Excessive licking in dogs and cats

Dogs and cats will groom themselves by licking their fur. This is normal. They will lick their owners as a sign of affection as well. Licking can be a form of play and to let you know they are hungry. If the owner pays attention to their pet when they lick, it can reinforce the behavior, encouraging the pet to do it more often.

However, some pets will engage in excessive licking. Only the owner can determine if the pet is licking more than normal. Excessive licking is a compulsive behavior and the pet may lick everything in sight. This is not good for the pet and the family. Do not try to “correct” this behavior, it will only make it worse.

The first thing a pet owner must do is schedule a visit with your veterinarian. Excessive licking can be due to allergies, including food allergies. Other causes are boredom, stress, pain and diseases.

Try to recall if anything in the pet’s environment brought about the excessive licking. Changes are especially suspect, did you move, change the pet’s food, bed, alter the environment such as adding or taking away furniture, someone in the family moving in or out, a new pet, neighbor or any other change that the pet is aware of. Even a family member changing jobs, or a family crisis can affect a pet.

The easiest way to correct excessive licking is to give the pet an alternative activity. If the pet is a dog, give the dog a chew toy when he starts to lick. Praise the dog for chewing the toy. If the pet is a cat offer a toy for the cat to play with and interact with the cat. Be sure to give the pet a good rubdown or petting when they stop licking. If the pet tries to lick family members gently say “no” and give them something to chew or an activity.

If the excessive licking was due to a change in the home environment it may take a few weeks for the pet to adjust to the change. If the behavior does not stop or if it increases, it is best to consult with a certified canine or feline behavior consultant. You can find one at www.iaabc.org  With time and patience, excessive licking can often be cured.

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