Why Does My Dog Lick the Air?

Reviewed By Julie •  Updated: 03/05/21 •  10 min read
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Our canine companions sometimes do funny things that cause us to shake our heads in wonder. For instance, have you ever noticed your dog licking the air? It may look as if he’s trying to lap liquid out of the air. This can look strange and be unsettling, especially if he continues this type of behavior. What’s the cause? Why is he licking the air for apparently no reason? There are several reasons dogs display this type of behavior; this could even be an indication that something’s wrong. Let’s take a look.

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Normal Dog Air Licking

These are a few of the reasons dogs may lick the air. However, if this continues, the licking could be caused by a medical issue.

Abnormal Air Licking

If you notice your dog is air licking often, and none of the above seem to be the cause, then it’s time to consider these reasons for abnormal air licking in dogs:

1). Something stuck in his mouth: if your dog licking air after eating, it could be due to something stuck in his mouth. This could be a bit of kibble that becomes stuck in his teeth, a stick caught in his jaws, a toy that’s stuck in his mouth, etc.

You’ll need to check your dog’s mouth to see if something is stuck. If you find something is stuck, then try to gently dislodge it with your finger. If it doesn’t come out easily, it’s time to call the vet and have them remove it.

2). It could be a GI problem: sometimes licking the air can be a sign that your fur baby’s having some digestive tract issues. These can include pancreatitis and acid reflux. It can also be a sign that your dog is suffering from nausea, especially if the air licking is accompanied by vomiting and diarrhea. Another sign of a GI problem can be if your dog licking air bad breath. Bad breath can also be a symptom of a GI medical issue in dogs. If you notice your dog has these symptoms accompanied with air licking and/or bad breath, it’s time to call the vet. You may also notice that your pup has decreased appetite and seems to have a painful abdomen. Again, you’ll need to get your canine companion to the vet for diagnosis.

3). Dog licking air seizure: air licking can also be the sign that your fur baby’s having a partial seizure. Air licking may be the only sign of a seizure. These are not like grand mal seizures, where a dog has complete loss of body control. Instead, these are smaller reactions. The seizure is usually on one side of your dog’s brain and will be accompanied with air licking and/or biting. If you notice your dog air licking and you believe he may be having partial seizures, then it’s time to call the vet and have your fur baby checked.

4). Air licking could be a sign of stress: some dogs air lick as a way to self-soothe when stressed or feeling anxious. Licking is associated with the release of endorphins in the dog, which are feel-good chemicals to help the dog feel better. Licking can become a habitual response to stress. If your fur baby is air licking, then it could be caused by stress. You may need to call the vet if this habit continues. Be sure to note if the air licking started with a change of environment, the dog’s favorite person being away, etc. The vet will need this information to help make the right diagnosis.

5). Your fur baby may be air licking due to boredom: some dogs will also air lick because they’re bored.

6). Canine Cognitive Dysfunction: this is most commonly seen in senior dogs. You could say this is a form of doggie dementia, which is very similar to the dementia we humans may develop in our elder years. There’s no cure for canine cognitive dysfunction; however, if caught early, it can be successfully managed with prescription medications. It’s also helpful to take your fur baby for walks and give him plenty of attention, etc. If your dog licks air when excited, it could be a sign that he has a compulsive behavioral problem. You may suspect this is the case if your fur baby continuously licks the air for no apparent reason. It could be he’s trying to reduce his excitement or stress.

7). Allergies: your fur baby may be licking the air due to allergies. The allergies can be caused by anything in your dog’s environment including pollen, his dog food, air pollution, etc. You may notice other symptoms including foot-licking, scratching, itchy skin and ear inflammation. If your pup continues to air lick and shows signs of allergies, it’s time to visit the vet. The vet may suggest allergy testing and/or recommend medications to reduce your fur baby’s allergy symptoms.

They may also recommend changing his diet, if the vet believes your dog’s allergies are related to his dog food

8). Dental pain: dogs, just like us, have issues with their teeth. In fact, this is a common problem in dogs. Air licking may be in response to a tooth ache your pup is suffering. Even if you don’t notice any signs of dental issues in your dog, it’s a good idea to have him checked by the vet. The vet may have some x-rays taken that show where the tooth problem is. If your dog needs to have a tooth removed, the vet will give your fur baby general anesthesia to keep him sedated during the procedure.

9). Ear infection: can also be the reason your pup is air licking. You may also notice he’s scratching his ears and shaking his head. There may even be a bad smell coming from your fur baby’s ears. If you believe your dog has an ear infection, he’ll need to visit the vet for the proper treatment.

10). Itchy skin: your canine companion may be licking air due to itchy skin! Who would have thought? You may also notice your fur baby licking his paws, too. If you’ve been after your dog to stop licking his paws, however, he may turn to licking the air instead. If your dog has itchy skin, this should be seen by a vet. Your fur baby could have any type of skin disorder, including allergies.

11). Airflow across his face: some dogs will air lick if they feel a breeze or draft across their face. This could be coming from a heating/cooling vent, or even from a fan in the room. If this seems to be the problem, then consider closing the vent or moving the fan away from your dog’s face.

When to See the Vet

As you can see, there are many reasons your dog may be licking the air. As noted earlier, if your dog seems to be continuously licking the air, or it seems to have become a habit, it will be necessary to take your fur baby to the vet for a checkup. Treatment for this issue will depend on the underlying medical issue causing your dog to air lick. If your dog needs to see the vet, try your best to note when the air licking first started, and what seemed to be the cause (if you’re able to discern this). These bits of information may not seem important, but they may provide the key for the vet to make the right diagnosis.

In fact, it can help to keep a journal or log of your dog’s air licking behavior. You can take notes on the time of day, the date, what seemed to cause the air licking, how long your fur baby does this, etc. You might even try to video your dog while he’s air licking, as this can also help the vet to make a diagnosis. For instance, it might help the vet to see if your dog is having a seizure, etc. Your vet will also perform a thorough checkup to see if they can find any medical issues that could be causing your pup to air lick. The vet will check your pup’s breath, teeth, ears, skin, etc. to check for any underlying health issues. The vet may also have lab work done to check for health problems.

If your fur baby doesn’t seem to have a physical health problem, then the vet may treat your dog for compulsive behavior disorder, or even canine cognitive dysfunction (if you have a senior fur baby). For these conditions, medication can help. For behavioral issues, it can also be helpful to see a dog behaviorist to help manage the air licking.

Preventing your Dog from Licking Air

If the vet finds no health or behavioral issues in your dog, then air licking may not be a serious issue in your dog. However, if this seems to be a habit, there are some things you can do to keep your dog from air licking:

Air licking usually isn’t a serious problem; however, if your dog constantly air licks, he could be suffering from an underlying health or behavioral issue. In that case, it’s best to take him to the vet for an exam and the proper treatment.

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Julie is a graduate of the University of North Carolina, Wilmington, where she studied Animal science. Though contrary to the opinion of her parents she was meant to study pharmacy, but she was in love with animals especially cats. Julie currently works in an animal research institute (NGO) in California and loves spending quality time with her little cat. She has the passion for making research about animals, how they survive, their way of life among others and publishes it. Julie is also happily married with two kids.

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