Let’s be honest, as a dog owner it’s likely you have witnessed your fair share of quirky dog behaviours, some of which can be amusing, adorable and in some cases disgusting or indeed concerning. However, it can be quite puzzling and perhaps even slightly alarming when you first notice your dog randomly licking the air, especially if this is a new habit they are exhibiting. So it is quite natural to ask yourself ‘why does my dog lick the air?’ This strange behaviour can be complex to understand and there are a few possible reasons and underlying causes to consider.
Firstly, let’s define what ‘licking the air’ actually is. It is quite normal for dogs to lick their mouths, noses, objects, liquids and of course our faces, but the air? A dog that is licking the air is literally sticking out their tongue and seemingly lapping up imaginary liquid from the air.
As previously explained, there are a few potential reasons behind this odd behaviour which are explored below.
The majority of any dogs’ communication is through their body language. In general, this canine behaviour is considered an appeasement gesture and is most commonly displayed in dogs that are timid and perhaps suffering from anxiety, stress or trauma. It can also be a way to self-sooth in high-stress situations. To understand if this is the cause you will need to monitor where, when and how often it happens. If it is a regular occurrence in a variety of situations it is worth ruling out a compulsive disorder, in which case it is worth a visit to the vets for further investigation and to ensure there are no serious underlying causes.
Just like with humans, it is quite possible that if this is a one-off or very occasional behaviour, that it could that something is stuck in your dog’s mouth – a piece of food, a stick or part of a toy. If this is the case, it may be accompanied by behaviours such as pawing at the face and mouth. If possible, carefully inspect the inside of your dog’s mouth for potential foreign bodies. If you see anything wedged, or your dog appears to be choking or showing signs of breathing difficulties, take them to your vet immediately. In some cases, it may be a dental problem which will require expert advice from your veterinarian.
When a dog is experiencing nausea or reflux it is quite common for them to lick their lips and in some cases the air. If your dog vomits around the time of the air licking incident, this is a likely cause. Vomiting and diarrhoea episodes need to be carefully monitored as can be a symptom of an underlying health concern such as pancreatitis, inflammatory bowel disease, ulcers, foreign bodies or other causes of abdominal pain. A visit to the vet is advised to rule out any serious health concerns or diseases.
Occasionally, air licking can be associated as a symptom of a partial seizure. During a seizure, the muscles are affecting which can cause all sorts of involuntary movements including twitching, air licking, snapping or biting. If you suspect this might be the cause, a visit to your vet is necessary for further investigation and to avoid more serious episodes.
Canine Cognitive Dysfunction
Elderly dogs can develop this condition which is not dissimilar to human Alzheimer’s disease. It can be common for dogs with canine cognitive dysfunction to exhibit repetitive behaviours such as air licking. With a professional diagnosis from your vet, the condition can be managed with a combination of a specialised diet and specific medication to reduce the symptoms.
If you are feeling uncertain or concerned about why your dog is licking the air, it is best to make an appointment to see your vet as soon as possible. Ensure you tell them about the frequency, specific situations, environments and any surrounding circumstances in which you have noticed the behaviour. After a physical exam and potentially some further tests, you will be closer to solving the mystery and in a more informed place to take the necessary steps to helping overcome the problem.