Picture of a dog licking itself - why do they do it?

Why Do Dogs Lick Themselves? (The Answer May Surprise You)

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Have you ever considered why your dog spends so much time licking itself? If you have, you’re not alone. In fact, it’s a question most dog owners have at some point. And as it turns out, there are actually many reasons why dogs lick themselves. Some of them are practical, while others are more behavioral in nature. 

Why Do Dogs Lick Themselves?

One of the most practical reasons dogs lick themselves is to stay clean. While humans rely on soap and water to clean themselves, dogs don’t have that luxury. So, instead, they have to make do with what they have – their tongues. 

Dogs use their tongues to loosen dirt, debris, and other foreign substances clinging to its fur. In addition, their saliva contains bacteria-killing enzymes that keep their skin clean and free from infection. So by licking themselves, dogs are effectively giving themselves a bath.

Why Do Dogs Lick Themselves at Night?

Several theories exist about why dogs lick themselves at night. One is that the dog is trying to soothe itself to sleep. The act of licking releases calming chemicals in the brain, which can help to ease anxiety or boredom and promote relaxation.

Why Do Dogs Lick Themselves After a Bath?

After getting a bath, it’s entirely normal for dogs to lick themselves. There are a couple of reasons why they do this, but mainly, it helps them dry faster. Moreover, dogs have a keen sense of smell. Their fur absorbs water and soap when they get wet, which masks their natural scent, so licking helps to remove foreign odors and restore their own scent.

Why Do Dogs Lick Themselves Raw?

When dogs lick themselves raw, it’s usually because of an underlying condition. For example, allergies, parasites, and boredom can all lead to excessive licking, resulting in raw, irritated skin. This can lead to infections, or hot spots, which are painful sores that can take weeks or even months to heal and often require medical attention.

Why Do Dogs Lick Themselves After Peeing?

While it may seem pretty gross to us, licking themselves after going to the bathroom is perfectly normal behavior for dogs. And, again, it goes back to grooming. By licking themselves after urinating or defecating, dogs are cleaning up any residual waste that may be clinging to their fur.

Why Do Dogs Lick Themselves After Eating?

Like us, dogs sometimes get bits of leftover food stuck in their mouth after eating. Licking helps remove any food particles stuck to the roofs of their mouth or tongues. In addition, by licking themselves after eating, they nullify any lingering food smells from their fur to avoid attracting predators. This instinctual behavior dates back to their days as wild animals.

Why Do Dogs Lick Themselves When You Pet Them?

While dogs enjoy being petted because it feels good, they also see it as a form of grooming. When you pet your dog, you’re loosening any dirt or debris that may be clinging to their fur. Your dog then further cleanses itself by licking the area. Not only is this a stress-relieving way to keep them clean, but this grooming also reinforces the bond between you and your dog.

Tips from Our Vets

Dogs make excellent companions and bring so much joy to our lives. Unfortunately, however, they cannot speak to us.

If your pet exhibits odd behavior, it can be worrisome and difficult to know if the behavior is normal or a reason for concern.

Not sure why your dog is exhibiting a specific behavior?

  • Some behaviors can seem very odd but may be completely normal.
  • Others could signal illness or injury.
  • Due to the lack of ability for a dog to communicate with us verbally, it is imperative to pay close attention to what the dog is telling us through their behavioral changes.

The most important takeaway is that if you are ever concerned about a behavior that your dog is displaying, your best resource for information is your veterinarian.

In general, a new behavior that is not typical for your dog should be investigated. Examples would be:

  • Not eating
  • Suddenly sleeping more than usual
  • Being reluctant to go on walks or to play
  • Becoming aggressive or grumpy when interacting with other people or pets

These behavior changes most commonly indicate that something is wrong, and your pet needs to see their veterinarian as soon as possible. It is much easier and more likely to be successful, to treat an illness early in its course as opposed to waiting until the dog is very sick.

Other odd behaviors include:

  • Eating feces
  • Chasing their tail
  • Sudden bursts of activity (known as the “zoomies”)

These may be completely normal. However, if you notice a drastic change in your dog, for example, they never exhibited one of these behaviors, and now they suddenly are, it is prudent to have them examined by their veterinarian as soon as possible.

Even if the behavior is normal, it may lead to unintended issues.

For example, young dogs consuming their feces or the feces of other dogs can be a normal behavior but can lead to gastrointestinal upset as well as intestinal parasitism.

Parasites from your dog can cause serious health complications, not only for your dog, but also for you and your family, as many are transmissible to humans.

Licking of the feet or scratching may seem like normal dog behavior but typically indicates a health issue such as allergies, fleas, or skin infection.

Left untreated, these issues will worsen and cause additional discomfort for your dog.

Remember that your best source of reliable health information for your dog is your veterinarian. Because dogs cannot verbally communicate with us, it is essential to be proactive with any possible health concerns.

Working with a trusted veterinarian as your partner will ensure many happy and healthy years for both you and your dog.

Final Thoughts: Why Do Dogs Lick Themselves?

Dogs lick themselves for a variety of reasons, such as:

  • To clean themselves
  • For grooming
  • Underlying conditions
  • To soothe themselves

If you’re looking for answers to explain your dog’s behaviors, you can check out our series of guides on why dogs do what they do:

Pet News Daily Staff
Pet News Daily writers are experts in pet care, health and behavior. We are members of Society for Professional Journalists and practice ethical journalism.