Why Do Dogs Lick the Air?

Part of being a responsible dog owner is learning to recognize and understand the different non-verbal cues your dog sends you. Unlike humans, they are unable to speak and tell us something is wrong, so we have to rely on our knowledge and understanding to realize when they need help or attention.

One odd behavior many pooches participate in is when they appear to be licking the air. This behavior can look very strange the first time you encounter it, and it is hard to work out what your dog is trying to tell you. There are a few reasons why this may be happening, and we have explained these below.

Dog licking air

They Have Something Stuck in Their Mouth

A dog may appear to be licking the air because they have something stuck in their mouth, or on the roof of their mouth. Licking the air is an attempt to dislodge this. They are trying to lick and reach whatever is making them uncomfortable. The most important thing to do is open your dog’s mouth to check for anything which is stuck. If this is something a simple as a peanut butter snack, you don’t need to panic. If you are concerned the situation is more serious, however, you should contact your vet.

They May be Stressed

Dogs may excessively lick if they are stressed or uncomfortable, and this can extend to them ‘licking’ the air. It could be a sign of a compulsive disorder or a habit which has developed due to the dogs’ anxiety.

Pay attention to when the behavior occurs; is it in a new place, with strange people or around loud noises? If the action manifests itself in stressful situations, you may have a behavioral issue on your hands. This symptom may appear amongst other signs of distress, such as trying to hide, urinating or defecating. If you suspect a problem, it is a good idea to get your dog checked out by an animal behaviorist.

They Could Have a Skin Issue

If your dog is suffering from pruritic dermatologic disorders –or itchy skin—they may express this by licking their paws excessively. If they have been told off for this behavior, they may switch to licking the air to help alleviate their symptoms.

They Could be Trying to Take in a Strong Smell

Rather than licking the air, your dog could be doing a ‘flehmen response.’ This is when your dog’s nose makes contacts with certain, strong smelling molecules. They will make a motion with their mouth which allows the molecules to move over the vomeronasal organ, or Jacobson’s organ, to help them take it in more effectively.

They Could Have a Gastrointestinal Issue

Excessive licking of the air could suggest a digestive disorder such as reflux, pancreatitis, or esophagitis. Research has shown that there is a strong connection between dogs who lick the air excessively and these conditions. If your dog shows other symptoms such as decreased appetite, vomiting, diarrhea or painful abdomen, you should see a vet.

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