Why Does My Dog Keep Licking His Lips?

When we lick our lips, it tends to be a sign that we are enjoying our food – or that we have missed our mouths a little and are trying to rescue that slight sauce spillage.

When dogs lick their lips you might assume that they are hungry or that they have tasted something really good. But, this is not necessarily the case, as we’ll see in this article.

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What are they trying to tell us?

Dogs can’t communicate how they are feeling in the same way that we do, because although we talk to our four legged friends, they cannot talk back. So they have to communicate by using their body language, and licking their lips is just one of the many ways that they communicate by using their body language.

Do you ever look at your dog licking their lips and wonder what on earth they are trying to tell you?

Well, we can’t necessarily give you the answer to that. This is because like us humans, every dog is different and what makes your dog lick its lips might not make your friend’s dog lick its lips.

But, you can figure out why your dog licks his lips for yourself looking at the context. You should observe what exactly prompts your dog to lick his lips.

What If My Dog Won’t Stop Licking His Lips?

Well, dogs can lick their lips for all kinds of reasons and some of these reasons are the same reasons why we’d lick our lips.

Your dog might have just finished a tasty treat, or they might have irritating food remnants or dirt around their mouths. However, one thing to note is that continuous lip licking is an indication of a behavioural or medical issue that you should consult your veterinarian about. 

Does My Dog Lick His Lips Because There Is Something Wrong?

Your dog might be licking his lips due to physical conditions, some of which include but are by no means limited to: nausea, mouth or dental issues, gastroesophageal reflux, intestinal obstruction, pancreatitis or extreme diet changes. 

For instance, lip licking along with other symptoms such as nausea and vomiting could be an indicator of the start of a health condition such as liver or kidney disease, or Addison’s disease. 

If your dog licks his lips and sneezes, this might be a sign that your dog is bothered by allergies or irritants.

Eating or inhaling foxtail is a common cause of this, but some other things that can bring out allergies in your dog are pollen, dust and in some cases grass can bring out allergies in your dog.

Alternatively, there could be something wrong with your dog’s mouth, and this could be his way of letting you know.

As an owner, you should be able to check your dog’s mouth for signs of tooth decay, periodontal disease, objects ingrained in the mouth or swollen salivary glands. 

It is particularly important to look under your dog’s jawline and tongue for swelling because these are the locations of the salivary glands.

If these areas are swollen then this could be a sign of accumulated fluid in the surrounding tissues known as a sialocele. This needs to be seen by a veterinarian as soon as possible.

So the bottom line is, if you are worried about your dog and his lip licking then you are better off taking him to their veterinary practice just to be on the safe side. 

Your dog might also lick his lips if he is dehydrated. This might be brought on by hot weather, physical activity that is too intense for them, or they might have an underlying health condition, such as kidney or liver disease.

Signs of dehydration as well as lip licking include sticky gums, sunken eyes and loss of skin elasticity.

The best way to check for dehydration is to pinch your dog’s skin and lift it as high as you can. When you release the skin, it should snap back into place quite quickly. If the skin takes a little longer to return back into place then your dog is dehydrated.

Make sure that you get your dog to drink a lot of water, and take your dog to his veterinarian if your dog starts vomiting or is lethargic. 

Essentially, our advice is that if you notice that your dog is behaving strangely or differently to what you would class as their usual ‘normal’, then make an appointment with their veterinary practice immediately to rule out any serious medical problems.

Does My Dog Lick His Lips Out Of Stress Or Out Of Habit?

So, your dog could lick his lips for lots of reasons, but the reason why your dog licks his lips might be as an appeasing or submissive gesture. This could be to diffuse a tense situation, or to make any greeting more relaxed and friendly. 

This can also be your dog’s way of communicating with other dogs. For instance, if a dog is getting too loud or too excited then your dog might lick its lips to give off a calming signal. This is basically your dog’s way of asking the other dog to calm itself down.

However, some scientific studies have also shown that your dog might lick his lips out of feeling uncomfortable or anxious, and your dog might even be scared.

This could be more to do with health-related reasons though, and this may be your dog’s way of signalling to you that they are feeling pain or discomfort. 

Additionally, your dog’s lip licking might be his way of showing that he is stressed, the human equivalent of this would be nail biting. Over time, lip licking can become an obsessive habit in the same way that nail biting can.

Is My Dog Attention-Seeking?

On the other hand, your dog might actually be licking his lips purely as attention seeking behaviour.

Make sure that you are petting your dog and showing him that you love him, because your dog might be using this as a tactic to catch your attention and this might be your dog’s way of asking you to pet him.

Our lasting advice is that you should be able to work out for yourself whether or not you should be worried about your dog’s lip licking. It could be purely habitual, or if you are worried about your dog go and see a veterinarian just to be on the safe side.

PuppyLists is written by J., who has owned, trained, volunteered with, and loved dogs for nearly three decades. When she isn't writing or researching, she's out adventuring with her 14 year old Lab mix.