My Dog Keeps Swallowing and Licking! – Why? What to do?

By Kevin Myers | 2020 Update

Most dog parents bond deeply with their pets, butthere’s a limit to how well we can communicate with our dogs. At times, they behave in ways that completely baffles us. Other times, it is easy to guess their behavior is quite clear. Like when they want to snuggle up with us.

Because our dogs can’t communicate with us directly, there are times when we might not notice that they aren’t feeling well. For example, we accept licking as something that dogs do. So, we might not catch when our pet does it more than usual.

The thing is that constant licking and swallowing can be an indication that something’s bothering your dog. If you think your pet is doing this more often, it could be time to determine why.

Behavioral Causes

Expression of Different Emotions

Some dogs might lick their lips when they feel confused. Are they having difficulty in grasping their training concepts? They will express this by licking their lips. Likewise, a dog frustrated due to excessive training will use the same gesture.

Coping with Anxiety

Dogs will begin air licking when they become anxious or are under stress. If that’s the case, try figuring out the cause behind their discomfort. Most of the time, the stressor is one of the following:

  1. Loud noises — either within or from outside the house
  2. The appearance of a new pet or animal
  3. Presence of strangers or guests
  4. Moving
  5. Changes in the house, such as during renovations

A dog will exhibit lip licking is when they want to calm themselves down. So, in stressful situations or when scared, dogs use this appeasement gesture. If you can remove the source of their discomfort, your dog would be able to relax.

An Indication That They Have Caught a Scent

A dog’s nose is sensitive enough to pick up interesting pheromone molecules out of the surrounding air. That information goes first to their Jacobson’s organ. Later on, it reaches their brain. Unlike cats, they won’t curl their lip. Instead, dogs will lick the air on catching an interesting scent!

Medical Causes

Dislodging a Foreign Body

If you find your dog alternates lip-licking with swallowing, pay attention. Your dogcould be trying to dislodge an item stuck in itsmouth. If it is causing pain, your dogwill want to remove it. Besides exhibiting those two signs, you may also catch your dog shaking their head or pawing at their mouth. If that’s what’s happening, get to the bottom of the issue.

Some common items that get caught in a dog’s mouth are:

  1. Bones
  2. Toys
  3. Rawhide
  4. Sticks
  5. Foxtail seeds

These are spiky grass seeds that can travel up your dog’s nose and go all the way to the lungs. Sometimes, dogs even swallow them. If your dog seems to be licking everything in a panic, including the floor, people, or the walls, they may have something stuck in their mouth that they are trying to dislodge.Other indications include constant licking and swallowing or sneezing. They may also start munching on grass or leaves nearby.

Depending on where the seed ends up, its removal may require sedation, and you should take the dog to see a vet as soon as possible.

Fighting Off Nausea

Nausea can also cause your dog to lick and swallow uncontrollably.

Eating grass can be an indication that your dog is feeling nauseated. It may be something that just disagreed with their stomach, but it can also be something toxic.

If they successfully make themselves vomit, note down the duration of the spell. Nausea lasting more than 24 hours could indicate poisoning and is cause for an immediate visit to the veterinarian.

Experiencing Dental Problems

Just as you brush your teeth daily, ensure that you do the same for your pet. Additionally, take them for checkups as recommended by their vet. If you don’t do that, their dental hygiene may suffer. Dental issues could be the cause of excessive licking and swallowing.

In short, advanced dental disease can turn plaque into tartar. A tartar build-up provides an ideal breeding ground for bacteria. These microbes can harm the periodontal tissues in dogs.

There’s a way you can determine if dental disease is the reason for the lick-and-swallow behavior. Check for these:

  1. Do you smell a foul scent leaking out of your dog’s mouth?
  2. Are their gums inflamed?
  3. Can you see food particles trapped between infected teeth?

You can’t fix an infected tooth with brushing. So, take your dog to the vet.

Lastly, some dogs have to get fillings after they break their tooth on something. The filling can wear off with time. If that’s what is happening, your dog could be in a lot of pain. Massive inflammation and ache could also be why they keep licking their mouth and gulping.

Alleviating the Pain due to an Oral Ulcer

These signs are also common for dogs experiencing pain from an ulcer in their mouth. Ingesting caustic substances, like detergents, is one way a dog may develop such an ulcer. However, it can also form due to:

  1. An oral infection
  2. Kidney disease
  3. Other systemic infections

Check to see if your dog has an oral ulcer. If you cannot find it but suspect one, take itto the vet.

Ridding Themselves of an Unpleasant Taste

Your dog may also be trying to a funny taste out of their mouth. This sometimes happens when you switch your dog to a new type of food. If that’s not the case, your dog may have licked something unpleasant. Make sure your dog hasn’t gotten into the cabinet holding your home cleaning supplies. Windex and Dawn, for instance, can taste awful.

Toad venom toxicity is another mishap that can result in drooling and lip licking. To confirm if that’s what happened, check if your dog is foaming at the mouth. Licking Marine and the Sonoran Desert toads can bring about this effect. If you see foam coming out of your dog’s mouth, call your veterinarian immediately!

Suffering from a Bite

Your pet may cross paths with spiders, mosquitoes, or horse flies. Insect bites to the face or around a dog’s lips are common. Bee/wasp stings would also cause discomfort. As a result, the dog will do the lick- and-swallow routine to alleviate pain.

Snakebites produce other, more serious symptoms. So, your pet could be experiencing intense pain. They may also have a swelling around the face/mouth. Check for discharge from the bite too.

Becoming Dehydrated

Dehydration is yet another reason why your dog could be smacking their lips. Dogs can become overheated easily in hot weather. Strenuous activity or medical conditions, like liver or kidney disease, can also lead to dehydration.

You can likely tell if that’s what is happening. Watch for these other characteristic dehydration indications:

  • Dull/sticky gums
  • Loss of skin elasticity
  • Sunken eyes
  • Lethargy
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea

Bring the dog inside or under the shade and offer them water. After the dog cools down a bit, check for improvement by pinching their skin. If you let it go and the skin doesn’t snap back, they likely require a vet’s attention. Do the same if they don’t stop throwing up or their diarrhea continues.

Suffering from Lick Fits

If your dog’s lip-licking doesn’t stop, there could be more to it than teeth problems. That’s because the disease, Lick Fits, presents similar symptoms.

Dogs who have Lick Fits will exhibit signs of permanent salivation and swallowing. Check if they are also stretching their neck forward enough that they start to choke. Do they also seem restless? See if their eating habits have changed too. Are they chewing/licking on unusual things, such as the floor, textiles, or furniture? If most of these signs are present, your dog likely has Lick Fits. Talk to their vet!

Living with Canine Cognitive Dysfunction

With age, dogs can develop an Alzheimer’s-like disease. It’s called CCD or Canine Cognitive Dysfunction, and repetitive behavior like air licking is one of its symptoms. If your pet is older now, they could have canine cognitive dysfunction.

The good news is that medications can aid in managing the symptoms of this illness. Other measures that can help include a healthy diet and regular exercise.

Exhibiting Signs of Other Compulsive Disorders

As mentioned before, stressful situations can cause dogs to repeat a particular gesture, such as air licking or swallowing. Such repetitive behavior can also be a sign that your dog is bored. Keeping them active and planning a busy day for them will keep this from happening.

At other times, pets will behave like this to get your attention. If you’re out of the house during most of the day, that’s how your dog might try to get you to notice them. To them, a negative reaction is the same as a positive one. After all, they only want attention. Spend time with your pet once you’re home.

Find more on canine mental illnesses and disorders here.

When Does Excessive Licking and Swallowing Become an Emergency?

You can guess which scenarios would require you to take your dog in for immediate vet treatment. One such situation would be when they keep throwing up. Continuous vomiting can lead to dehydration. Additionally, it doesn’t take long for a puking pet to become seriously ill. Therefore, it’s best to take them in as soon as possible.

If your pet only dry heaves when they try to throw up, they could have bloat. That’s another serious condition that can potentially be fatal. So, please don’t delay in consulting your veterinarian.

Finally, if you can see blood or a foreign object in your dog’s pool of sick, that’s when seeing a vet is crucial too. Their condition could be because of ingesting something toxic. Bleeding can also be the result of an obstruction in their gastrointestinal system. Get expert medical help for your dog immediately!


Are there other indications that my dog may not be well?

Yes, excessive panting is one such sign that all may not be well with your pet. The main objective behind pants is that they can lower a dog’s body temperature. You’ll notice your dogs pant more often during the warmer parts of the year. That is completely okay.

However, abnormal or excessive panting isn’t about heat dissipation. How can you tell which is normal and when it’s not? Does it occur at strange times? Is the dog panting more loudly or harshly than they usually do? Experiencing pain or stress can cause panting behavior in dogs to alter.

We’d recommend not to delay a visit to the visit because it could be an initial symptom of these serious conditions:

  1. Heart failure
  2. Anemia
  3. Lung disease
  4. Laryngeal paralysis
  5. Cushing’s disease

What is scooting and should it worry me if I see my dog do it?

When a dog drags their behind parallel to the floor, they’re scooting. Certainly, it can be an embarrassing sight, particularly if you have people over. Even then, you should also check whether there’s a medical reason behind your dog’s behavior or not.

Mostly, the anal sacs of a dog can become clogged and swell up. Soon, your dog will also experience discomfort and itching. Sometimes, this is due to allergies or worms. While not immediately serious, these issues will still require a vet’s attention.

Or, your dog may have a tumor in that area. In that case, the vet will express the glands and check them for tumors. So, a visit to their vet would be necessary.

My dog’s urinating more frequently. Is that something that should worry me?

Is your pet taking more nocturnal trips outside than usual? If your dog is urinating frequently and exhibiting symptoms of excessive thirst, take them to a vet. That’s because they may signal the development of diabetes!

That said, there are other reasons why your dog is exhibiting an increase in urination. Unfortunately, all of them signal an ailment, such as liver, adrenal gland, or kidney diseases.

Likewise, infrequent urination or having trouble when urinating may also be cause for concern. Infrequent urination may indicate the presence of bladder stones or some other urinary tract problem.


Most of the time, we become so used to our dogs licking stuff that we ignore it. They drool at the sight of food and gulp down the excessive saliva. While this behavior can seem innocuous, you should see if your dog keeps at it. If that continues, you may have an unwell pet on your hands. That means you’ll need to figure out the cause behind these gestures. As we mentioned, they can be reflexive and connected to how a dog’s feeling. But they can also have a medical reason.

In both cases, you’d need the help of an expert to resolve the issue. For emotional or behavioral problems, you can contact a behaviorist. However, if the cause is medical, a vet visit may be in order. In the end, your pet depends on you to keep them healthy and well. It’s part of your duty as a dog parent!

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