Why do dogs lick their lips?

With a little bit of salt and a healthy dose of protein, dog food might not be for us, but it certainly makes our dogs happy. So happy, in fact, that they seem to compulsively lick their lips. But what exactly is going on?

Why do dogs constantly lick their lips? Is dog food that tasty?
Why do dogs constantly lick their lips? Is dog food that tasty?  © Unsplash/Karsten Winegeart

A tasty meal will always encourage an enthusiastic smacking of the lips, a rub of the tummy, and a good long nap.

What's good for the gander is good for the goose. Your beloved canine companion is no different, and will have its own way of reacting to that feeling of contentment.

One of the most common behavior involves a lot of lip-licking.

Dog's reaction to his family's new pool has the internet crying happy tears
Dogs Dog's reaction to his family's new pool has the internet crying happy tears

But what exactly makes dogs lick their lips? And what about other habits, like the constant yawning and gulping?

TAG24's dog guide has all the answers to these mutt mysteries!

Why does my dog keep licking its lips?

Dogs regularly lick their lips, and there are a variety of reasons as to why that is.
Dogs regularly lick their lips, and there are a variety of reasons as to why that is.  © Unsplash/Daniel Lincoln

Dogs are remarkably emotional and empathetic creatures, with a variety of habits that help them express the feelings they have. With a lack of any verbal communication skills other than the odd bark or yap here and there, it becomes all the more important to learn how to understand their body language.

One such behavior is lip-licking, which has so many possible meanings that it can be extremely hard to decipher. The most important thing to understand is that, in many cases, habits like lip-licking are compulsive, or led by raw emotions, rather than linked to a specific cause or thought. Still, it's worth taking a look at what it means when a dog licks its lips.

Here are a variety of reasons why dogs lick their lips

This dog's diva-like reaction to her bed setup has the Internet cackling
Dogs This dog's diva-like reaction to her bed setup has the Internet cackling

Dehydration: If your dog is particularly thirsty, and needs a good drink, it will often lick its lips. The solution to such a problem is pretty straight forward – you just need to give your perfect pooch a bowl of water.

Cognitive issues: There are a variety of cognitive problems that can afflict your beloved canine companion. Some, like canine cognitive dysfunction, can cause your dog to display odd tendencies like a compulsive need to lick its lips, or increased and intense anxiety, which we'll get to later on.

OCD and obsessive tendencies: Obsessive compulsive disorder can afflict dogs as well, and can cause things like a feeling in your four-pawed friend that it needs to constantly lick its lips. Of course, it doesn't need to mean that your dog literally has OCD. Instead, it could just have this one single compulsion.

Hunger: We all lick our lips after a great meal, and it's the same for our dogs. The only difference, really, is that dogs also lick their lips as an indication that it's hungry.

Smell and curiosity: When a dog is curious about something, or catches on to a scent that is a little bit interesting, it will often lick its lips or taste the air. This is a method of investigation, allowing it to take in information and develop a better understanding of the world around it – similar to the way a cat's whiskers work.

Dog anxiety and fear: If your beloved pooch suffers from dog anxiety or separation anxiety, it may lick its lips as a way to lift those negative emotions and make things feel a little bit better.

Allergies: Dogs have allergic attacks too, especially if they eat things that they shouldn't. One common response to such an attack will be to lick its lips, possibly relieving part of the discomfort by getting rid of the taste.

Health issues: There's a vast assortment of serious health issues that could be indicated by compulsive lip-licking. If no other innocent explanations apply to your dog's behavior, it might be worth going to the vet and getting a check-up.

Choking hazards: If there is something stuck in your dog's mouth, on its tongue, in between its teeth, or lodged into its gums, it will constantly lick and move its tongue around to try and get it out. Keep in mind that these foreign objects can, from time to time, also present a choking hazard.

Dental health: Dogs often have pretty awful dental hygiene. If your doggo has problems with its teeth and mouth, you should check out our guide to dog dental care (and take your perfect pooch to the doggy dentist).

It's important to recognize when a dog's lip-licking is completely benign, and when it is something to be looked at seriously. If there's any indication something more serious might be going on, don't try your hand at home remedies, just go to the vet.

Dogs love to lick their lips, even if there's no clear reason to do so.
Dogs love to lick their lips, even if there's no clear reason to do so.  © Unsplash/Lawrence Hookham

Why do dogs lick their lips when you pet them?

Dogs will sometimes lick their lips when they feel contented, just as we do after a good meal. This can explain why dogs lick their lips when you pet them sometimes, because they are enjoying the experience. It's not so surprising when you consider that dogs lick their lips to relieve stress and anxiety – the behavior soothes them, and that's a nice feeling whether you're happy or not.

Why do dogs lick their lips before falling asleep?

Similarly to how a cat's whiskers can detect certain things within an environment, dogs will lick the air to check for the unexpected. That's why they'll lick their lips before falling asleep: it's a way of subconsciously checking that it's safe to let their guard down.

It's easy to forget that dogs are closer to wolves than they are to humans, and that our habits of personification applies within our mind, but not within reality. As safe as we make things for them, they will still have basic instincts that they can't ignore – and lip-licking is one of those instincts.

Why does my dog keep yawning?

While compulsive lip-licking can be a sign of health problems, yawning is not something to really get concerned about. In fact, the most common reason why dogs yawn is just because of simple tiredness.

That being said, it's always worth understanding a dog's behaviors. As such, you should inform yourself on potentially troublesome habits and prepare to react appropriately if a problem rears its ugly and unpleasant head.

Here are a few reasons why your dog might be yawning

Tiredness: We've all been there, exhausted after a long day, lying on the couch and letting out a good yawn. Your perfect pooch is much the same, and will keep yawning if it is over-tired.

Love or joy: Since dogs don't have the most sophisticated methods for expressing emotion, behaviors like yawning often become the equivalent of tail-wag. If your doggo is happy, or feeling strong positive emotions of some kind or another, it may yawn a lot.

Stress or fear: The flip side is that negative emotions can get the same outlet. Often coupled with heavy panting, the licking of lips, fearful body language, and negative behaviors, yawning can be a sign of stress, anxiety, or fear.

Boredom: Everyone yawns when they're bored, and you'd be surprised how boring a dog's life gets sometimes!

Again, if your dog ever changes its behavior suddenly and unexpectedly, the vet will always be your best bet. Get to know its body language and respond appropriately if it suddenly starts yawning more often than before.

Dogs constantly lick their lips

Dogs love to lick their lips almost as much as they love to eat their dinner or go for long walks with their human. It's a compulsion, and something that serves them well throughout their life, and certainly not something to worry about. That is, most of the time.

As with any of these troublesome topics, dogs that seem to constantly and aggressively lick their lips need to be treated by a veterinarian. If you are ever worried about your pup's health, get in leashed up and checked-out!

Cover photo: Unsplash/Karsten Winegeart

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