Persistent and excessive air licking in dogs can be caused by anxiety or stress, and some dogs end up doing it quite compulsively. However it can also be a result of illness. Nausea, dental problems and even seizures can result in this unusual behavior. If you can’t think of anything that could be making your dog worried or upset, make an appointment to get your dog checked by a veterinarian. They can determine if there are any physical or medical issues causing your dog’s air licking. Prompt attention is important with dog air licking, as the longer you leave it the harder it can be to treat successfully.
We all know that dogs lick themselves to keep their fur clean, but why do dogs lick the air? Are they trying to give you kisses, or is something bothering them? If you’ve seen a dog flicking his tongue in and out repeatedly for no apparent reason, it seems like a pretty strange thing to do. Like so much in the world of animals, there are reasons for this behavior. But most importantly, sometimes it’s a sign that something is wrong.
When is Air Licking Normal?
Most dogs lick their own noses at times. Licking the nose helps to keep it moist which in turn enhances your dog’s ability to smell things.
A dog may lick his lips to remove food from his mouth, or to avoid dribbling when he is hungry and expecting his dinner.
What appears as air licking may just be your dog taking in a particularly strong scent. It’s part of a normal response to strong smells called the flehmen response.
If you’ve ever given your dog peanut butter, you’ve seen what happens when a dog has something stuck to the roof of their mouth. It appears as though they’re licking the air as they try to dislodge it. They’re usually able to take care of this problem themselves.
If air licking continues, a quick look in your dog’s mouth can determine if a bit of toy or treat is stuck. If you can’t remove it easily with a finger, it’s best to let your vet remove it.
Not all air licking is normal or harmless.
Why Do Dogs Lick the Air Occasionally?
On the simplest level, a dog may lick the air a few times to indicate he is feeling anxious or stressed. This an appeasement gesture. Dogs use appeasement gestures to indicate to more aggressive or dominant dogs that they are not a threat. If the dog is anxious or stressed, it’s an attempt to get reassurance from his owner.
Your dog is saying let’s be friends, I don’t want to fall out. Don’t be tempted to mock, film or scold him. He needs your reassurance.
Appeasement is likely to be the cause of air licking if the dog is being trained with punishment. Even mild, non-physical punishment.
In this case, the dog may lick repeatedly at the air when in a training situation, being stared at or watched. He’ll usually stop air licking when you take the pressure off.
Prolonged and Frequent Air Licking in Dogs
There are both physical and psychological reasons for air licking in dogs. Some of which can be serious if left untreated. If your dog is frequently and persistently air licking, you need to pay a visit to your vet.
You’ll need your vet’s help to identify or eliminate potentially serious health issues and get to the bottom of your dog’s behavior.
When a Dog Keeps Licking Air
When a dog keeps licking air, it’s not about a moist nose or strong smell, the remains of breakfast or excitement about dinner. It’s a sign that your dog needs your help.
A Dog Constantly Licking Air May be Unwell
A dog with digestive problems may start air licking, especially if he feels nauseous. There are a range of potential problems that can cause nausea including changes in diet or taking medication.
A study of excessive licking showed that gastrointestinal disorders are often to blame. Problems that cause excessive licking include bowel inflammation, delayed gastric emptying, irritable bowel syndrome, chronic pancreatitis, foreign body, and giardiasis (a parasitic infection).
Dental pain or injury may also cause air licking.
Your vet will perform a physical exam and may draw blood for testing. Be prepared to answer questions about your dog’s air licking behavior such as when it began and if anything seems to trigger it.
Videotaping your dog air licking, his reaction to your efforts to stop him and how long it takes before he starts again may be helpful. Alternatively, write down your observations of the air licking, including anything that happens immediately before it starts.
Air Licking Caused by Seizures
Sometimes air licking is associated with a type of seizure, known as a partial seizure. This is another reason why it is so important to consult a vet if your dog is persistently air licking.
Dogs may lick the air and snap at the air during a partial seizure. This is because seizures cause abnormal electrical activity in the brain that in turn triggers abnormal muscle reactions.
Your vet will be able to help if your dog is suffering from seizures. With medication, it may be possible to prevent them altogether.
If a medical examination and tests reveal no physical problem, your vet may diagnose a compulsive disorder.
When Air Licking is a Compulsive Disorder
Like people, dogs can occasionally suffer from compulsive disorders that cause them to repeat certain behaviors.
Air licking in dogs can be a compulsive disorder and may respond to treatment. For that reason, it is important to seek help from your vet.
A referral to an animal behaviorist for further help and support in resolving or managing the problem may be necessary.
Which Dogs Are More Likely to Lick the Air?
There are no breeds that are more disposed to air licking. Dogs that are nervous or sensitive are more likely to air lick than confident, calm dogs.
Dogs suffering from stress or trauma may air lick repeatedly, after being rehomed for example. This may be an attempt to soothe themselves or to try and appease those around them. Those that are ill are also more likely to lick the air.
If your dog starts licking the air more than occasionally, you’ll first want to rule out a source of stress. Ask yourself if your dog has any reason to be anxious or upset. Have you changed his routine in any way? Have you altered the way you discipline him? Are you trying out a new type of training?
Has anyone special to him been absent? For instance, has another pet or family member died or moved away recently?
Unless the problem resolves when you reassure and comfort your dog or change your training methods, it’s best to consult your veterinarian.
Sue Spragg says
We recently lost our 7 year old yellow lab. Our chocolate will be 7 next month. He has started licking the air quite often. It makes sense that this is very likely a reaction to the absence of his fur brother. We’ve been giving him lots of extra love and attention. Hopefully he’ll stop soon.
My mini poodle started licking the air a couple of years ago when people come over. She will go and sit on them or next to them if they let her and just lick the air non-stop. I don’t know how to correct either behavior. I don’t want her sitting on people or licking the air but I don’t know how to get her to stop. The only thing I can do is remove her from the room until they leave. Recently she started doing it with my husband when he comes home from work. It’s really getting out of hand
Mary Estopinal says
I have a 7-1/2 yr old puggle that we rescued 6 yrs old. She’s been very healthy except about 3 yrs ago, she started snapping at the air & staring. We brought her to a vet neurologist & she was diagnosed with partial seizures. She was given meds that we give her in her food 3 times a day. About 3-4 weeks ago, she started with the same behaviors & our regular vet told us to take her back to the neuro. He upped her meds a lot but she’s still licking & slightly snapping. Has anyone had these issues with her dog? I’m afraid we’re giving her too much meds. We are also waiting for a call from the neuro dr.
Our diabetic, blind little schnauzer was compulsively licking the air and we couldn’t figure out why. Finally, we checked his eye and turns out there was a nasty, hardened cluster of gunk that had formed in/around his eye. We removed this with tissue and he almost immediately stopped licking the air!
my pug constantly licks my ankles, only ME though
Erin Harrison says
We have a male poodle/bichon mix dog who we got 3 years ago from a person rehoming him. His history is that he came from a breeding kennel business. He licks the air quite often, especially when he gets excited, when door bell rings, or after eating. He does not give “kisses” but loves to sit on my lap, or my husband’s lap. He is good with other animals and friendly, but not affectionate, with people. We have come to believe that Charlie’s licking habit stems from his background of being kennelled. He also may have a jaw problem, causing the licking issue. When I pick him up and massage the neck area, he stops licking. Hope this observation has been helpful to folks.
My Shih tzu recently started licking the air after a dental cleaning. The anesthesia gave her a bloody diarrhea for several days which required medication. That was 10 days ago but she’s still licking the air.
After 8 years, I finally figured out why my dog lick air. She’s actually thirsty. Right after I give her water, she stopped licking the air. Not sure why she won’t just walk to the water bowl at night. I guess she’s too sleepy to get up and drink water.
I’m going to try this on my Westie tonight. She was just adopted after coming to Colorado from Oklahoma so could be insecurity but she does drink quite a bit so I’ll put some water near my bed so she can get a drink without getting out of bed. Thanks/