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Since they don’t have any hands, one of the primary ways that dogs interact with the world is through their mouth. They’ll lick you to show affection and use their teeth to pick things up off the floor. They chew on their favorite toys and sometimes even things they shouldn’t be chewing on.
None of this is considered to be strange behavior or weird behavior. After all, it’s the only way your dog can perform such actions.
Even so, some similar behaviors can be much stranger.
For instance, floor licking. It makes sense for your dog to lick the floor when you drop some food while making dinner. However, it starts to seem pretty strange when your pooch is incessantly licking the floor and you can’t figure out why.
You must be wondering: why does my dog lick the floor?
Dogs often lick the floor just for the taste and texture. However, if your dog is licking obsessively for long periods, then it might be ELS or excessive licking of surfaces. ELS can be caused by stress, anxiety, or in rare cases OCD. More commonly though, ELS is the result of a gastrointestinal problem.
We’re going to take a closer look at the possible reasons for your dog’s floor-licking behaviors. We’ll also discuss some solutions so that you can start formulating a plan to help your dog with whatever problem is causing their floor licking.
Why Is My Dog Licking the Floor?
Dogs use their tongues for just about everything. It’s not strange behavior for most dogs to lick the floor on occasion. You’ll see dogs using their mouths and tongues to test and taste almost every object they wish to interact with.
But there’s a big difference between occasional licking and constant, non-stop, excessive licking behaviors. It’s these latter behaviors that raise cause for concern.
Your dog’s excessive licking could be a medical condition known as ELS, which stands for excessive licking of surfaces. Dogs with ELS aren’t just licking a spot once or twice and moving on. These dogs are licking obsessively, and they do it everywhere.
ELS is not limited to floor licking. Floor licking is a common sign of ELS, but dogs exhibiting ELS behaviors will generally lick just about anything!
Any type of floor is game, for starters, including tile, linoleum, carpet, wood floor, concrete, and more. Dogs with ELS will also lick doors, walls, furniture, people, and anything else they can get their tongue on!
ELS has many causes, some of which are quite minor and not a big deal. Other causes of ELS are far more serious, however, and may require veterinary intervention.
Licking for Taste and Enjoyment vs Excessive Licking of Surfaces
We’ll start with the most obvious possibility first. Your dog uses its mouth and tongue to test everything they find. When they test the floor and find something tasty, you can bet they’re going to keep licking that spot until the good taste is gone.
Generally, if you’ve spilled food on that spot or perhaps a drink, then your dog will lick it for only a short while; just until the flavor is gone. It’s sort of like letting them lick a dinner plate clean or a free treat for your dog- and what dog wouldn’t want that?
If your dog is continuing to lick the floor long after any taste is gone, then they’re probably not licking for flavor. Moreover, if your pooch is licking many areas on the floor instead of concentrating on just one spot, then they’re likely not licking for the taste of it, unless you find drops of spaghetti sauce all over from making dinner last night!
More than just flavor, your dog is probably also licking because they enjoy the texture. This is why your dog will lick so many different types of flooring. And they’re rarely limited to flooring, with many dogs also licking the occasional wall, piece of furniture, or even the trash can!
But there’s a big difference between a dog that licks a spot a few times and one who’s excessively licking the floor over and over for long periods. When the behavior becomes repetitive and excessive, then it’s no longer normal licking.
Does your dog seem to lick everything all the time? Do they just seem to find a spot on every surface that needs to be licked hundreds of times until their tongue must be raw?
These are telltale signs of ELS.
But determining that your dog has ELS is only part of the problem. Because ELS has many underlying causes, helping your dog will require determining what’s causing their excessive licking behaviors, in the first place.
Why Is My Dog Constantly Licking the Floor?
If your dog is licking obsessively and you believe they have ELS, then they’re not just licking the floor a little, they’re doing it constantly! This behavior is a sign that there’s something else wrong that’s negatively affecting your dog and causing them to display such strange behaviors.
Unfortunately, there are quite a few underlying issues that could be the culprit. While some possibilities are more likely than others, any of the following health and behavioral concerns could be to blame.
Reason 1: Gastrointestinal Tract Abnormalities
It may not seem like the most obvious cause of your dog’s excessive licking, but gastrointestinal problems are highly linked to ELS.
We’re not talking about just one or two types of GI issues either. Many different GI abnormalities cause dogs to excessively lick.
According to a study published in the Journal of Veterinary Behavior, GI issues might be the most common cause of ELS.
The study included 19 dogs exhibiting ELS behaviors and another 10 dogs that weren’t licking as a control group. All dogs were examined for behavioral, physical, and neurological issues before performing a GI evaluation.
In the group of dogs with ELS, GI issues were discovered in 14 out of 19 total dogs.
Granted, these GI issues ranged drastically and included:
- Chronic pancreatitis
- Lymphoplasmacytic infiltration of the GI tract
- Eosinophilic infiltration of the GI tract
- Gastric foreign body
- Delayed gastric emptying
- Irritable bowel syndrome
Based on the results of this study, GI problems appear to be one of the main causes of ELS. It will be difficult for you to diagnose any of these medical issues though, so professional veterinary assistance will likely be required.
The good news is that ELS was resolved in nine of the 17 affected dogs in the study, so there’s plenty of hope for your dog as well!
Reason 2: Stress
Stress affects almost everyone, dogs included.
Of course, your dog is likely to react to stress differently than you do.
While you might dose up on coffee, hit a heavy bag to take out your frustration, or schedule a massage, your dog has fewer outlets.
Behavioral changes are very common when dogs are stressed. One behavior you’ll frequently see in stressed-out dogs is excessive licking.
These dogs might also display other signs to let you know they’re stressed, such as constant whining and crying, pacing, excessive shedding, panting heavily, or even the occurrence of accidents in the house.
To help your stressed dog, you’ll have to find the stressor that’s causing them to feel that way. This could be an environmental factor like loud noises from a construction crew outside or it could be caused by a change in routine or lifestyle.
Sometimes, the causes are less obvious, like underlying medical conditions.
That said, the cause could be benign and easy to solve. Your dog might just be stressed because it’s not getting enough exercise.
Whatever the reason, excessive licking is just a symptom of the underlying stress.
Reason 3: Anxiety
Anxiety can cause all sorts of odd behaviors in people, and it’s not much different for dogs.
One common result of anxiety is the occurrence of compulsive or repetitive behaviors, such as non-stop licking of surfaces.
Generally, when a dog is suffering from anxiety, there will be other signs to clue you in, aside from just the excessive licking. Other symptoms of canine anxiety include:
- Destructive behaviors
- Excessive barking
- Accidents in the house
Three types of anxiety affect dogs most commonly.
Fear anxiety is when your dog is anxious because they’re scared.
Separation anxiety makes a dog anxious when their owner leaves.
Age-related anxiety can set in as your dog gets older and loses cognitive function.
There are several ways to treat anxiety, including counterconditioning, desensitization, and medication. Your vet should be able to help you determine the best course of treatment for your dog.
Reason 4: Obsessive-Compulsive Disorders
Obsessive-compulsive disorders or OCD are not exclusive to humans. Your dog can also have OCD, and it could be the cause of their ELS. OCD is also sometimes referred to as CCD or canine compulsive disorder in dogs.
In fact, the brains of both people and dogs that have OCD show very similar abnormalities, making it seem like the disorder itself is quite a similar experience for dogs and people.
Normal dog behaviors turned excessive are often classified as OCD. This can certainly include excessive licking, which becomes a compulsive habit for dogs displaying ELS.
Compulsive disorders are genetic, and researchers have identified a particular gene that is associated with a high risk for compulsive disorders. Not all breeds carry this gene, but those that do are much more susceptible to OCD.
Breeds that are more susceptible to OCD include Dobermans, Jack Russell Terriers, German Shepherds, and Great Danes, among others.
Even in dogs predisposed to experiencing OCD, there’s a process to developing full-blown compulsive disorders.
It usually starts with a stressful or frustrating situation for your dog. They start a certain behavior, in this case licking, and it becomes a stress-reliever, releasing neurotransmitters to calm them down.
Then, the pattern repeats. Soon, your dog is licking all the time to continue releasing those neurotransmitters so they can feel continued relief. The new behavior takes over and your dog is now performing it compulsively.
What to Do When Your Dog Is Licking the Floor Suddenly
If your dog starts licking the floor or other surfaces seemingly out of nowhere, then you should first make sure that the licking classifies as truly excessive. Maybe someone spilled flavored water droplets all down the hallway. You can’t see them, but your dog can taste them!
Watch your dog’s licking for a little while and see how often they’re licking, how long they keep licking, and what surfaces they’re licking.
You only need to worry when your dog is licking an excessive amount. We’re talking about long licking sessions that could last 20 minutes to an hour. When the dog finishes, they get up and go somewhere else just to resume the licking again in a new spot.
Dogs with ELS are also likely to lick many different surfaces, rather than concentrating on a single spot.
If your dog is not exhibiting these excessive behaviors, then you have nothing to worry about. Their licking is normal and healthy.
But should you decide that your dog’s licking is ELS, then you’ll want to take steps to help them.
How to Prevent Your Dog from Licking the Floor
What’s important isn’t to stop your dog from licking the floor, but to cure the underlying condition that’s causing the licking behavior.
Determine the Cause of ELS
You’ll want to rule out the simplest explanations first. Your dog could just be stressed out or anxious.
Try to identify any major changes that have occurred recently. Changes in environment, diet, and lifestyle can all result in a stressed and anxious pooch. New people or pets in the home can have the same effect.
Your dog might be suffering from separation anxiety, or they could be stressed because of a medical issue like an injury or underlying illness.
Remember, your dog can’t communicate their problems with you. It’s up to you to look for the clues and start piecing the puzzle together.
Whether you can rule out issues like anxiety and stress or not, your vet should be able to help you figure out the cause of your dog’s new licking behavior. They can run tests and check for health concerns while you’re there, such as various GI issues that could be responsible for your dog’s behavioral changes.
Cure the Underlying Health Issues
Once they’ve determined the most likely source of your dog’s problems, your vet should also be able to suggest a treatment plan for your dog. Depending on the cause of your dog’s ELS, the treatment could simply mitigate the issue and reduce your dog’s licking, or it could be a cure.
For example, if your dog’s ELS is due to a GI issue, then it’s quite likely that curing the GI problem your dog is suffering from will put an end to their ELS. However, if your dog’s ELS is being caused by OCD, then it might not be as easy to solve as simply prescribing the proper medication.
For dogs whose ELS was caused by stress or anxiety, some adjustments to their lifestyle or environment will be necessary.
Whatever was causing the anxiety and stress will need to be identified and dealt with. This might be in conjunction with medication, or the medication could be the sole cure, particularly in cases where the stress or anxiety is caused by an underlying medical condition.
Often, for dogs that suffer from stress or anxiety, there’s a catalyst at home causing the behaviors. If possible, you might remove this catalyst, though the catalyst can sometimes be irremovable like a new child or pet in the family.
Behavior Modification Training
Behavior modification training can be the solution for dogs that are licking excessively due to OCD or anxiety, though the type of training used for these conditions is different.
Anxious dogs can benefit from counterconditioning and desensitization.
Counterconditioning is about altering the way your dog reacts to the sources of their anxiety. You’ll be training to replace an undesirable reaction with a more favorable one.
Desensitization is when you intentionally make your dog interact with the source of their anxiety in small but increasing doses until they’re finally comfortable with it.
Dogs with OCD can also benefit from behavioral modification training that’s intended to interrupt their current behaviors and teach new ones. It might be in your best interest to consider hiring an animal behaviorist to help you with this type of training.
Licking the floor is perfectly normal behavior for dogs. But when this behavior becomes excessive and your dog is licking the floor compulsively for long periods, then it’s something to start worrying about.
Though your dog’s excessive licking could be caused by stress, anxiety, or even OCD, it’s more than likely got something to do with a gastrointestinal problem. So, if you see your dog starting to lick an inordinate amount, you should schedule a vet visit right away to determine the source of the licking and a possible treatment.
My hope is that this article has been helpful in dealing with your dog’s licking problem. With luck, it was just normal licking and nothing to worry about, but at least now you know what signs to look for and how to tell when licking the floor might be a sign of something more serious!