If you’re a dog owner, you’ll know that dogs can display some pretty strange and perplexing behaviors. You may have seen this happen: doggo begins to lick the air. There’s nothing physical to lick. Just spontaneous and repetitive licking of… well, the air.
Strange, right? Not really when you consider it’s brought to you by the same creature that chases their own tail and greets their buddies with a good ol’ butt sniff.
In the world of the dog, licking air isn’t all that strange. There are many reasons why your dog does it, and times when it can indicate a serious problem. So, let’s decode why your dog is biting air.
What is air licking?
Air licking is what it sounds like. Your dog will suddenly begin licking at nothing at all. Maybe it happens after a particularly satisfying meal or mid-way through a walk.
A dog snapping at air is displaying a perfectly normal canine behavior. But there are times when dog biting at air can be a sign of something more serious. Look out for sudden increases in the time and frequency of air licking as your first clue that something needs to be checked out.
Why do dogs lick the air?
There are many things that can cause dog to lick the air. Things range from an appealing smell in the air, anxiety or stress, or even an upset stomach. If you keep asking yourself: "Why does my dog lick the air?", there might be a few reasons:
Boosting their sense of smell
Dogs have a keen sense of smell that helps them navigate their world. In fact, they even have a special organ that helps them decode pheromones in the air into useful information like “that lady dog’s cute and sniff sniff she’s available for mating”.
To explain the level of intensity of a dog’s sense of smell, consider that their noses have 125 – 250 million olfactory receptors. Humans? We only have around 5 or 6 million.
If there’s a whiff of something interesting, a dog will flare the nostrils to allow in more air and scent. This gets taken even further when a dog licks the air as the tongue does the job of pushing more air and smells into the nostrils.
So, if your dog picks up a scent that they want to know more about, they’re likely to sniff the air and begin licking to help smell better.
This one may seem a little obvious but if your dog is hungry (when isn’t a dog hungry?) and knows a delicious morsel is imminent, they may begin to lick the air. This is in part to get more of the delicious smell of food into their nose like in the previous point, but also to help swallow the resulting saliva.
Ever given your pup some good belly rubs and noticed that your doggy licks air when scratched? So, why do dogs lick the air when you pet them? This air licking is your dog’s way of saying, ‘Good job, human. You’ve got the spot!’. It’s similar to the thumping back leg when it comes to acknowledging good pets or scratches. Take it as a sign to continue.
A dog excessive licking air a lot is a way for them to display submission. If you’re giving your pup a stern talking to and they begin licking the air, this translates to, “I got you, boss. Whatever you say”.
Similarly, an encounter with a dog that assumes a more dominant role might also lead your dog to display its submissiveness by licking the air.
When your dog is licking air and eating grass, it could be a sign that Fido might be feeling a bit nauseated. This is usually swiftly followed by a bout of vomiting. Dogs often get into things that they shouldn’t, and many times will eat something that simply doesn’t agree with them.
Sometimes, your dog may be giving you other signs that they’re nauseous, this could include, again, eating grass to induce vomiting. Another common cause of nausea in dogs is motion sickness from the unavoidable drive to the vet.
A dog with a sore or loose tooth will very often lick the air in an attempt to soothe the area. There will usually be other signs that your dog’s teeth or gums are bothering them. These symptoms include bad breath, excessive drooling, and problems eating. It is best to consult a vet if you notice that your dog licking air resultus in bad breath.
This kind of licking behavior can be mostly prevented by ensuring your pooch gets regular oral checkups at the vet.
Something is stuck
We’ve already mentioned the propensity of dogs for getting into things that they shouldn’t. Their curiosity can lead them to get foreign objects stuck in their mouths. This could be some food stuck between their teeth or a piece of bone or a splinter poking into the roof of their mouth. Or paws. This can result in both dog licking air and paws!
You know that feeling after you’ve eaten popcorn and a kernel is stuck in your teeth and you can’t help poking at it with your tongue until it comes loose? It’s the same with dogs. They will lick at the air to try and get the item loose.
If you suspect this is why your dog keeps licking the air, try and have a look to see if you can spot it and get it out. The licking should stop once the foreign object is removed.
Nausea, as we mentioned can cause your dog to lick the air. But sometimes nausea can be an indication of more serious gastrointestinal problems. Regular nausea as a result of eating something bad will usually resolve fairly quickly and the licking will usually stop when Fido feels better.
But if your dog experiences vomiting and diarrhea and a loss of appetite, it may be worth heading to the vet to get them checked out. Dog licking air leading to an upset stomach that goes on for a while can be a result of other gastrointestinal disorders, irritable bowel syndrome, or pancreatitis.
Skin issues can sometimes cause a dog to lick the air. Things like itchy skin and parasites typically result in your dog licking the area that itches, however when the itchy spot in question is out of reach or perhaps too widespread to tackle, your dog may begin licking the air in desperation and frustration.
Make sure to regularly treat your pup with parasite prevention to avoid this scenario. If your dog has generally itchy skin, consult your vet who will most likely prescribe a supplement and a change in diet to help manage the itchiness.
Any injury to the snout can result in your dog licking the air. This can include a cut, bump, or any kind of injury to the nose, face, and mouth. In addition to air licking, they may also rub their face.
Look for scabs, swelling, bleeding, or discharge and make sure to treat any wounds to prevent infection.
What to do if your dog licks the air?
If your dog is licking the air, there’s no reason to panic immediately. It can be a very normal canine behavior. However, if the air licking behavior increases suddenly in frequency or is accompanied by other symptoms like vomiting, diarrhea, or changes in appetite, it’s best to consult a vet to see what may be at the root of the problem.
Like with any pet-related issues, always assess the context in which you’re seeing the symptoms. For example, if your dog suddenly begins licking, look at anything that may have changed in your dog’s environment.
Did you just take an enormous roast chicken out of the oven? Doggo is air-licking because they want some. Did you just get back from a ride in the car? Maybe doggo is carsick and feels ill and that’s why they’re air licking.
Often, though, when your best pooch pal is behaving strangely it can be stressful for you. Are you overreacting to something simple? Or are you downplaying something that needs more urgent attention? How do you know?
Online Vet by Petcube
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The vet team will have access to your pet’s online profile so they can see any previous history that may help them offer you the best advice. Chat in real-time, send photos and video, and all without the need for an appointment.
An air licking dog is a peculiar thing, but it helps to know that in the majority of cases, your dog licking the air is fairly normal and nothing to be overly concerned about. It’s typically just your dog reacting to smells in its environment which is an important way for dogs to learn more about their environment.
Occasionally, when dog licks air excessively it might be a sign of something more serious. If you’re concerned that your dog is suddenly licking the air a lot more than usual or you’ve noticed some other accompanying issues, it’s a good idea to get them checked out by a vet.