Cute dog near wet spot on carpet

My Dog is Licking the Carpet — Should I be Worried?

Let’s face it: dogs can be weird. It is likely you catch your furry friend doing something funny, or maybe even a bit concerning, quite often. An odd behavior owners may notice their pooch engaging in far too frequently is licking carpets.

Although their licking leaves wet spots of slobber all over the house, you ignore it thinking it’s just another one of your pup’s weird habits. But should your dog’s excessive licking actually be a cause for concern? Surprisingly enough, licking behavior is not always innocent. In some instances, obsessive licking of surfaces, such as carpets, can point to some serious health problems. In other cases, you might just need to vacuum up some rogue Cheeto dust

Why Does My Dog Lick So Much?

While occasional licking is normal behavior for your dog, licking the floor or other objects, or even themselves constantly is not normal at all. Some pups who exhibit extreme and obsessive licking behavior may have a disease known as excessive licking of surfaces or Excessive Licking Syndrome (ELS).

Dogs with ELS will likely not just lick your carpet, but really anything they have access to, including themselves. This disease is usually the result of another underlying problem, or perhaps several. A dog with ELS can also develop other health conditions as a result, such as parasites or intestinal blockage. Below are the causes of ELS.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

Though not a common diagnosis, excessive licking of surfaces has been known to be caused by obsessive-compulsive disorder. Your dog’s susceptibility to mental diseases like OCD may be genetic and is usually triggered by some sort of stress.

Studies have shown certain breeds have a predisposition to obsessive-compulsive behaviors. Obsessive-compulsive disorder can also manifest in ways other than excessive licking, so be sure to watch for any and all concerning repetitive behaviors in your pup. 

dog licking carpet

Photo: wwrnet

 

Gastrointestinal Problems 

It is likely that if your dog suffers from excessive licking, they also have some form of gastrointestinal issue. In one study, about seventy-three percent of the dogs, all of whom had a history of excessive licking, were found to have some sort of gastrointestinal problem. Once treated, the majority of the dogs exhibited fewer ELS symptoms. 

Some gastrointestinal issues your dog may experience are:

  • Colitis: Inflammation of the colon
  • Inflammatory bowel disease: Inflammation of the digestive tract or intestine
  • Pancreatitis: Inflammation of the pancreas
  • Giardiasis: Parasites caused by ingesting feces, even in small amounts

Other issues, which may not be as serious, include mild bloating and constipation, which will likely cause your dog some nausea. Certain medications, foods, and vitamin supplements may also cause nausea in your pet which may be indicative of an allergy or sensitivity.

The nausea and discomfort caused by stomach issues can lead to odd behaivor like ELS. While it is possible that a gastrointestinal problem caused your pup’s excessive licking, it is also possible that the excessive licking caused the gastrointestinal problem.

However, which came first is not always easy to decipher. Either way, any stomach issue your dog may experience can be very serious and it is a good idea to see a veterinarian right away if your dog exhibits any symptoms. While some stomach issues are easily treatable, others can quickly turn fatal, so better to be on the safe side. 

Neurological Problems

Sometimes excessive licking might mean your pup has some sort of neurological issue. Sadly, as your adored companion grows older, so does their mind. ELS behavior is common in older dogs as they become more cognitively dysfunctional, which is similar to the development of dementia and Alzheimer’s in humans. 

Excessive licking syndrome can also be present in dogs with a history of seizures or brain tumors. Dogs with seizures may not always exhibit the typical convulsing and shaking symptoms we tend to associate with seizures, so it is possible your dog’s licking is actually a type of seizure in itself. 

Allergies 

Your pup’s excessive licking, especially of themselves, can point to allergies or sensitivities. Just like with humans, allergies and sensitivities in dogs are not uncommon but they’re still aren’t normal things for your pup to endure. Dogs can experience several types of allergies or sensitivities, including food allergies or allergies to their environment. 

Food allergies can cause external or internal reactions, usually on the skin or in the form of gastrointestinal problems. A pup with food allergies or sensitivities can experience skin irritation, subpar coat health, swelling, diarrhea, or even vomiting. Your pup may also experience reactions similar to those of us with seasonal allergies, like sneezing, itchiness, and a runny nose or eyes. 

Environmental allergies can be caused by things such as mold, pollen, fleas, or even grass. Some dogs will develop contact dermatitis from environmental objects they are sensitive to, including things as simple as the soap you use to bathe your pup. Letting a dog obsessively scratch, bite, or lick an area affected by an allergic reaction can potentially cause more issues, such as infection. 

Like humans, some pups can have very serious allergies, resulting in anaphylactic shock. So even if your pup seems to have a mild sensitivity, it is a good idea to monitor their symptoms and ask your veterinarian about any issues you are concerned about. 

terrier licking lips

Photo: Companion Animal Psychology

Emotional Issues 

It is no secret that a number of dogs experience anxiety and other emotional issues. There is evidence that behaviors such as licking or itching actually release endorphins in dogs, making it a comforting activity for dogs who experience anxiety. Your dog may engage in ELS-like behaviors as a way to cope with this mental stress. Dogs can experience several different types of anxieties or anxiety-inducing problems including: 

  • Generalized anxiety: Anxiety that has not been determined to be caused by anything specific. 
  • Separation anxiety: Anxiety caused by physical detachment from a guardian or someone your dog is very attached to.
  • Aggressive or fearful anxiety: Anxiety, usually caused by fear, manifesting in the form of acute or severe aggression in dogs.
  • Phobias: Anxiety associated with an extreme fear of something, such as people, objects, or loud noises.

Sometimes a pup’s anxiety is evident in their behaviors and habits, but other times it is not as obvious. Observing your dog for any atypical pet behavior or any changes in their normal behavior is key. In addition to anxiety-induced excessive licking, a dog with anxiety may also whine, bark, pace, shake, shed, pant, along with a number of other signs. Though some anxiety in your dog may seem harmless, seeking treatment for them is still very important as it can easily become worse or morph into harmful behaviors such as ELS. 

Pain

You are probably aware that when your dog’s excessive licking is confined to a single spot on their body, they are likely experiencing some sort of discomfort in that area. What you might overlook is excessive licking due to problems in their throat or mouth. This can be as simple as an object stuck between their teeth or as complicated as a mouth tumor.

Even items lodged in your pup’s throat can cause discomfort and get your dog licking. If you notice your pup licking itself rather than licking the carpet, it might be worthwhile to check on the area or areas they lick most often. However, even if there is no presence of a physical wound or lodged object, your dog still may be experiencing pain, such as joint or muscular pain. 

External Parasites 

External parasites, such as flees, can be very uncomfortable for your pup. Itching and scratching are common when your pup has a flea problem, but so is excessive licking! Some dogs can even be allergic to flea saliva, making their skin more irritated by a flea infestation than what would be considered normal. Other external parasites that may cause your dog discomfort include ticks, ear mites, and lice. 

JACK RUSSELL terrier with a torn couch cushion

Dogs love to chew, dig, and tear things up when they’re bored.

Boredom

Every dog needs a good bit of mental stimulation and physical activity to remain healthy inside and out. Behaviors such as compulsive licking, chewing, or other general “bad” behavior may mean your dog is craving more attention and playtime.

In addition to attention or playtime, your dog may be in need of some new places to explore, new experiences, socialization with both new people and other pups, and maybe even some training. All these activities provide some form of mental or physical work for your pup and eliminate the chance of extreme boredom. 

It is also possible your pup equates licking to some sort of reward, such as your oh-so-desired attention. Therefore, when they want to play, are bored, or need something from you, they might lick things in an attempt to get your attention! This behavior can become quite compulsive if your dog begins to think that licking the carpet or other objects will win them some quality time with their loved ones. 

Excessive Licking Can Be Harmful

Excessive licking, especially of things like a high-trafficked carpet or floor, can lead to a lot of health issues in addition to whatever may have caused the ELS in the first place. Lapping up some food from your floors makes bacterias, toxins, and other foreign objects more likely to enter your pup’s body.

Foreign objects such as carpet fibers and hair can cause serious intestinal blockage or damage to a dog’s digestive tract. The chance of your dog getting sick from licking your carpet or other objects increases with the frequency at which they engage in the behavior.

Furthermore, the chance of your dog becoming ill from a foreign object, toxin, or bacteria increases as the size of your dog decreases. In other words, a larger dog is often less likely to be affected when they ingest something harmful compared to a smaller dog. 

When is Your Dog’s Licking Harmless?

Though carpet licking in excess can be something to worry about, the occasional lick session or two may not be caused by any underlying medical issue. If you often cook or eat near the spots your dog chooses to sniff and lick, it is likely they found a trace of something tasty to snack on. 

Similarly, hunger may also be a culprit of your dog’s excessive licking. Hunger in itself is not cause for concern. However, your dog can experience extreme hunger or polyphagia. If your pup seems to consume food like a bottomless pit, it is worthwhile to bring up this concern with your veterinarian. 

Affection and love may be another cause for your pup’s licking. Almost every dog owner refers to these loving licks as “kisses”. While it may seem weird to us, licking is simply a natural action that likely resulted from their mother’s affectionate groomings. However, sometimes when your dog licks your skin repeatedly, you may just taste good. 

Despite the harmless reasons your precious doggie may be licking your floors or other objects, it is still not a good idea to allow or encourage this behavior. Anytime your dog licks something, it can potentially ingest something harmful.

toller licking

Photo: The Farmer’s Dog

How to Get Your Dog to Stop Licking  

Cleaning:

While your home may look spotless, our pups have a strong scent for yummy foods. Being sure to mop, vacuum, and wipe down surfaces in your home regularly will reduce the likelihood of your pup’s interest in licking around for food particles. 

Inspection:

It is important to be aware of your dog’s physical health by inspecting them for any rashes, parasites, cuts, bruises, etc. Inspecting in itself is not a sure way to cure ELS, but looking for physical issues that may be the cause of your pup’s ELS and then treating these issues is what may make a difference. For instance, fleas are a common cause of excessive licking, biting, and scratching, and can be easily found by physical inspection. Luckily, there are a number of ways to rid your dog of these pesky creatures, including some easy home remedies

More Play:

If you are busy for long periods of time, try giving your pup some puzzle toys. This includes any toy that your dog can lick and bite for extended periods of time and provides some sort of challenge. Puzzle toys usually involve adding some type of snack, such as the peanut butter-filled cone chews. However, if your dog is excessively bored while you’re gone, it might be a good idea to look into some sort of daycare or pup sitter. This is especially important if you are gone for long periods of time.

Bread:

Bread can help your pup dislodge any bits of plants it may have chewed on and gotten stuck in its throat. If you suspect this to be the cause of your dog’s excessive licking, it may be worth a shot. Of course, be observant of your pooch’s dietary restrictions. 

Licking Deterrents:

If all else fails, a licking deterrent might be a good solution to your dog licking anything and everything. Usually coming in the form of a spray, licking deterrents can be applied to an object you have noticed your dog likes to lick or chow down on often. These products are typically just a solution consisting of bitter flavoring. However, you should consult your vet when resorting to this option, especially if you are thinking about applying it to your pup directly. 

Of course, while these methods may improve your pup’s excessive licking, you should always contact your veterinarian to determine there is nothing too serious causing your dog’s licking habits. 

The Final Word on Licking

While licking is an innate action your dog will partake in sporadically throughout the day, it is not okay when it becomes an obsessive and repetitive behavior. Licking the carpet, floor, or any other item is dangerous as these surfaces can be contaminated with potentially harmful substances, foreign objects, and parasites. 

If you can distract your dog from licking and they don’t return to do it again seconds later, it may not be a compulsive behavior. However, if your pup’s licking occurs for any great length every day, it is time to contact your veterinarian. This is especially imperative if your pup is showing any signs of a gastrointestinal issue, as these can sometimes become fatal.

Usually, a stomach issue can be easily fixed by figuring out any allergies and sensitivities your dog may have, such as a grain intolerance. In such a case, finding good grain-free dog food may show a decrease in your pup’s ELS behaviors. Mental issues in your dog, such as anxiety, are also just as important to resolve. In some cases, your dog may be referred to a behaviorist. 

Lastly, don’t stress too much about attempting to stop your dog from licking altogether, it is in their nature, after all. As a good pet owner, the best you can do is be vigilant and provide an alternative, and of course report anything concerning to your vet. 

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Sarah Wagner

Sarah Wagner

Sarah Wagner is an animal lover and the proud dog-mom of a Golden Retriever named Brody and an Italian Greyhound named Jessup. Unfortunately, Jessup developed serious allergies to many different types of dog foods and ingredients when she was just a puppy. Meanwhile, Brody could eat seemingly anything and carry on as healthy as could be. Sarah spent hours of time researching and testing different foods and brands before finding something that worked for little Jessup. She wants Dog Food Care to simplify this experience for future dog-parents who face food allergy or tolerance issues of their own.