Dogs lick lips for several normal reasons such as grooming, or to relieve an itch. However, a dog that is licking and being restless is unusual. It is quite concerning when you notice it, especially if you have never seen it before.
So, what causes dog restlessness and licking? Is it normal or not?
Let’s delve into the reasons behind dog licking and restlessness, the possible complications, and when to seek help.
Here’s why dog licking and restlessness happens
Dog licking and restlessness are behaviors that sometimes appear together due to an underlying medical or behavioral issue which includes pain, dehydration, nausea, allergies, bloat, canine cognitive dysfunction, fear, anxiety, boredom, excitement, hunger, and attention-seeking behavior.
A dog may lick their legs, paws, or other areas of their body excessively if they have these underlying problems.
Causes of licking and restlessness in dogs
When a dog experiences pain, it can be displayed in various ways, including excessive licking and restlessness.
Restlessness is a common sign of pain and discomfort in dogs, either due to illness or injury. They may have difficulty getting comfortable and may constantly shift their position or pace around.
This is because pain can make a dog feel agitated and uncomfortable, and they try to find a position or activity that provides them some relief.
Licking is also another sign of pain in dogs. When dogs are in pain, they may experience anxiety, stress, and discomfort and licking is a self-soothing behavior that helps them cope with these feelings.
While licking and restlessness occurring at the same time are signs of pain in dogs, not all dogs will show these signs and some may not show any signs at all.
Dehydration is a condition in which a dog’s body loses more fluids than they take in. It can occur when a dog does not drink enough water, loses fluids through excessive panting or sweating, or experiences diarrhea or vomiting.
When a dog is dehydrated, it can lead to a number of symptoms, including restlessness and excessive licking of lips.
Restlessness is a common sign of dehydration in dogs and they become restless in an attempt to find water or relief from their discomfort due to thirst.
A dog may also become more irritable or easily agitated due to their thirst and discomfort.
Licking lips is also another sign of dehydration in dogs. A dehydrated dog’s mouth feels dry and uncomfortable and they turn to lick their lips as a self-soothing behavior to help moisten their mouth and provide some relief from their thirst.
Other signs of dehydration in dogs include lethargy, dry gums, sunken eyes, and loss of skin elasticity.
Nausea is another cause of licking and restlessness in dogs, especially lip licking. Nausea is a common problem that can be caused by different factors, including motion sickness, gastrointestinal issues, and certain medications.
Nausea can cause restlessness in dogs because it is an uncomfortable and distressing feeling. A dog may become restless and agitated when they experience nausea as a result of this uncomfortable feeling.
Nausea can also cause a dog to show other signs of discomfort, such as painting, drooling, and pacing. These behaviors are a dog’s attempt to find relief from the discomfort that they are feeling.
Licking in dogs is a natural response to the discomfort a dog feels when nauseous or unwell. This behavior is a way for them to relieve the discomfort they are feeling in their stomachs or throats.
Dogs may lick and become restless if they are experiencing allergic reactions to things like food, environmental allergens, or medications.
These reactions can cause itching, which can lead to excessive licking and restlessness.
Related: Dog hiccups and licking (Explained)
Bloat, also known as gastric dilatation-volvulus (GDV), is a serious medical condition in dogs that causes lip-licking and restlessness among other symptoms.
Bloat occurs when a dog’s stomach becomes distended with gas and twists on itself, cutting off the blood supply to the stomach and other organs. It is a life-threatening emergency that requires immediate veterinary care.
Other symptoms of bloat include pacing, excessive drooling, abdominal distention, and difficulty breathing.
Canine cognitsive dysfunction
Canine cognitive dysfunction (CCD), also known as dog dementia, and similar to Alzheimer’s disease in humans, is a condition that causes licking and restlessness as some of the symptoms.
The condition is a degenerative brain disorder that affects older dogs and is characterized by changes in cognitive function, which includes memory loss, disorientation, and changes in behavior.
Licking is a way for the dog to self-soothe and cope with this confusion, anxiety, and stress.
Restlessness is another symptom of Canine Cognitive Dysfunction. A dog with CCD may pace, circle, or appear agitated. Restlessness also causes increased licking.
Other symptoms of CCD in dogs can include pacing, irritability, confusion, changes in sleep patterns, stress, and house soiling.
Stress / Anxiety
Stress and anxiety are common causes of licking and restlessness in dogs. A dog may become stressed or anxious due to various reasons, including changes in their environment, the presence of unfamiliar people or animals, or a traumatic event.
Signs of stress and anxiety in dogs include restlessness, pacing, licking, excessive barking or whining, trembling, hiding, and changes in appetite.
Fear is another potential cause of licking and restlessness in dogs. A dog may become fearful in response to different factors, including unfamiliar people or animals, loud noises, or changes in their environment.
Signs of fear can include restlessness, pacing, lip-licking, trembling, hiding, and changes in behavior.
Boredom can also cause licking and restlessness. Dogs require mental and physical stimulation to stay healthy and happy.
When they do not get enough stimulation, they become bored and start showing destructive or certain behaviors, such as restlessness and licking.
A dog’s licking and restlessness can also be due to excitement in response to different situations such as the presence of their favorite toys or treats, a chance to play or go for a walk, or when they see their owner.
A dog may lick their lips in excitement as well as their owner.
Other signs of excitement in dogs include pacing, barking or whining, and wagging of the tail.
While excitement is a normal and healthy response in dogs, it is important to monitor your dog’s behavior and make sure that it does not become excessive or due to another underlying problem.
When dogs are hungry, they may become restless and start licking their lips as a way to signal their need for food.
Licking and restlessness are signs of excitement in anticipation of receiving food or treats, especially the licking of lips, which can be triggered by the sight or smell of food.
Attention seeking behavior
Dogs are social animals that crave interaction and attention from their owners. If they are not getting enough attention, they may start exhibiting certain behaviors, such as restlessness and licking, as a way to get their owner’s attention.
Other attention-seeking behaviors include whining, pawing, nudging, barking, or jumping up on their owner.
Also, if a dog has learned that engaging in certain behavior will result in a positive response from their owner, they may continue to engage in this behavior to get the attention they want.
Therefore this can result in learned behavior such as licking and restlessness as attention-seeking behavior.
The underlying cause of dog restlessness with licking also appearing as a symptom, can be due to a serious and life-threatening condition if left untreated.
Bloat, dehydration, pain, and nausea due to illness are all serious conditions that severely affect a dog’s health and can lead to fatal outcomes.
Therefore life-threatening complications can arise from dog restlessness and licking.
Dog licking and restless: What to do and when to seek help
Licking and restlessness commonly occur in dogs due to normal reasons such as excitement, hunger and usually these do not require medical attention. Therefore here is what you should do:
Determine the cause
First, keep a close eye on your dog’s behavior and evaluate if it is due to anxiety, fear, excitement or hunger which are normal behaviors and responses to stimuli that you can address.
- Make sure that your dog’s basic needs are met which includes ensuring they have enough food and water.
- If you suspect that your dog’s licking and restlessness are due to stress or anxiety, try to identify the cause and address it. This involves removing the stressor or providing your dog with additional support and resources to help them cope.
- If your dog is showing fear-related behavior, try to identify the cause and remove them from the stressor. This includes providing your dog with a safe and comfortable environment, using calming aids, and engaging in training or behavior modification to help your dog cope in situations that induce fear.
- If your dog is bored, it is important to increase the amount of mental and physical stimulation activities that they receive daily.
Consult your veterinarian
If you are unable to identify the potential cause of your dog’s licking and restlessness or if the behavior persists, consult with your veterinarian. This is because the behavior can be due to an underlying health condition.
The veterinarian will conduct a full examination, determine the underlying cause and develop a more comprehensive plan to address your dog’s behavior.
If it is a behavioral problem, they will also guide you on ways to stop the behavior and they may also recommend an animal behaviorist for training needs.
A veterinarian should also be consulted regarding your dog’s licking and restlessness when:
The behavior is new or sudden: If your dog’s licking and restlessness are sudden or out of character, it could be a sign that there’s an underlying medical issue.
The behavior is accompanied by other signs of illness: If your dog is exhibiting other signs of illness or discomfort, such as lethargy, loss of appetite, or changes in bowel or bladder habits, seek veterinary care.
The behavior is persistent: Also talk to your veterinarian if your dog is licking and restless continues despite your efforts to address the behavior.
Key Takeaway: Dog licking and restlessness
Licking is common in dogs and in most cases for normal reasons however, sometimes it can occur alongside other behavioral or medical signs that indicate something may be wrong.
A dog that is restless and licking is an indication of an underlying problem.
It is important to contact your veterinarian when these two symptoms appear alongside each other.
The veterinarian will be able to determine the underlying cause of licking and restlessness and provide the necessary treatment or management.