Black Labrador retriever licking its lips on a trail

Dog Keeps Licking Lips: Causes and Solutions

Dogs have many intriguing behaviours, and a common one that raises eyebrows is lip licking. Your dog may lick their lips in anticipation of food or just after a tasty meal, which is entirely normal (and not unlike humans!). However, if your dog keeps licking their lips and there’s no food around, it may be a sign of something else. Dogs may lick their lips due to anxiety, stress, dehydration, nausea, allergies, oral problems, pain or other medical issues. It’s essential for pet parents to understand what is causing this behaviour in their dog, so they can get them the support they need.

In this article, we help dog parents understand why their dog keeps licking their lips. We discuss the possible reasons why dogs engage in this behavior, when it may be a problem and how to manage your dog’s excessive lip licking. By understanding your dog’s behavior and body language, you can learn what they’re trying to communicate and look after their overall health and well-being.

What does it mean if a dog keeps licking its lips?

When a dog keeps licking their lips, it may be that they’re feeling hungry, can smell something delicious, or because they’ve just finished eating a delicious treat or meal. However, if your dog is constantly licking their lips and there’s no food in sight, it could be a calming signal or an underlying oral or health issue.

Lip-licking is normal if your dog is anticipating or appreciating their food. But if your dog’s lip-licking is excessive, constant, and without any obvious reason, there could be something else going on. Lip-licking can be concerning depending on the underlying cause, which is why it’s important to understand your dog’s body language and learn what is triggering your dog to keep licking their lips. We look at the possible reasons why dogs lick their lips below.

Why is my dog constantly licking its lips?

There are many possible reasons why your dog keeps licking their lips. While the behaviour is generally considered normal, a dog’s excessive lip licking could be due to one of the underlying causes below. 

Your dog may be under stress

If you notice your dog keeps licking their lips when in certain situations, this may be due to stress. It’s important for dog parents to observe when their dog is excessively licking their lips, as it’s a key communication technique for dogs when they feel stressed, anxious or threatened by the situation. This could be due to the presence of an unfamiliar person, a larger dog, a cat or a child in close proximity. It could also be if your dog is feeling cornered or trapped if they’re hearing loud noises such as a thunderstorm, or if they’re experiencing separation anxiety. In these situations, the lip-licking behavior is considered a calming signal - a way for your dog to communicate they feel scared. It may also be a way to appease the unfamiliar person/animal, and show that they are not a threat. Look out for other signs of stress, fear and anxiety, such as avoiding direct eye contact or ‘whale eye’, which is when a dog’s eye position shows the whites of their eyes. If you notice any of these signs in your dog, you should take immediate action to remove them from the situation to relieve their stress and anxiety and avoid escalation.

Your dog may have oral discomfort

In some cases, your dog may lick their lips constantly if they are experiencing oral discomfort or pain. Common oral problems in dogs include abscesses, gingivitis, periodontal disease, swollen salivary glands, or some form of oral trauma. If your dog keeps licking their lips and swallowing, this could be due to extra saliva in their mouth caused by oral pain or discomfort  - for example, swollen salivary glands cause excessive drooling. If you can, try to inspect your dog’s mouth and look out for red or swollen gums, fractured teeth, or any signs of injury to their tongue, gums or mouth, and have your dog checked by a vet as soon as possible.

Your dog may be experiencing nausea

Another reason why your dog keeps licking their lips and swallowing could be nausea. When dogs feel nauseous, they tend to drool excessively - and this may cause your dog to lick their lips and swallow to remove the extra saliva. Nausea may also be the cause if your dog keeps licking their lips and burping. Dogs can experience nausea from eating or drinking something new, inappropriate or toxic, and this may also be accompanied by vomiting or diarrhoea. If your dog is experiencing any gastrointestinal problems for more than 24 hours, contact your veterinarian immediately. 

Your dog may be dehydrated 

Dehydration can also cause your dog to lick their lips constantly. In this case, it will be more like lip-smacking. Dehydration in dogs can be caused by heat stroke, heavy exercise, or an underlying medical condition. If you suspect your dog is dehydrated, look out for other signs such as dry or sticky gums, sunken eyes, and loss of skin elasticity. Make sure you know how much water a dog should drink, and offer plenty to your dog in hot weather and whilst out on walks. Feeding your dog wet food cans or pouches is a great way to add moisture to your dog’s diet. Take your dog to the vet if you’re concerned about their water intake.

Your dog may have allergies

Allergies can also cause your dog to keep licking their lips. Like humans, dogs can have allergies to certain foods, pollen, mould or dust mites, as well as other environmental factors. You’ll know if your dog has allergies if they are also itching their skin, sneezing or coughing, have watery eyes or a runny nose, or are experiencing difficulty in breathing. In this situation, it’s best to consult a vet so they can determine the allergen and provide medical advice. 

Your dog may have an underlying medical condition

Sometimes, dogs keep licking their lips when they’re experiencing pain. Certain medical conditions can also cause your dog to excessively lick their lips; kidney and liver disease both cause dehydration in dogs, which can lead to lip licking behaviour. Although rare, it’s also possible that your dog’s lip licking is a sign of a neurological disorder, such as epilepsy or a partial focal seizure (which is less intense than a normal seizure). You’ll know if this is what’s happening if your dog looks as if they’re licking the air or trying to catch imaginary flies, and then appear tired and depressed after the episode. If this sounds like what’s going on with your dog, take your dog to the vet immediately for professional advice and support. It’s helpful for your vet if you take videos of your dog licking their lips, so they can analyse the situation and observe any other behavioural or medical cues to help identify the underlying cause. 

What can I do to help my dog stop excessive lip licking?

You can help your dog stop their excessive lip licking behaviour by looking after their overall health and well-being. Below are some practical solutions that can help. 

1. Visit a veterinarian 

While it’s essential to take your dog to the vet regularly for check-ups, it’s especially important if they suddenly start licking their lips. Any changes in behaviour should be checked by a vet in order to rule out an underlying medical issue. Take videos of your dog licking their lips, to help your vet understand the cause of their behaviour.  

2. Manage underlying health issues

If it transpires that your dog has an underlying oral or medical issue, dog parents can work with their vet for a treatment plan. This can help manage the original problem that is causing your dog to keep licking their lips

3. Identify your dog’s triggers

In some cases, your dog may keep licking their lips due to stress or anxiety, rather than a health concern. It’s important to observe your dog closely to see what types of situations are causing the behaviour. As dog parents, it is your responsibility to take note and action to remove your dog from any stressful situations. Once your dog feels safe and calm again, the licking should stop. This also prevents your dog from using other behaviours to communicate their distress, such as growling or snapping. 

4. Reduce their anxiety levels

You can support your dog’s anxiety and stress levels by ensuring they feel safe and relaxed in their home environment. Provide your dog with a safe space in a quiet area where their privacy is respected, and include a comfortable bed and dog-safe toys. You may also consider using a pheromone diffuser to calm them down. Here are some other ways to deal with an anxious dog.

5. Provide a stimulating environment 

Your dog might keep licking their lips if they feel bored or anxious, turning the behavior into a compulsive habit. Make sure your dog has plenty of stimulation throughout the day with physical exercise, interactive toys and quality time with yourself.

6. Offer training and distractions

If the lip-licking behaviour persists, your dog may need training. When you notice your dog starts to lick their lips, try to distract them by playing with a toy instead. Make sure to reward your dog afterwards in order to reinforce an alternative desired behaviour.

When is dog lip licking a problem?

While dogs licking their lips is not a problem in itself as long as it’s occasional, it can become problematic if your dog is excessively licking their lips, or if the behaviour is due to a physical, psychological or medical cause. Here are some signs when your dog’s lip licking may be concerning:

  1. Repeatedly licking their lips all day
  2. Licking their lips in addition to drooling
  3. Licking their lips vigorously
  4. Prolonged episodes of lip licking

If you observe persistent, intense, or unusual lip-licking behaviour in your dog, and it disrupts their daily activities and routine, there may be something more serious causing the behaviour. It’s essential that dog parents consult a veterinarian for professional advice if they ever notice any unusual signs, symptoms or behaviours in their dog. Your dog’s lip licking may not be due to a medical concern, in which case you should consult a professional behaviourist for further evaluation and assistance. Make sure to record your dog’s behaviours, as well as any concerning signs and symptoms, to help professionals understand the situation.

We love our dogs, however, at times it can be difficult to know which behaviours are considered normal or not. Dogs licking their lips occasionally is normal, however, it’s always best to get a professional opinion if you’re concerned. The key to keeping your dog happy and healthy is through high-quality nutrition, such as James Wellbeloved Superfoods. Our Superfoods range is hypoallergenic and contains natural antioxidants and prebiotics, as well as Omega 3 and 6 oils, to support your dog’s overall health and well-being.