Question: Why does my dog constantly lick the air?

My baby is a 4-year-old Maltezer cross Toy Pom. Abbi. She started licking “air” since she was 1 year old. She is constantly sticking her tongue out and licking at nothing. She stops when we ask her. She looks happy while doing it. I’m just afraid that she will dry out her tongue or get painful mouth/tongue. Why is she doing it and do I have to be worried. What is the meaning of this behaviour? Friends say she’s showing love and affection.

– Tertia

dog is constantly licking air

Answer:

Dear Tertia,

What a cute little girl and such an interesting question!

What you describe sounds like what veterinarians call “air licking behavior.” There are several possible causes for this unusual behavior.

Allergies

Allergies to pollen, food, or environmental agents can cause itchy skin, itchy ears and even an itchy mouth. Most dogs will have other allergy symptoms such as foot-licking, scratching, and ear inflammation. Your vet may suggest a trial of anti-allergy medications and/or hypoallergenic food.

Dental Pain

Dental disease is very common in toy breed dogs. The pain caused by dental disease can cause air licking. You can take a look at Abbi’s teeth, but even if the surface looks OK dental x-rays often reveal problems under the gumline. She may need an examination under anesthesia to get a better idea of her dental health status.

Gastrointestinal Disease

Air licking may be the only symptom of mild to moderate gastrointestinal pain/nausea. However, many dogs have some other symptoms like vomiting, weight loss, poor appetite, diarrhea. Your vet might want to run blood tests and do some special imaging to see what’s going on in Abbi’s GI tract.

Neurologic Disease

Sometimes seizures involve only a small part of the brain. Focal seizures can cause strange behaviors that are usually repetitive in nature. “Gum chewing” and air licking may be a manifestation of focal seizures. Diagnosis may require consultation with a veterinary neurologist. Some dogs improve with anti-seizure medication.

Behavioral

Air licking behavior might be a result of obsessive-compulsive disorder. It might also be attention-seeking behavior, especially if it never happens when the dog is alone.

Behavioral causes of air licking are difficult to diagnose because there is no specific test to be done. Behavioral air licking is diagnosed by ruling out other causes for the behavior. There are many things you can do to improve the situation causing behavioral air licking, but you need to rule out more serious causes first.

Conclusion

Without a doubt, Abbi needs a thorough veterinary exam. Your veterinarian may have a good idea of what’s going on with her right away or may need to do some testing to pinpoint the problem. There is a good chance that her quality of life can be improved with appropriate treatment, so don’t delay in seeking help from your vet!

Sincerely,

TB Thompson DVM

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