Dogs really do appear to have the most amusing quirks. From scratching floors for no apparent reason to “getting the zoomies“, some of their behaviours seem to have no purpose whatsoever, but often this isn’t the case. The same can be said about dogs licking the air.
I’ve noticed my Whippet air licking on occasion and wanted to understand why, hence I decided to research and document my findings here.
So why do dogs lick air? Does it indicate a problem? Is my dog telling me there’s something wrong? Should I be worried if I see my dog licking the air?
In this post I’ll attempt to answer these questions by looking at the following topics:
Table of Contents
- Dogs Licking the Air… Why Do They Do It?
- Normal Reasons to See Dogs Licking the Air
- Abnormal Reasons to See Dogs Licking the Air
- Should You Be Worried About Your Dog Licking the Air?
- Related Posts
Dogs Licking the Air… Why Do They Do It?
Dogs Lick Air for a number of reasons, many of which are entirely reasonable and not to be concerned about in any way.
To begin with, I’ll list some of the “normal” reasons why you might witness your dog licking the air and then I’ll move onto some others that may require veterinary attention.
Normal Reasons to See Dogs Licking the Air
You may find your dog’s starts licking the air when it knows it’s about to get some food or when you’re preparing something to eat yourself. Your dog may begin to salivate if it thinks it’s in line for food and this may cause it to swallow and lick the air.
Additionally, when a dog is hungry it may also start to lick air.
As with hunger, dogs often lick air when they’re thirsty. Having a dry mouth might naturally create a sense of discomfort in the mouth, which the dog will try to lick away.
3. Something Stuck in The Mouth
I’ve seen this first-hand with my Whippet and peanut butter! Dogs sometimes appear to be licking the air when they have something stuck in the roof of their mouths.
But it’s not only sticky food that can cause a dog to lick air.
We all know that dogs love to chew. Sometimes bits of what they chew may fragment and either get stuck between their teeth or embed in their gums as splinters.
Licking seems to be a natural response to clearing something stuck in the mouth… perhaps air licking would work for me too whenever I eat toffee!
It’s entirely possible that dogs simply enjoy licking air! There may be no mysterious reason, good or bad, it could be that dogs lick air when they’re having fun… or perhaps they find the act in itself entertaining!
Dogs tend to lick themselves in places where they need to scratch something they can’t get to with a paw.
As dogs understand they sometimes use their tongue to scratch, they may try licking the air if they have an itch that neither their paw nor tongue can reach!
6. The “Flehmen Response”
Dogs, like many other mammals, have a powerful scent detector in their olfactory system called the “vomeronasal organ“. Also known as “Jacobson’s organ”, it’s located within a dog’s nasal cavity, and it opens into the roof of the mouth.
The vomeronasal organ is able to detect very faint odours as well as substances like pheromones that don’t have any odour at all. A dog’s nose and the vomeronasal organ work together to enhance a dog’s ability to pick up scents. Since the organ opens into the mouth, sometimes a dog will sniff with its mouth opened and may even lick the air to further involve the vomeronasal organ.
Such behaviours, alongside flaring their nostrils, curling their lips and even chattering their teeth make up the Flehmen Response, whereby a dog engages the vomeronasal organ.
7. Attention Seeking
Most dogs are smart and easily learn to equate action and reaction. If a dog licks air and gets attention from its owner, by way of either a telling off or amusement and fuss, it’s likely to equate air licking with getting some focus!
In this way, it’s entirely possible for a dog to understand that if it licks air, you’re going to pay it attention.
8. Submissive Display
From putting their tails between their legs to exposing their bellies, dogs display a range of behaviours to show other perhaps more dominant dogs that they’re not a threat.
Dogs licking air in the presence of other dogs may be another way to demonstrate submissiveness to avoid confrontation as a result of perceived canine challenges.
Abnormal Reasons to See Dogs Licking the Air
1. Stress and Anxiety
When a dog is stressed, anxious or fearful, it’s not at all common to see them lick themselves or even the air repeatedly.
A dog may find certain situations intimidating, such as a move to a new home, sudden loud noises or being left alone for long periods. Air licking might be just one way a dog copes with such stressful triggers.
2. Compulsive Behaviour
Dogs can develop compulsive behaviours just as their human counterparts can. It may be that a dog begins licking the air as a way to manage stress or anxiety. Over time, and with repeated stress triggers, air licking may become something it carries out when stress triggers are not present at all.
A dog may begin to feel compelled to lick air even when there’s no reason to be stressed and this can become a compulsive behaviour it cannot control.
3. Cognitive Dysfunction
Sadly for us, a dog’s cognitive function can deteriorate over time. When dogs get older they can develop degenerative brain diseases that cause brain cells to die. The consequence of this is that dogs can become confused, forgetful and display repetitive behaviours.
A dog licking the air repeatedly, especially if it’s in its senior years, may be a sign it’s experiencing cognitive dysfunction.
4. Insect Bites and Stings
A dog might not lick the air if it’s been stung on the paw, but an insect bite or sting to the nose, muzzle, mouth or face area might inspire a dog to try to get at it with its tongue.
5. Dental Disease
If a dog’s dental hygiene deteriorates, plaque and tartar form and create an environment where bacteria can flourish.
Bacteria in the mouth can lead to periodontitis, which is a serious gum disease that destroys soft tissue and ultimately the bone that supports teeth, resulting in tooth loss.
A dog licking the air may be a signal that your dog has dental pain and is trying to resolve it.
6. Nausea or Sickness
Any dog feeling nauseous is licking to drool and lick the air. Dogs can be nauseous for a variety of reasons, from over-eating to consuming a house plant that’s poisonous.
Other gastrointestinal problems such as parasites or pancreatitis can also lead to a dog licking the air excessively.
7. Irritation in the Throat
Certain medical conditions such as esophagitis and pharyngitis can lead to irritation and soreness in the throat. A dog with a sore throat may try to lick it to make it better.
The result might well be air licking!
8. Canine Seizure
A seizure is obviously a very serious event and something that can be enormously disturbing for dog owners.
Canine seizures often result in a dog lying down immobilised, aside from moving their legs or even licking the air.
Should You Be Worried About Your Dog Licking the Air?
If you can determine a reason why your dog is licking the air and you don’t feel it indicates a compulsive problem or a psychological deterioration, then there’s likely no cause for alarm.
As I’ve outlined, dogs lick air for a number of reasons, many of which don’t mean there’s something wrong. I’ve certainly seen my Whippet licking air on more than one occasion and it’s never been because it’s feeling poorly or has a problem requiring attention.
Of course if your dog is licking air frequently and you have a feeling something’s not right, you should visit a veterinary professional as soon as you can.
Have you ever seen dogs licking the air or do you have any questions about this behaviour? Please use the comment section below to let me know.
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