It’s not uncommon behavior for a dog to lick their lips or lick the air and there are many different reasons why they could be doing it. Some of these reasons are very normal while other reasons are more serious. When a dog starts to lick the air or their lips continuously you should start taking note of their behavior to determine why.
Normal Reasons They Could be Licking the Air or Their Lips
Lip licking is a normal behavior displayed in many animals including dogs. Catching your dog doing this once in a while is no worry. Here are a couple of situations that could be the root cause of your dogs lip/air licking.
One reason why some dogs lick the air is to enhance their sense of smell. Dogs have a vomeronasal organ that allows them to taste scents. They drag in the scent to this organ (located in the roof of their mouth) using their tongue.
If they’re smelling another dog’s scent they can make out a chemical message that the other dog was trying to convey. If you've ever wondered why your dog has any interest in smelling another dog's butt, this is probably why they do it.
A dog will sometimes convey that they're friendly to another dog by licking their lips or the air in order to avoid aggressive situations. This can be done before they approach another dog or while another dog is approaching them. Some dogs will do this when they're being yelled at by their owner while also averting their eyes to show that they don't want anyone to get aggressive.
Other times, dogs might lick their lips or the air simply because they like to do it. If this behavior is causing dental problems or you’re concerned about it, you can take them to a vet or a behaviorist so that they can train your dog out of that behavior.
Stress and Boredom
Sometimes when a dog isn’t getting enough physical activity they get bored and develop some sort of repeated behavior which could include air licking. No matter how busy your life may be, you should always make time for your dog to exercise to benefit both their physical and mental health. Investing in a couple of toys can keep some dogs happily occupied for long periods of time.
Another easy way to engage your pup is to teach them a new trick.
Stress is also a cause of air or lip licking. Some dogs get stressed out by one thing or another and their behavior can indicate how they're feeling about a situation.
Stressed dogs can sometimes become unpredictable so it’s important to know when to pull them out of a stressful situation. Other behaviors some dogs may exhibit when they’re stressed are pacing, whining, crunched body posture, lowered ears and tail, and sometimes even aggression.
Eliminating the stressors in your dog's life is a good start to getting rid of this behavior. Some things that could cause your dog stress include changes in their routine, having company over, or a death in the family.
A little confidence building can drastically reduce or eliminate these issues quicker than most people think.
Sometimes dogs will develop compulsive disorders because they’ve behaved a certain way for so long. If a dog is very bored or very stressed, they might continue to lick the air even when they are not stressed or bored.
There might be an issue with your dogs mouth if they’re continuously licking their lips or the air. One of the less serious problems they could be having is that there’s something stuck in their teeth that they’re trying to dislodge. Help a buddy out by checking their teeth and freeing any materials you find. They should stop once they're comfortable again.
They also might have something stuck on the roof of their mouth. If you’ve ever given your dog peanut butter you’ve noticed the way they stick their tongues in and out constantly. This is because they’re trying the scrape the peanut butter from the roof of their mouths.
When a dog chews on a stick or some other object that can cause pieces to break off, those pieces sometimes get embedded in areas of the mouth. This can cause them pain and irritation which could cause them to lick the air. Check under your dog’s tongue and on the sides of his gums for any debris that could be stuck in their mouth.
Loose teeth can also be troublesome for dogs. Teeth can become loose due to a hard impact to the tooth or other dental problems. You can tell if your dog has a dental problem by any visible swollen areas, lack of appetite, foul odor, and sometimes drooling. Their tooth could possibly abscess if not taken to the vet.
When an area on a dog is hurt or itchy they’ll sometimes lick it. The same goes for areas around the mouth. A dog will sometimes lick its lips if it has any cuts or patches of itchy skin on its muzzle or mouth area.
Allergies are one cause of itchy skin for dogs. Dogs might have an allergy to food, airborne pollen, mold, or dust. You can tell if your dog is licking their lips because of allergies if they’re also itching other parts of their body.
Sometimes these areas can become inflamed. Paws, elbows, armpits, and their muzzles are some areas they might itch.
Sometimes if a dog is scolded for licking another part of their body they will lick the air or their lips instead. This is also another cause of compulsive disorders which can be treated by a behaviorist.
We recommend a more positive training experience where you ignore the bad and reward the good behaviors. If ignoring the bad is not an option (and sometimes it is not), simply remove the dog from that situation.
Dehydration can be caused by excessive exercise, hot weather, or kidney and liver disease. A dehydrated dog will sometimes lick the air or their lips and you should get them water as soon as possible.
You can tell if a dog is dehydrated if their gums are sticky, they have sunken eyes, or their skin doesn’t form tightly against their body. If they start to vomit, have an extreme lack of energy, or have diarrhea they should be taken to the vet.
Upset stomach/ GI issue
Any pain or issues your dog is having with their digestive system can also cause a dog to lick the air. Sometimes a dog will lick their lips or the air before they vomit so this can be a good warning sign for you especially when accompanied with other unusual behavior like drooling and panting.
An inflamed esophagus can be caused by food allergies, certain medications, or too much acidic stomach fluid. This can make it hard for your dog to swallow and can cause them to start licking the air.
Any problems with their intestines could cause itchiness and pain for you dog. Intestinal blockage and intestinal infections aren’t common problems dogs have but should be looked at if accompanied by pain in their abdomen, a decrease in appetite, vomiting, and diarrhea. Many intestinal infections are due to parasites.
Pancreatitis can also cause digestive problems. The pancreas produces digestive enzymes that help the dog digest its food and it also produces insulin which helps with their energy. Symptoms of pancreatitis include a swollen abdomen, lack of energy, arched back, diarrhea, and restlessness.
Canine Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome
Canine cognitive dysfunction syndrome is like Alzheimers but for dogs. This disease can cause all sorts of unfamiliar behavior. It sometimes also causes an increase in aggression and confusion.
Because of their confusion, canine cognitive dysfunction can cause a lot of repetitive behavior in dogs which can include licking the air or their lips. Canine cognitive dysfunction syndrome can’t be cured but it can be managed with medication.
Seizures are sudden, abnormal spasms of the muscles. Dogs can be conscious or unconscious during an attack but seizures can progress as time goes on. Causes of seizures include head trauma, tumors, genetics, organ issues, and sometimes there’s no cause at all.
Partial seizures are seizures that only affect a small part of a dog’s body. Dogs are typically conscious during these and sometimes it affects the dogs face only. They’ll sometimes mimic trying to catch a bug with their mouth. Seizures can be treated with medication.
When to see a veterinarian
Vet visits can be very expensive so to avoid burning a hole in your pocket you can start by ruling out some of these causes. Looking for stressors, giving your dog water, looking for patches of itchy skin, or looking in their mouth for material that could cause irritation are great places to start. However, if the behavior continues and you can't solve the problem yourself your next step should be to take them to the vet.
It can be helpful for your vet if you videotape them licking their lips or the air. You should also log how often they do it and what the circumstances are like if you had company over when they were licking the air or if you had just finished a walk. Don’t put off going to the vet for too long. The quicker the problem is taken care of the better.
One way you can rule out the possibility of seizures and other drastic reasons they could be licking their lips is by seeing if simple distraction makes them stop. This can also tell you if they can be trained out of the behavior. If it continues to be a problem, you should check for what you can and keep track of the circumstances during episodes.
If your vet can’t find any problems with your dog you can take them to an animal behaviorist to curb the behavior. Before you do that though you need to make sure that stress is not a factor. Stress should be one of the first things you rule out when figuring out why they’re licking the air.
You can't always avoid putting your dog in stressful situations so it's important to build their confidence and socialize them well.
Don’t feed your dog anything that they could be allergic to. Some food allergies your dog could have include grains, dairy, and various proteins. Some dogs are allergic to more than one thing so you can consult your vet about what foods would be best for your dog. You can also buy allergy pills. Check with your vet before giving your dog allergy pills to make sure they are safe form your pooch.
Giving your dog enough exercise can help keep them healthy and also give them more confidence. Overall, a good amount of exercise can make your dog happier and prevent a whole plethora of medical issues. Make sure that they have fresh water to drink during and after their exercise.
If you think that we’ve missed anything or you have anymore questions on this topic, please feel free to comment on this article and we will get back to you as soon as possible!