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Why Does My Dog Keep Licking the Air?

Learn what causes dogs to lick air.

It can be pretty cute when a dog closes or half-closes their eyes and licks at nothing. Humans usually find the behavior adorable. But what if it goes on for hours or your dog suddenly starts doing it out of nowhere and seems to be bothered by something?

What causes a dog to lick at the air?

Common Causes of Licking Air in Dogs

Below are some of the common reasons dogs lick at air:

  • It may be a learned behavior. Some dogs are quite sensitive to the reactions of humans, and a dog can be taught that licking air elicits reactions from humans. However, this is unlikely to cause incessant air-licking during periods of rest.
  • They have something stuck on the roof or side of their mouth. This may be a food chunk or a broken stick, toy, or rawhide. You may notice extra drooling along with the licking.
  • They are suffering from nausea or gut pain. Nausea causing bile to rise into the back of the throat can cause a dog to lick at air.
  • They have tooth pain. Dental conditions, such as a broken or abscessed tooth or severe gum disease, can irritate the dog's mouth and cause them to lick incessantly at nothing.
  • The licking could be seizure activity. Neurological dysfunction can result in air-licking behavior, usually in addition to other signs.
  • They could have cognitive dysfunction. As dogs age, their brain function can decrease, resulting in many behaviors we consider to be strange. Air-licking can be one of those.
  • OCD can cause air-licking behavior. Dogs can suffer from anxiety and OCD that can manifest in many ways, including air-licking.
  • Skin problems, especially in an area the pet can't reach—most often in obese dogs—can cause the dog to lick air when they want to lick the itchy spot instead but can't get to it.

If your dog is licking air incessantly or suddenly begins doing it out of the blue, you should schedule a veterinary visit.

The doctor will do a thorough physical exam, checking the mouth, skin, and doing a neurological exam. If your dog is exhibiting other new symptoms along with the air-licking, be sure to tell the veterinarian because it may help direct the diagnostics in a certain direction.

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