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Why Is My Dog Licking The Air?

Written by Ella White


Beautiful pug licking the air

Witnessing the quirky and amusing behaviors that our dogs exhibit can be one of the most endearing and enjoyable experiences of pet ownership. But if you’ve ever noticed your dog licking the air, it can be strange and perplexing. There are many misconceptions about air licking and why dogs do it, and while it can just be a normal and slightly odd compulsion, there are instances where it could be a signal of something more serious. 

In this article, we unravel the mystery behind air licking, dispel common myths, and highlight the importance of decoding your dog's actions. So you can know when it’s normal, and when it’s not.

Why Do Dogs Lick The Air?

One of the main reasons that dogs lick the air is related to sensory exploration. Just like how we touch or smell objects to understand them better, dogs can connect with scents and sensations through their tongues. It might seem like they're licking nothing, but this behavior actually allows them to detect subtle changes in the air, showcasing their heightened senses/learn/dog-health/how-your-dog-uses-their-senses#:~:text=Dogs%E2%80%99%20Sense%20of%20Smell at work.

However, not all air licking is innocent curiosity. In some cases, it can be indicative of underlying health issues. Dental problems, such as tooth pain/learn/dog-health/periodontal-disease-in-dogs-symptoms-causes-and-treatments or irritation, may lead to excessive licking. Similarly, gastrointestinal discomfort or nausea can prompt dogs to lick the air as a response to feeling unwell.

Air licking can also stem from behavioral and psychological factors. Dogs, like humans, may exhibit nervous habits, and excessive air licking can be a manifestation of anxiety, stress, or boredom. Changes to their routine or environment, loneliness, or a lack of mental stimulation/learn/dog-training/your-guide-to-brain-training-and-mental-stimulation may contribute to this peculiar behavior.

Environmental triggers and stressors can also play a significant role in your dog’s behavior and lead to air licking. If your dog is in an unfamiliar situation or exposed to loud noises or other factors that could cause them stress, they may lick the air as a coping mechanism/learn/dog-health/why-do-dogs-lick-their-paws

Understanding these diverse reasons behind air licking is key to fostering a happy and healthy relationship with your furry friend.

Normal vs. Abnormal Air Licking

The next thing you’re going to want to know is how to understand the difference between normal and abnormal air licking. Normal behavior involves occasional, brief episodes of air licking. It becomes abnormal when it escalates into a compulsive, repetitive activity, which can be an indicator of potential issues.

Signs of distress or discomfort in dogs include persistent and frenzied air licking, accompanied by other anxious behaviors like pacing or whining/learn/dog-health/signs-of-stress-in-dogs. If your dog appears agitated, has any changes in appetite, or experiences weight loss, these could also be a sign of underlying problems. 

Proactive care is key. Early intervention can prevent potential health issues from worsening and ensure your dog's wellbeing. Persistent behavior may suggest dental problems, gastrointestinal issues, allergies, or neurological disorders. So if your dog is constantly air licking, seek advice from your vet. They will be able to conduct a thorough examination, including dental checks, blood tests, and imaging if necessary.

Medical Causes

Various medical causes may drive a dog to engage in air licking, offering insights into their overall health. 

  • Dental problems, such as tooth decay or gum issues, can trigger discomfort, prompting excessive air licking as a response to oral pain.
  • Gastrointestinal issues and nausea can cause dogs to lick the air to alleviate stomach discomfort or in response to the feeling of nausea, signaling a potential digestive problem.
  • Itchy skin/learn/dog-health/dog-itching-remedies or irritation might lead dogs to lick the air in an attempt to soothe their discomfort, drawing attention to underlying allergic reactions or dermatological conditions.
  • Dogs experiencing seizures may exhibit repetitive licking as part of the seizure activity, in more serious instances.

Behavioral and Environmental Causes

A lack of mental stimulation and physical exercise can lead to boredom, prompting dogs to find unconventional ways to occupy themselves, including air licking. Regular playtime and mental challenges are vital for a balanced and content canine companion.

Anxiety and stress are other common causes of air licking and other frenzied behaviors in dogs. They may lick the air as a coping mechanism/learn/dog-lifestyle/7-signs-that-your-chilled-dog-might-actually-be-stressed in response to these negative emotions, highlighting the importance of creating a calm and stimulating environment to keep them mentally healthy.

Changes in routine or environment can also trigger air licking. Dogs thrive on consistency, and alterations to their familiar surroundings or daily schedule may induce stress, prompting this odd behavior.

Social dynamics and canine communication play a role too. Dogs may use air licking as a form of communication with their human or animal counterparts, expressing submission or seeking attention. Understanding these behavioral and environmental triggers enables pet owners to address the root causes, and know when its normal play or a sign of something more serious.

How To Prevent Excessive Air Licking

If your dog occasionally licks the air for short periods and in bursts of playfulness, then there is probably no need to seek medical attention as this is part of normal dog behavior. The issue arises when your dog licks the air excessively. At this point, the first step should be to see your vet. Regular vet check-ups can also help to detect and address underlying health issues quickly.

If your dog licks the air excessively but there are no health issues detected, then there are ways to try to stop this behavior from home. Positive reinforcement and training techniques/learn/dog-training/positive-reinforcement-training-for-dogs are key as they reward desirable behaviors and redirect unwanted ones to help break the habit. This encourages your dog to engage in healthier alternatives and discourages excessive air licking.

Interactive toys, stimulating activities, and regular exercise all contribute to a well-rounded and content pet, reducing the likelihood of excessive licking. If you think your dog might be licking the air because they’re bored/learn/dog-lifestyle/do-dogs-get-bored, make sure they have access to proper mental and physical enrichment.

Like humans, dogs deserve to thrive in a stress-free environment. Where possible, identify and work to minimize any potential stressors that could be creating a negative response in your pet. Maintain a consistent routine, and provide a safe space where your dog feels secure. This proactive approach addresses behavioral and environmental triggers, and will promote a harmonious and happy relationship with your furry friend. 

By combining veterinary care, positive reinforcement, enrichment, and a stress-free atmosphere, you can prevent and manage excessive air licking, ensuring a fulfilling and joyful life for your dog.