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Dog Keeps Licking Lips and Swallowing: Possible Causes and Solutions - PawSafe

Dog Keeps Licking Lips and Swallowing: Possible Causes and Solutions

Photo of Tamsin De La Harpe

Written by Tamsin De La Harpe

dog keeps licking lips and swallowing

It’s often not a good sign when a dog keeps licking lips and swallowing. You may be nervous about this sudden and hard-to-watch behavior. But luckily, the issue is possible to treat after you identify the root cause.

It’s not uncommon for dogs to lick their lips and swallow occasionally, but it can be a sign of an underlying issue when it becomes a repetitive behavior. While this action seems like a subtle symptom, it can help you catch medical conditions before they take root.

We will explore the possible causes and possible solutions for this behavior in dogs, as well as the symptoms to look out for. Bonnie Beaver’s Canine Behavior Insights and Answers and Dog Unusual Swallowing Studies advise this article for a complete and accurate guide.

Some people refer to dogs licking lips and swallowing as having “the gulps”. Affected dogs often try to lick anything, not just their lips, like the floor and even grass. Your dog’s licking and swallowing probably looks like this:

As you can tell from the above video, this type of licking accompanied by swallowing is pretty hard to miss. This is vastly different from the more subtle lip smacking and lip licking that dogs do when anxious or stressed (or relaxed and happy, depending on context), which we’ve covered in the linked article.

Overall, while some dogs lick and swallow due to psychological or communicative reasons, the action mostly indicates an underlying issue. Some people may even confuse this licking with regular hiccups. It’s best to consult your vet if your pet gets prolonged and recurrent episodes.

11 Causes of Lip Licking And Swallowing

Dogs are known for their odd behaviors, and one of them is lip licking and swallowing. This behavior can be caused by a variety of reasons, some of which are:

1. Gastrointestinal Issues (Nausea, Gastritis, Bloat)

Dogs that keep licking their lips and swallowing may be experiencing gastrointestinal issues, particularly nausea. Other gastric problems causing this behavior are gastritis, gastroenteritis, pancreatitis, and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).

One of the most common causes of nausea in dogs is ingesting something that does not agree with their digestive system. This can include spoiled food, table scraps, or even certain types of plants or spices. Additionally, dogs may experience nausea as a side effect of medication or as a result of motion sickness. Signs include low appetite, dry heaving, lethargy, and vomiting.

Bloat or Gastric dilation and volvulus can also cause excessive swallowing and licking. You’ll notice a hard, distended belly, excessive drooling, restlessness, difficulty breathing, and collapse.

2. Oral Health Problems

A PMC study found that dogs that constantly lick their lips and swallow may be experiencing oral health problems. These problems can be caused by various factors, including foreign objects stuck in the mouth, injury, or dental disease.

Foreign objects stuck in the mouth can cause discomfort and irritation, leading to excessive lip licking while swallowing and even choking. These objects can include bones, toys, or even pieces of food that have become lodged in the teeth or gums.

Injury to the mouth, such as a cut or burn, can also cause a dog to have this symptom. The licking behavior is a natural response to pain and discomfort and may continue until the injury has healed.

Dental disease, typically from bad oral cleanliness, is another common cause of licking then swallowing in dogs. This can include gum disease, tooth decay, or abscesses, all of which can cause pain and discomfort in the mouth.

3. Acid Reflux

Acid reflux in dogs, also known as gastroesophageal reflux, occurs when stomach acid and stomach contents flow back into the esophagus. White vomit, regurgitation, and excessive salivation are common signs of acid reflux. 

Swallowing impairment research shows that acid reflux is the most common cause of dog gulping. The licking and then swallowing is a natural response to the irritation in their esophagus, akin to how humans might swallow or clear their throat when they have heartburn or acid regurgitation

4. Neurological Disorders

Dogs that are experiencing neurological disorders may also exhibit this behavior. These disorders can range from mild to severe and can be caused by factors including genetics, injury, infection, or disease. Sometimes, show bursts of repetitive movement like lip licking, typically while staring into nothing, can be a sign of partial or psychomotor seizure.

One common neurological disorder that can cause this action is epilepsy. Dogs with epilepsy may also experience seizures, muscle spasms, dilated pupils, and loss of consciousness. It is important to seek veterinary care if you suspect your dog may be experiencing seizures or other neurological symptoms.

Another neurological disorder that can cause this is vestibular disease. This disorder affects the dog’s balance and coordination and can cause symptoms such as head tilting, stumbling, and loss of appetite. In some cases, the licking may also be a symptom of a brain tumor. 

5. Smelling or Anticipating Food

Dogs have a keen sense of smell and are often able to detect food from a distance. When a dog smells food, it can trigger a physiological response, causing them to salivate and lick their lips in anticipation. This behavior is completely normal and is not usually a cause for concern.

However, if a dog is excessively licking their lips and swallowing, even when there is no food present, it could be a sign of an underlying health issue. 

6. Dehydration

Dogs with too much licking may be showing signs of dehydration. Dehydration can occur due to various reasons, such as excessive heat, lack of access to water, illness, or diarrhea.

If a dog is dehydrated, it may not have enough fluids in its body to produce saliva, leading to dry mouth and increased lip licking. Additionally, dehydration can cause a dog to feel thirsty, which can cause them to swallow more often.

To determine if a dog is dehydrated, a veterinarian may perform a physical examination and blood tests. Treatment for dehydration may include fluid therapy, electrolyte replacement, and addressing the underlying cause of dehydration.

7. Saliva Gland Disorders

Excessive salivation, also known as ptyalism, is a common condition in dogs that can cause them to lick their lips and swallow frequently. This condition occurs when there is an overproduction of saliva, which can be caused by several factors.

One of the most common causes of ptyalism is a dental issue, such as an infected tooth or gum disease. Dogs with dental problems may produce excess saliva as a result of pain or discomfort in their mouth.

Another potential cause of ptyalism is a problem with the salivary glands themselves. Salivary gland disorders can cause an overproduction of saliva, which can lead to excessive drooling and licking lips. In some cases, these disorders can be caused by tumors or other growths in the glands.

On the other hand, dry mouth is a condition where there is a decrease in saliva production. This can cause discomfort and difficulty in swallowing for dogs. Dry mouth can be caused by medications, dehydration, or as a side effect of certain medical conditions.

8. Allergies

Dogs can develop allergies to various things like food, pollen, or dust. If a dog is experiencing an allergic reaction, they have respiratory irritations in their nose and throat that might cause some licking and swallowing.

9. Medication Side Effects

Some medications can cause side effects like nausea, which can lead to excessive lip licking and swallowing.

If a dog keeps doing this, it’s best to consult with a veterinarian to determine the medicine causing the issue and appropriate treatment.

10. Appeasement Gestures

Dogs communicate through body language, and one of the ways they do this is through appeasement gestures. These are behaviors that dogs use to signal to other dogs or humans that they are not a threat and want to avoid conflict.

One common appeasement gesture is lip licking. Dogs will often lick their lips when they are feeling anxious or stressed. This behavior can be a sign that the dog is trying to calm themselves down or show submission to another dog or person.

Another related behavior is swallowing. Dogs may swallow more frequently when they are feeling anxious or stressed. This can be a sign that the dog is trying to soothe themselves or avoid conflict.

It’s important to note that licking and swallowing is typically more prolonged than emotionally-charged lip licking due to anxiety. The latter is much shorter and often looks like the dog is licking their nose, like this pup:

11. Anxiety and Excitement

Dogs may also lick and swallow excessively when they are anxious or excited. This behavior is often seen in dogs experiencing stress or fear, such as during thunderstorms, fireworks, or other loud noises. Additionally, dogs may exhibit this behavior when they are in unfamiliar environments or around unfamiliar people or animals.

Anxiety and excitement can also cause other behaviors in dogs, such as panting, pacing, and restlessness. If a dog is exhibiting these behaviors, it is important to try to identify the source of the anxiety or excitement and address it accordingly. This may involve providing a safe and comfortable environment for the dog, reducing exposure to triggers, or seeking the advice of a veterinarian or animal behaviorist.

Some dogs may also exhibit this behavior as a compulsive behavior. This may be a sign of an underlying medical condition or a behavioral issue that requires further evaluation and treatment. 

Diagnosis and Treatment

In some cases, the vet may need to perform additional tests such as blood work or imaging to rule out any medical conditions such as gastrointestinal issues or dental problems.

Veterinary Diagnosis of Dogs Licking LIps and Swallowing

In some cases, veterinary intervention may be necessary to diagnose and treat underlying gastrointestinal issues. This may involve blood tests, fecal analysis, and imaging studies such as X-rays or ultrasounds.

They may also ask about the dog’s diet, exercise routine, and any recent changes in their environment.

Treatment Options

Once the underlying cause has been identified, the vet will recommend a treatment plan to help alleviate the dog’s symptoms. Treatment options may vary depending on the cause of the behavior and may include:

  • Medication and supportive care: If the dog is suffering from a medical condition, the vet may prescribe medication to help manage their symptoms.
  • Diet: If the behavior is related to the dog’s diet, the vet may recommend a change in food or a special diet to help alleviate their symptoms.
  • Behavioral modification: If the behavior is related to anxiety or stress, the vet may recommend behavioral modification techniques such as desensitization and counter-conditioning.
  • Surgery: In some cases, surgery may be necessary to address underlying medical conditions such as dental problems or gastrointestinal issues.
  • Allergy Management: If food or environmental allergies are suspected, work with your vet to identify and manage the allergies with proper dietary changes or medication.

It is important to follow the vet’s recommended treatment plan and monitor the dog’s behavior closely. If the behavior persists or worsens, following up with the vet for further evaluation and treatment is important.

Preventive Measures

You can take several preventive measures to help alleviate your dog’s licking behavior.

Maintaining Oral Health

One of the most important preventive measures is to maintain your dog’s oral health. Regular brushing of their teeth can help prevent dental issues that may cause excessive licking and swallowing. Additionally, providing your dog with dental chews or toys can help keep their teeth clean and healthy.

Reducing Stress and Anxiety

Another preventive measure is to reduce your dog’s stress and anxiety levels. Dogs may lick excessively when they are feeling anxious or stressed. Providing your dog with a calm and comfortable environment can help reduce their stress levels. You can also try incorporating calming activities, such as regular exercise or massage, into their routine.

Provide water

It is important to provide dogs with access to clean, fresh water at all times and to monitor their water intake. If a dog is showing signs of dehydration, it is crucial to seek veterinary care promptly to prevent further complications.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why is my dog constantly licking and swallowing?

Dogs may lick their lips and swallow frequently for a variety of reasons. It could be a sign of dental issues, gastric problems, anxiety, stress, or excitement. It could also be a way for them to clean their mouths or to indicate that they are hungry or thirsty.

What can cause a dog to lick their lips and swallow frequently?

There are many things that can cause a dog to lick the lips, followed by swallowing frequently. Some common causes include dental problems, gastrointestinal issues, allergies, or even a foreign object stuck in their mouth.

What are some possible medical reasons for a dog to keep licking their lips and swallowing?

Some medical reasons for a dog to keep licking their lips followed by swallowing include nausea, acid reflux, or an obstruction in the digestive tract. It could also be a sign of a neurological disorder or a side effect of medication.

Can anxiety or stress cause a dog to lick their lips and swallow excessively?

Yes, anxiety or stress can cause a dog to lick their lips and swallow excessively. This behavior can be a coping mechanism for dogs who are feeling anxious or stressed.

How can I help my dog stop licking their lips and swallowing so much?

The best way to help your dog stop licking their lips and swallowing excessively is to identify and address the underlying cause. If the behavior is caused by anxiety or stress, you may need to work with a professional trainer or behaviorist. If it is a medical issue, your vet can provide treatment.

When should I take my dog to the vet for excessive licking and swallowing?

If your dog is licking and swallowing excessively, and it is not related to hunger or thirst, you should take them to the vet. This behavior could be a sign of an underlying medical issue that requires treatment.

Final Thoughts

Excessive swallowing and licking in dogs can signify various health issues, ranging from anxiety and stress to gastrointestinal problems. Dog owners need to pay attention to their dog’s behavior and seek veterinary care if they notice any unusual symptoms.

While occasional lip licking and swallowing is normal behavior for dogs, excessive or persistent behavior should not be ignored. Dog owners should consider potential triggers, such as changes in diet, environment, or routine, and address any underlying health issues that may be causing the behavior.

Meet Your Experts

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Tamsin De La Harpe

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Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions. Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.

Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions. Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.