Why Do Dogs Lick? Do They Clean Themselves?

Man’s best friend often gets the limelight due to various reasons. Perhaps they are the only beasts on earth to attract consistent human attention. We may adore and pamper our pet cats, but there’s something special in dogs which instantly draws our attention.

Be it a street dog or a fine breed like German Shepherd, every activity of this animal comes to our notice. One of such behaviours is licking. If we take a walk along the street or closely watch our pet dog while performing home cleaning activities, every other second, we will notice that they lick their body.

The question is- Why do they lick? Do they want to convey us something or is it a personal business of this species? Let’s find out.

​What Does Licking Mean To Them?

When a dog licks its own body, it can have multiple inferences. Every body part where dogs lick sends a different message.

Licking the lip means they are scared of some potential danger or threat. We are all aware that dogs possess marvellous sixth sense, which is why they are even hired by the military and the police.

As for pets, the moment they sense something dangerous, be it another animal or a person, they send gestures to their owners by licking their own lips.

​Our canine friends are also seen licking the base of their tail, i.e. the portion where the tail joins the body. Only those furry friends who are allergic to fleas lick this area. Exposure to flea causes itchiness, which compels them to lick their tail base.

​At times, dogs also lick their wounds, which may be in any part of the body. They use their saliva to destroy the cell wall of harmful bacteria. As saliva contains important anti-bacterial, anti-viral as well as Lactoferin compounds, it enables dogs to prevent further spread of the infection or growth of germs in that area.

Paws are other places where dogs lick. If licking takes place after coming home from outdoors, it is a cleaning exercise. Through licking, our good pets are able to wash their dirty paws and throw away germs, pollutants, etc.

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Also, when we undergo home cleaning works, pet dogs are seen to lick their paws; reason being the same.We shall get more into the details of maintaining cleanliness through licking in the next section of this article.

Paw licking can also happen due to environmental allergies. In this case, it’s not the paws but also armpits as well as the flanks and groins. When all the three areas are licked at some point of time, they need urgent medical care.

​In rare instances, dogs lick non-food items and even try to have them. This is a sign of pica or GI disease. Licking at the air or lip smacking are signals of possessing seizure-like behaviour.

​Whenever canine friends feel pained physically, they start licking specific joint areas. The Opiorphin component in saliva gives relief from pain.

​Some other reasons behind licking are cognitive dysfunction, dehydration, boredom, or hunger, problem in and around the mouth and obsessive compulsive disorder.

​So, these are the commonly noticed licks of any dog. Now, let’s see how licking helps them in staying clean.

​How Dogs Clean While Licking

​Our furry friends are among the few animals that clean themselves. They get fanatic when it comes to clean and healthy lifestyle. The moment they feel any dirt or germs accumulating on their skin, they start licking.

We’ve already learnt about paw licking for cleanliness, now we shall try and investigate the science behind it. Canine saliva is considered to be an excellent cleaner. All the components of saliva contribute to healing or cleaning the doggy’s body.

Their saliva is enriched with enzymes like peroxidises and lysozome that kill bacteria and bacterial germs. Defensins, Lactoferrin and Cystanins also aid in the same task.

Thrombospondin is an anti-viral which helps our best friends to keep viruses at bay. Further, dog’s saliva also contains essential nitrate compounds which prevent growth of bacteria and other germs.

No matter how much polluted an area might be, dogs have their own tactics of remaining clean and healthy all the time.

​How Effective Is This Practice

Licking sends a quick signal to what’s going on in the dog’s mind. If owners carefully study the licking habit of their dogs, they’ll immediately come to know the real reason.

Dogs who lick sometimes in a day signifies feeling of affection and compassion towards the master. Licking is a dog’s own of expressing love and asking for love in return.

It creates a good bonding between them and their owners, with whom they spend a huge chunks of their life. Besides this, dogs also develop a sense of belonging by licking the skin of the family members.

However, when dogs lick themselves every now and then, it can be dangerous. Continuous or non-stop licking points to hormonal imbalances, presence of an underlying medical condition, anxiety, nausea, physical pain, and allied problems. Therefore, excessive licking is a big reason to worry.

This does not mean that licking is a bad habit. Nor is it true that dog’s saliva is harmful. In reality, saliva of a barking partner is more effective than that of humans. It helps in smooth digestion besides preventing canine cavities.

​Above all, licking is a sign of excellent grooming. If your furry friend keeps licking, it often means he is in good health and excellent spirit. Physically, dogs are strong, stout and stable. In terms of mental health, they remain active and stress-free.

Besides proper mobility, dogs can resist any diseases, sense danger and live happily with their masters. In short, there’s no harm in licking, unless it continues indefinitely.

Remember, it is not just a habit or addiction, but a feeling of love and emotion. For them, it is an excellent medium of talking to us, expressing their anxiety and spending quality time.


That was all about the inherent behaviour displayed by our good pets. Now that you’re aware about it, you can take better care of your darling dogs and keep them safe and secured for maximum tenure. Watch out for all the possible signals and try to understand what licking means.

As long as there’s no medical condition or the licking does not border on an abnormality, there shouldn’t be any cause for alarm. So, keep petting your canine friend, enjoy his licks and you will surely take your friendship to a different level.

Emma Thompson

Hi, I'm Emma Thompson. Welcome to The Pet Town! I'm a Pet lovers like you and please feel free to get in touch with any questions. Enjoy your stay!

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Error - June 14, 2019

However, there are other reasons your dog might be obsessively licking—including as a way to get attention. Licking can be a learned behavior for dogs, as they see that when they lick their owner, they get more attention. The behavior can seem like something humans want which, to an extent, it is.


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