In the world of the dog, licking air isn’t all that strange. There are many reasons why your dog does it, and times when it can indicate a serious problem. So, let’s decode why your dog is biting air.
What is air licking?
Air licking is what it sounds like. Your dog will suddenly begin licking at nothing at all. Maybe it happens after a particularly satisfying meal or mid-way through a walk.
A dog snapping at air is displaying a perfectly normal canine behavior. But there are times when dog biting at air can be a sign of something more serious. Look out for sudden increases in the time and frequency of air licking as your first clue that something needs to be checked out.
Why do dogs lick the air?
There are many things that can cause dog to lick the air. Things range from an appealing smell in the air, anxiety or stress, or even an upset stomach. If you keep asking yourself: “Why does my dog lick the air?”, there might be a few reasons:
Boosting their sense of smell
Dogs have a keen sense of smell that helps them navigate their world. In fact, they even have a special organ that helps them decode pheromones in the air into useful information like “that lady dog’s cute and sniff sniff she’s available for mating”.
To explain the level of intensity of a dog’s sense of smell, consider that their noses have 125 – 250 million olfactory receptors. Humans? We only have around 5 or 6 million.
If there’s a whiff of something interesting, a dog will flare the nostrils to allow in more air and scent. This gets taken even further when a dog licks the air as the tongue does the job of pushing more air and smells into the nostrils.
So, if your dog picks up a scent that they want to know more about, they’re likely to sniff the air and begin licking to help smell better.
This one may seem a little obvious but if your dog is hungry (when isn’t a dog hungry?) and knows a delicious morsel is imminent, they may begin to lick the air. This is in part to get more of the delicious smell of food into their nose like in the previous point, but also to help swallow the resulting saliva.
Ever given your pup some good belly rubs and noticed that your doggy licks air when scratched? So, why do dogs lick the air when you pet them? This air licking is your dog’s way of saying, ‘Good job, human. You’ve got the spot!’. It’s similar to the thumping back leg when it comes to acknowledging good pets or scratches. Take it as a sign to continue.
A dog excessive licking air a lot is a way for them to display submission. If you’re giving your pup a stern talking to and they begin licking the air, this translates to, “I got you, boss. Whatever you say”.
Similarly, an encounter with a dog that assumes a more dominant role might also lead your dog to display its submissiveness by licking the air.
When your dog is licking air and eating grass, it could be a sign that Fido might be feeling a bit nauseated. This is usually swiftly followed by a bout of vomiting. Dogs often get into things that they shouldn’t, and many times will eat something that simply doesn’t agree with them.
Sometimes, your dog may be giving you other signs that they’re nauseous, this could include, again, eating grass to induce vomiting. Another common cause of nausea in dogs is motion sickness from the unavoidable drive to the vet.
A dog with a sore or loose tooth will very often lick the air in an attempt to soothe the area. There will usually be other signs that your dog’s teeth or gums are bothering them. These symptoms include bad breath, excessive drooling, and problems eating. It is best to consult a vet if you notice that your dog licking air resultus in bad breath.
This kind of licking behavior can be mostly prevented by ensuring your pooch gets regular oral checkups at the vet.
Something is stuck
We’ve already mentioned the propensity of dogs for getting into things that they shouldn’t. Their curiosity can lead them to get foreign objects stuck in their mouths. This could be some food stuck between their teeth or a piece of bone or a splinter poking into the roof of their mouth. Or paws. This can result in both dog licking air and paws!
You know that feeling after you’ve eaten popcorn and a kernel is stuck in your teeth and you can’t help poking at it with your tongue until it comes loose? It’s the same with dogs. They will lick at the air to try and get the item loose.
If you suspect this is why your dog keeps licking the air, try and have a look to see if you can spot it and get it out. The licking should stop once the foreign object is removed.
Nausea, as we mentioned can cause your dog to lick the air. But sometimes nausea can be an indication of more serious gastrointestinal problems. Regular nausea as a result of eating something bad will usually resolve fairly quickly and the licking will usually stop when Fido feels better.
But if your dog experiences vomiting and diarrhea and a loss of appetite, it may be worth heading to the vet to get them checked out. Dog licking air leading to an upset stomach that goes on for a while can be a result of other gastrointestinal disorders, irritable bowel syndrome, or pancreatitis.
Skin issues can sometimes cause a dog to lick the air. Things like itchy skin and parasites typically result in your dog licking the area that itches, however when the itchy spot in question is out of reach or perhaps too widespread to tackle, your dog may begin licking the air in desperation and frustration.
Make sure to regularly treat your pup with parasite prevention to avoid this scenario. If your dog has generally itchy skin, consult your vet who will most likely prescribe a supplement and a change in diet to help manage the itchiness.
Any injury to the snout can result in your dog licking the air. This can include a cut, bump, or any kind of injury to the nose, face, and mouth. In addition to air licking, they may also rub their face.
Read more Can Dogs Eat Raw Meat? Here's Everything You Need to Know
Look for scabs, swelling, bleeding, or discharge and make sure to treat any wounds to prevent infection.
What to do if your dog licks the air?
If your dog is licking the air, there’s no reason to panic immediately. It can be a very normal canine behavior. However, if the air licking behavior increases suddenly in frequency or is accompanied by other symptoms like vomiting, diarrhea, or changes in appetite, it’s best to consult a vet to see what may be at the root of the problem.
Like with any pet-related issues, always assess the context in which you’re seeing the symptoms. For example, if your dog suddenly begins licking, look at anything that may have changed in your dog’s environment.
Did you just take an enormous roast chicken out of the oven? Doggo is air-licking because they want some. Did you just get back from a ride in the car? Maybe doggo is carsick and feels ill and that’s why they’re air licking.
Often, though, when your best pooch pal is behaving strangely it can be stressful for you. Are you overreacting to something simple? Or are you downplaying something that needs more urgent attention? How do you know?
Online Vet by Petcube
Signing up with Online Vet from Petcube is a lifesaver in moments like this. You can reach out to a qualified vet at any time – day or night – and get the advice you need. You’ll save a bunch on unnecessary vet visits and your pet will be grateful for not having to go to the vet if they don’t need to.
The vet team will have access to your pet’s online profile so they can see any previous history that may help them offer you the best advice. Chat in real-time, send photos and video, and all without the need for an appointment.
An air licking dog is a peculiar thing, but it helps to know that in the majority of cases, your dog licking the air is fairly normal and nothing to be overly concerned about. It’s typically just your dog reacting to smells in its environment which is an important way for dogs to learn more about their environment.
Occasionally, when dog licks air excessively it might be a sign of something more serious. If you’re concerned that your dog is suddenly licking the air a lot more than usual or you’ve noticed some other accompanying issues, it’s a good idea to get them checked out by a vet.
— Update: 01-03-2023 — cohaitungchi.com found an additional article Why Do Dogs Lick the Air? 13 Reasons & What to Do (Vet Answer) from the website petkeen.com for the keyword dog licking air with head up.
Dogs licking air can be caused by several reasons, some of them are normal or safe behavioral displays while others might indicate a more serious behavioral issue or medical problem. Keep reading to learn about the most common reasons why dogs lick the air.
The 13 Main Reasons Dogs Lick the Air:
1. To smell
We all know dogs have an amazing sense of smell, but what you might not know is that they have a specialized smelling organ called the vomeronasal organ. The vomeronasal organ (or Jacobson organ) receptors detect pheromones, chemical signs, and smells. Dogs and some other animals curl their upper lips and open their mouths to expose the vomeronasal organ receptors. This behavior is known as the Flehmen response. Licking the air can be used as an attempt to direct more air-dissolved particles towards the receptors of this organ.
2. In anticipation of food
Dogs can start licking air when they anticipate food is coming or as a sign of hunger.
3. An act of mimicry
Some dogs lick air when scratched in areas where they cannot reach as a mimicry act of the scratching itself. This behavior is similar to that one observed when most dogs moves a rear limb rapidly imitating a scratching movement as a response to when certain parts of their bellies are scratched.
4. Skin irritation
When dogs have irritation of the skin or feel itchy in areas where they can’t reach, some dogs will lick air to mimic the scratching of these areas. If your dog is air licking and you can see its skin looks irritated or it has been scratching different areas, it is advised to visit the clinic for a veterinary check. The veterinarian will address the many possible causes of skin irritation and give advice on appropriate treatments.
5. Submissive behavior
Air licking and licking of their own lips have been overserved as a display behavior for submission in dogs in scenarios such as when a more dominant dog approaches. It is a way of expressing their gentleness and signaling to others that they are timid and not interested in competition or fight.
6. Anxiety or stress
Animals suffering from stress or anxiety, such as when suddenly moved into a new environment, can lick the air and their lips as a way of self-soothing.
7. Aberrant behavior
Behaviors that develop as a way of dealing with stress can develop until turning into aberrant behavior. Compulsive or aberrant behaviors are constantly repeated beyond what would be a normal behavioral response to a stimulus in the environment. There is a great number of possible aberrant behaviors, air licking is one possibility. An aberrant behavior develops when the anxiety or stress is not addressed in earlier stages. Aberrant behaviors are difficult to eradicate. To successfully deal with this kind of problem, a specific case and environment study from a professional dog trainer or behaviorist is needed. Consistency is the key to fixing behavioral problems.
Sometimes dogs lick air when they feel nauseous, this is a common behavior to observe in a dog just a few moments just before vomiting. It could be something as simple as a bad meal or something more complex. Endocrine diseases such as adrenal glands-related diseases, like Addison’s disease and Cushing’s syndrome, can lead to electrolyte imbalances and nausea. To diagnose these kinds of diseases, the veterinarian will need to analyze a series of blood samples before and after administering specific substances.
9. A foreign object in the mouth
If the dog has suddenly started licking air chances are there is something stuck between the teeth, in the plate, or around the lower jaw. Whether it’s a piece of food or a foreign object, the behavior might be an attempt to remove it or dealing with the pain and discomfort. Visually inspect the mouth and carefully try to remove any obvious foreign object. If you spot something difficult to reach or don’t spot anything at all, it is best to take your dog to the veterinarian to aid with the foreign object removal or make a more detailed inspection of the mouth.
10. Injury or trauma
Small cuts, punctures, abrasions, and other small injuries of the nose, face, or mouth might cause dogs to lick air as a way of dealing with the pain. In these cases, the behavior might be accompanied by other displays such as rubbing its face. It is important to visually inspect the dog and try to identify the source of discomfort. If the injury is considerable or looks infected, a vet visit is in line.
11. Dental disease or tooth pain
Air licking can indicate a loose tooth, periodontal disease, or any tooth-related cause of infection or pain. Just as we humans, dogs need regular cleaning to avoid bacteria accumulation and dental plaque formation. Occasional visits to the veterinary dentist for teeth cleaning should be a part of their care. Infections in the teeth or gums are dangerous due to the risk of developing a root abscess and the risk of oral bacteria spreading to the heart, liver, or kidneys. Other signs of mouth or tooth infections are halitosis or bad bread, drooling, licking of their own teeth, lips, or the air, and trouble chewing. In this case, take your dog to the veterinarian for an oral exam. The vet will advise on treatment or refer your dog to a specialized veterinary dentist.
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12. Gastrointestinal issues
Irritable bowel syndrome, foreign objects in the stomach, pancreatitis, giardiasis, and other gastrointestinal pathologies could be the cause of a dog licking air excessively. Other signs that indicate gastrointestinal problems are vomit, diarrhea, bloating or excessive gas passing, and reduced appetite. A veterinarian needs to perform a good examination and probably collect blood and fecal samples, and even perform diagnostic imaging tests, such as ultrasounds and X-rays to appropriately diagnose and treat gastrointestinal issues.
13. Neurological conditions
Canine cognitive dysfunction is a degenerative disease of dogs where the brain cells die as the dog ages. This brain atrophy can cause different symptoms, one of them is the possibility of repetitive behaviors such as chewing, or licking, including air licking. If your senior dog suddenly starts licking air repetitively, speak to the veterinarian about the possibility of canine cognitive dysfunction for advice.
What to Do If You Notice Your Dog Is Licking Air?
Firstly, you should consider if the air licking is just a normal behavioral response to a stimulus such as food anticipation or showing submission, in this scenario, the behavior should be just sporadic and as a response to the environmental or social stimulus.
If the behavior has suddenly presented and you notice its frequency and duration are abnormal, check the mouth to help your dog in case there is an easy to remove a foreign object or a small injury. In both cases, the behavior should stop once the object is removed or the injury healed. In the case of small injuries, you will have to regularly check it to make sure it is not infected; otherwise, you must take the dog to the veterinarian.
For anything other than these situations you should bring your dog to the veterinarian for an examination to try to find out the cause of the air licking behavior. Because it is very likely the dog might not display the behavior at the clinic, it is a bit of good advice to try recording videos of the dog licking air for future reference to the vet or behaviorist. If the vet rules out any medical issue of concern but your dog continues presenting the behavior, refer to a dog trainer for advice on the best ways to handle this specific case.
Featured Image Credit: Huong Nguyen, Pixabay
— Update: 02-03-2023 — cohaitungchi.com found an additional article Why Does My Dog Keep Licking the Air? from the website www.petplace.com for the keyword dog licking air with head up.
Table of Contents:
- Reasons Your Dog Licks Things (Including the Air)
- What to Do if You See Your Dog Licking the Air
- How to Prevent Excessive Licking
- Additional Articles About Canine Licking Habits
Have you ever wondered why your dog keeps licking the air? There are a variety of reasons why dogs lick the air and some can have serious health consequences. Normal reasons include hunger and thirst, while abnormal causes include nausea, pain, oral trauma, or dental disease… just to name a few. There can also be systemic causes for dogs to lick the air, such as secondary to seizures.
Reasons Your Dog Licks Things (Including the Air)
Some dogs are bigger lickers than others. Many pups will lick their owner’s hands and faces, as well as floors, their own lips, and every last morsel in their food bowl. Licking the air is also rather common for dogs.
Here’s a list of normal causes for licking, as well as potential behavioral reasons and medical problems:
Normal Causes for Licking
- Dogs often lick when they are hungry. This behavior may be caused by excitement and anticipation, as well as activation of digestive enzymes.
- Thirst can cause a dry mouth, which leads to licking.
- Many dogs will appear to lick the air when they have been fed something sticky, such as peanut butter.
- Dogs may lick the air when you scratch them in a place they can’t reach. This may mimic the sensation they get when licking or scratching themselves.
- The Flehmen response may resemble licking. This consists of a dog pushing up and curling back their upper lip and wrinkling their nose to expose the vomeronasal organ (also known as the Jacobson’s organ). This allows them to take in the full smell of an area or item. Dogs usually respond this way when they smell biological odors like urine, blood, or feces.
- Some dogs like to lick for pleasure or comfort.
Abnormal Behavioral Causes for Licking
- Dogs may lick the air when they are confused, stressed, or anxious. For example, dogs with storm phobias will lick the air when they are nervous or in situations they perceive as stressful.
- Any behavior can be attention seeking behavior in dogs. If you respond to your dog either positively or negatively for their licking behavior, they’ll take that into consideration. Some dogs will continue this behavior anytime they want your undivided attention.
- Some dogs will lick the air due to a compulsive disorder. Compulsive disorders are repetitive sequences of behavior that are fairly consistent in their presentation. They do not appear to serve any obvious purpose, although some argue that they function to reduce a dog’s stress level. Learn more about Compulsive Behavior in Dogs here.
- Dogs with canine cognitive dysfunction, referred to by some as doggy Alzheimer’s or senility, can present various signs, such as decreased interaction with owners, changes in sleep-wake cycles, and other behavior changes.
Various health problems can cause a dog to constantly lick the air and these issues can range from minor to serious. Air licking is most concerning when it is new, excessive, persistent, or associated with other symptoms such as seizures.
- Seizures. Canine seizures can result in different types of behaviors or physical movements. Some dogs will lie on their sides paddling their legs, specifically those having a grand mal seizure. Other dogs with partial seizures can have subtle signs like lip licking, nose licking, or air licking. Some dogs will actually look like they are trying to catch a bug. This can be caused by a partial seizure.
- Nausea. Dogs with nausea may drool, lick their lips, or lick the air. This may occur just prior to the act of vomiting. Some dogs may also eat grass when they are nauseated. Learn more about nausea in dogs and vomiting in dogs.
- Chronic pancreatitis. The pancreas is an organ located near the stomach that functions to regulate blood sugar and provide enzymes necessary for the digestion of food. Pancreatitis is the inflammation of the pancreas. When inflamed, it can release digestive secretions into itself causing swelling, fibrosis, and severe permanent damage. This can lead to chronic pain and nausea, which can result in excessive licking.
- Esophagitis. The esophagus is the tube that takes food from the mouth into the stomach. Esophagitis is the inflammation of this organ. This can cause pain, trouble swallowing, nausea, and burning. Symptoms of this problem can include drooling, reluctance to eat, and licking.
- Pain. Some dogs may lick the air when they experience pain. Pain can originate from the gastrointestinal tract, such as the stomach or intestines. Possible problems causing gastrointestinal pain include a gastrointestinal foreign body, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), and ulcers of the stomach or intestines. Other signs of gastrointestinal problems are decreased appetite, vomiting, and/or diarrhea.
- Trauma. Any cut, puncture, abrasion, or other trauma to the nose, face, or mouth area can feel funny to a dog and cause them to scratch, rub, or lick their nose or lick the air. Some dogs will also rub their faces. It is also possible to notice a scab, puncture, abrasion, or discharge and a foul odor if a wound becomes infected.
- Foreign body. Some dogs with something stuck in their mouths may lick the air or paw at their mouth. Common oral foreign bodies are bones and sticks, which can be caught in the roof of the mouth or around the lower jaw.
- Dental disease. As dental disease advances, plaque turns to tartar and bacteria can create gum disease (also known as periodontal disease) and tooth loss. As dental disease progresses, in very severe cases, teeth can abscess, causing pain and the desire to lick. Signs of dental disease include anorexia, a foul odor to the mouth (halitosis), drooling, and licking the air, lips, or nose.
- Bites and stings. Any type of bite to the face or around the nose can cause a dog to lick the air as they try to comfort themselves. Bites may include those from spiders and horse flies, mosquito bites, and bee and wasp stings.
- Skin problems. Skin problems that cause a dog to itch can also cause them to lick the air. Dogs with allergies may also have ear infections or lick their paws. Most dogs with skin infections have red, inflamed skin.
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What to Do if You See Your Dog Licking the Air
The best approach is to have your dog examined by your veterinarian. Because this behavior may not be constant, it’s best to obtain a video of them in the act if possible. Take notes of when it is happening, how often, for how long, and any associated events.
Your veterinarian will likely want to examine your dog’s skin around the face, nose, and lips, as well as perform a complete oral and neurological examination. They will also want a detailed history of your dog’s eating patterns, breathing patterns, appetite, as well as documentation of vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, sneezing, weight loss or gain, seizures, trouble walking, and/or other abnormalities. From there, they can provide recommendations for additional testing.
How to Prevent Excessive Licking
Prevention of licking will depend on the underlying cause. Some options include:
- Minimizing situations that cause excessive anxiety and stress.
- Feeding a high-quality diet formulated to meet nutritional standards.
- Offering plenty of high-quality, durable play toys and daily exercise time.
- Preventing exposure to trash and garbage.
- Following your veterinarian’s recommendations for yearly examinations and dental procedures.
- Brushing your dog’s teeth on a daily basis.
Additional Articles About Canine Licking Habits
- My Dog Keeps Licking His Lips — What’s Happening?
- Dog Is Constantly Licking His Nose
- My Dog Keeps Licking and Swallowing
- Is Your Dog Licking His Lips? This Could Be Why
— Update: 11-03-2023 — cohaitungchi.com found an additional article Why Does My Dog Compulsively Lick The Air? from the website www.vetstreet.com for the keyword dog licking air with head up.
Q. Why does my dog lick the air? She does it for hours.A. There are various reasons your dog may be licking the air, but the fact that she does it for long periods of time is suggestive of a possible compulsive disorder. However, because there may be other causes for this behavior, including health concerns such as dental pain, nausea, gastrointestinal discomfort, seizures and canine cognitive dysfunction, you should first visit your veterinarian for a proper diagnosis.
Preparing for the Vet VisitYou can help your veterinarian get to the root of the problem by providing a history of the licking behavior, including when it first appeared, how long it has been going on, specific situations where it’s most likely to occur, how long the episodes last and how your dog acts after an episode. In addition, it can be helpful to videotape the specific behavior; if possible, film your dog when you’re not around, to see if the behavior takes place all the time. Some dogs only perform repetitive behaviors around humans, because those behaviors have become conditioned responses. It will also help if you can describe the responses of people in your house to the behavior.
Your vet will need to know about your pet’s home life as well. Honestly assess the amount of exercise, mental stimulation and interaction your dog gets on a daily basis, as well as any training or punishment that is used in your home.
Finally, tell your vet about other areas of stress in your pet’s life (or yours) that may be contributing to the situation, such as a new baby, a move, or an illness in the family.
Diagnosing a Compulsive DisorderGet your dog to the vet as soon as possible; the less time she has to repeat this behavior, the better the outlook might be for treatment. Your veterinarian will perform a full physical exam to look for medical causes of the licking. Diagnostic testing may also be recommended. Once medical explanations have been ruled out, he may diagnose your pet with a compulsive disorder, which is often treated with a combination of medication, environmental management and training.
Compulsive behaviors are marked by high repetition over extended periods of time and often do not seem to fulfill a noticeable purpose. Sometimes the behavior is triggered by conflict or stress, but it may also originate from a medical cause such as environmental allergies, which can often lead to licking a certain area of the body repeatedly. Other times the original cause of the behavior is less easily identified, although there may be a genetic predisposition that makes certain animals more likely to develop compulsive behaviors.
Regardless of the trigger, over time the behavior starts to occur more often and in a wider range of contexts; in other words, the behavior may originally occur only when your dog is highly aroused, but may gradually begin to appear in lower arousal situations. In certain cases, the compulsive behavior may be interrupted only by eating, drinking or sleeping. Compulsive behavior not only interferes with an animal’s normal routine, it also has a dramatic effect on the human-animal bond.
Treating a Compulsive DisorderPunishment-based training is not appropriate for dogs exhibiting compulsive behaviors. Punishment, particularly when inconsistently administered, adds to your dog’s stress and increases her anxiety, which escalates the compulsive behavior. Instead, a command-response-reward training structure is recommended for dogs with compulsive disorders, to provide consistency in their interactions with people.
Increasing the mental and physical stimulation your pet receives during the day can help decrease repetitive behavior. Providing consistent exercise each day, including regular walks that allow ample time to sniff and investigate and interact with other dogs (for more social canines), can promote your pet’s well-being. Doggy sports, such as agility, flyball, or simple games like fetch can be productive outlets for extra energy and stress. A variety of frequently rotated food puzzles can also be employed during the times of the day your dog is most likely to exhibit repetitive behavior.
Removing or reducing any stress-inducing stimuli in your dog’s environment can help decrease her anxiety, which in turn can decrease the repetitive behavior. In some situations, the removal of the stimulus may not be possible (such as in the case of a new baby at home), which may mean that your dog will need to be desensitized and counter-conditioned to help change her underlying emotion and eradicate the behavior.
It’s important not to punish a repetitive behavior. Instead, teach an alternative behavior that is incompatible with the repetitive behavior — for example, a down stay where your dog sits with her head between her paws as a substitute for the licking. This replacement behavior should be heavily rewarded. When your dog begins licking the air, interrupt her with a noise or movement, and redirect her to the replacement behavior or to another productive activity, such as searching for scattered kibble on the lawn. Finally, medication can be a valuable tool for managing compulsive disorders and may be recommended by veterinarians, in combination with environmental changes and training, as part of a successful treatment program.