Why Do Dogs Lick People? Is It A Sign Of Potential Issues?


why do dogs lick people

Pet parents would agree that there’s nothing better than coming home to a kiss from your happy pooch. Lots of pet lovers take licks from their dogs as a sign of affection. So basically, it’s considered the closest you can get to kissing. However is this an accurate interpretation of your dog’s licking? Or is it a sign of potential issues?

Well, the answer is not as clear-cut as you may think. There are several reasons why your dog licking another dog’s face or a humans’ face is normal social behavior. Alternatively, it can be a signal to solicit food, a sign of affection, or to solicit attention. 

5 Reasons Your Dog Licks Constantly – And How to Deal With It

dog licks lady

You may find your down dog licking himself or others for various reasons such as comfort, showing affection, or grooming. However, excessive licking may be an indicator of a problem. So let’s explore some of the reasons why your dog may frequently be licking. 

Habit

If your dog is up to date with his veterinarian check-ups is a fit, and you’ve ruled out the possibility of medical issues, then the cause of your dog’s leaking could be behavioral. Dogs use leaking to release endorphins that ultimately make them feel good. 

Your pooch will also groom his fur by licking and usually express affection in the same way to his pet parents, the same as their mothers did to them. So in most cases, especially with puppies licking is just a behavioral impulse. 

However, dogs do lick people because they love it. It’s also one way that dogs experience the world around them. Ultimately, when your dog licks, you respond to it with attention and that positive reinforcement encourages them to continue this behavior.

Dietary Issues

Licking may be an indicator of gastrointestinal discomfort or nausea since dogs have sensitive digestive systems. Most dogs have an intolerance to starches, soy, and grains. Ultimately, your dog can be affected negatively by their diet of chicken, or beef in the dog food. So speak to your vet about switching your pooch to a non-GMO, grain-free food containing grass-fed meats. 

However, it is imperative to know that any changes to your pooch’s diet should be done gradually. The new food should be mixed in with the regular food over the course of several days, ultimately increasing the ratio of the new food until Fido is used to the new flavors.

Anxiety

It’s perfectly acceptable and also normal for your dog to lick himself occasionally to alleviate anxiety. However, if it is constant and excessive, it could turn into an obsessive-compulsive habit. Licking blankets or carpets for comfort is another indication that the behavior is a result of anxiety. 

Like humans, pets also experience OCD which is caused by stress, so you need to try and figure out what’s causing the stress in your pooch to eliminate the problem. Early maternal separation also leads to constant licking in dogs. When they are separated from their mothers too soon, they can develop compulsive licking later on in life. 

Additionally, if you suspect that this may be the case with your pooch, speak to your vet and see if your furry friend could benefit from visiting a behavioral specialist.

Allergies

Another possible cause of excessive licking could be allergies, such as itchy skin. So inspect your pooch regularly for fleas, rashes, and hives that could be affecting him. If he is an outdoor dog or has recently ventured outdoors, then the licking could be a reaction to an environmental allergen. 

An indication of this will be if the licking takes place near his feet. Treat your pooch to a warm bath to remove any potential irritants on the skin. Over-the-counter medication is also available to soothe allergy-causing itching. 

Pain

Licking may also be an indication of pain in your dog. This is especially if he is licking the same spot since there’s a good chance something is bothering him in that specific area. So check for lesions, bumps, and foreign bodies and monitor the way your dog moves to see if it could potentially be a sign of arthritis. 

If you suspect that your pooch is in pain, contact your vet immediately. They will help diagnose potential problems and also offer options for medication. A great natural option for pain relief and anxiety in your pooch is CBD oil, provided it’s available in your area.

white haired dog licks glass

Should You Be Comfortable with Your Dog Licking You?

 A dog licking faces or other body parts should pose a minimal health risk for most healthy adults and children. However, if you are concerned, then you should deter your dog from licking your mouth or any open skin or any type of open wound on your body. 

Alternatively, you can offer your pooch the underside of your chin to lick and then immediately wash your face or use an antibacterial sanitizer. You can also allow your dog to lick your hands but then wash them soon after the same as you would have done with your face. 

Do I Have to Allow My Dog to Lick My Face?

 It is possible that you could be enforcing this behavior without knowing it. So if you give your dog attention, every time he licks your face, then he’s more likely to repeat this behavior. 

Additionally, if you give your dog a piece of food while you are eating after he’s been licking your face or mouth, then you are simply encouraging the behavior to continue. 

We suggest that if you don’t like having your dog lick your face, redirect him to exhibit affection or attention in a more pleasing manner to you. As always, remember not to encourage the licking behavior, if you are not impressed with it. 

Can My Dog Licking Pose a Health Risk to me?

 If you have intact skin or are a healthy adult or child, then dog saliva is not a health risk. However, it’s imperative to note that your dog should never be allowed to lick an open wound on your skin. This is because your dog’s saliva could keep the wound moist and also allow bacteria to thrive in the wound leading to a possible skin infection. 

Additionally, the CDC has reported 12 cases in the past year of where people have actually gotten sick from bacteria that is present in dogs’ saliva. In these cases, the bacteria Capnocytophaga canimorsus was responsible for the symptoms. Although this bacteria is found in both cats and dogs, it is harmless to them; however, it could potentially lead to illness in humans. 

If you have a compromised immune system, then the bacteria in your dog’s saliva could cause an infection. This is especially if the bacteria are allowed to enter through the skin or open wound such as a cut or bite on the skin. 

Ultimately, it is best to take precautions with your dog’s licking. Never allow them to lick an open wound or your mouth and try to practice regular washing of hands after petting your dog. 

When is Licking a Problem?

Overall speaking, most licking is harmless. In most cases, it’s not even a form of domination but actually quite the opposite. 

Licking may still lead to discomfort in lots of people. Even if it’s not upsetting you, you may have a germaphobe friend who might not like the idea of your dog licking you or them. So it’s always a good idea to discourage this kind of behavior in these scenarios. 

Ultimately, licking could be a sign of a more serious problem. So if your dog’s licking is frequent and excessive, it could also point to self-stimulatory behavior, and this could be a sign of boredom, pain, or anxiety. It may also be a sign of allergies or health complications. 

However, it is important that instead of punishing our dog, you direct their focus to alternative activities to keep them occupied. Another great option is positive enforcement training. This is a great way to curb licking behavior and involves rewarding your dog when they perform the desired behavior.

dog sticks tongue out wide

Conclusion

Your dog’s licking could well be due to a number of reasons such as attention-seeking, instinct, or him simply enjoying the way you taste. Ultimately, it is important to rule out all the possibilities of medical issues, as this will help you to better divert the licking behavior. 

In most cases, your dog’s licking is completely harmless, provided you have a healthy immune system and no open cuts or wounds on your skin. It’s also important to note that you should not let your dog lick your mouth and make it a regular practice to wash and sanitize your hands.

If you have tried to deter this behavior unsuccessfully, speak to your vet for advice and options on how you can start positive enforcement training with your pooch. 

Shawn Manaher

Shawn Manaher is the founder and CEO of The Content Authority. He's one part content manager, one part writing ninja organizer, and two parts leader of top content creators. You don't even want to know what he calls pancakes.

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