Why Do Dogs Lick You? Does it Show Affection?

Many dogs lick their owners, themselves, random items, etc. Some dogs may occasionally lick their owners, whereas some may do it too much. Most people agree that it is in a dog’s nature to lick, but other dog owners would disagree, so what is the truth? Why do dogs lick you? 

Why Do Dogs Lick You?

Dogs usually lick people because of behavioral reasons. They may lick people because of love, boredom, anxiousness, etc. Occasionally, they may lick because they like the salty taste of a person’s skin. Dogs may lick themselves to clean or for medical reasons like allergies, pain, etc.

Why a specific dog licks a person or area will depend on many factors. For instance, curious puppies may lick people because they do not know any better. Loving dogs may lick their owners because they just want to show affection and excitement. Dogs often lick themselves and other dogs to groom. 

Does a Dog Lick Give People Germs?

Cats, dogs and people have a bacteria in their mouths called capnocytophaga. Typically, this is actually normal bacteria, and it will not do anything harmful to most healthy people. Instead, these germs are opportunistic, so they only cause infections on rare occasions. Moreover, an infection is only common if there is close contact from cats and dogs or the animal bit a person. 

A lick on undamaged skin may not cause any issues. However, it is possible for an infection to occur if the person has a weakened immune system and they come in contact with the germs. People that drink a lot of alcohol, have cancer/HIV, get their spleen removed, etc., have a higher chance of developing an infection from the bacteria. 

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The capnocytophaga are also in people’s mouths. People who have the germs in their own mouths can get an illness from their own bacteria. If a person has a weakened immune system, they will likely get an infection more often than a healthy person would. Common infections the bacteria can cause in a person’s own throat and mouth are eye infections, respiratory tract infections, gum disease, etc.

The germs can enter the bloodstream for infections that come from oneself or from an animal. If the germs are in the bloodstream, it can cause infections in different parts of the body. Some infections that the bacteria can cause are septicemia, abscesses, endocarditis and inflammation of the brain membranes, lymph nodes, face or eyes.

Healthy people can prevent these infections by washing their hands regularly, and cleaning the parts of the body that a dog licks. It would also be ideal to avoid allowing a dog to lick open wounds or damaged skin. Dog bites must get treated with immediate medical attention, preferably from a doctor. 

Does a Dog Lick Show Affection?

Many dogs may lick their owner once or twice, especially if the person just arrived home. It is often a sign of affection, so they may lick their owner’s hand once or twice. It may also be a dog’s way of telling their owners to pet them. However, it is not wise to let a dog do this every time, as some people may find this to be rude or gross behavior. 

Dogs are not particular to the taste of salt. However, they may simply like or are curious about the taste of their owner’s skin. So, they may want to lick their owners out of curiosity, but people may mistake it as a greeting or affection. It would still be wise to not allow a dog to keep licking people. It can easily turn into a bad habit, so try to move the dog’s face away whenever they start to lick people. 

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Is a Dog Lick a Sign of Emotions?

Similar to affection, a dog lick can signal other emotions. A dog may lick their owner when they feel anxious or stressed. It can soothe them and calm them, especially if they are in a stressful situation. While this may not be completely acceptable behavior, a dog may not excessively lick if they are in a familiar setting.

It is very common for a dog to lick out of excitement. They may have lots of energy, so they do not know how to release the excess energy. A few licks may be fine, but excessive licking could mean overexcitement, which means they could almost be stressed. It may be best to calm them down and redirect the licking behavior to prevent the dog from using the licking from being a coping mechanism.

Why Do Dogs Lick The Floor?

Sometimes, a dog may lick the floor out of curiosity. It is also common for a dog to lick the floor because of smells, or if there is food on the floor. Again, this is not typically acceptable behavior, so it should be discouraged. However, there is a link to floor licking and pain or issues in the intestines and stomach. Luckily, there are ways to treat this, especially when there is immediate medical attention given to the dog.

Why Do Dogs Lick Themselves?

Sometimes, dogs lick themselves merely because they are bored. If a person allows their dog to be bored, they may start licking themselves regularly because it became a habit. It can be avoided by providing lots of toys and puzzles for the dog to play with to prevent boredom.

It is somewhat common for a dog to lick their privates on occasion. A dog may lick their genitals after urinating for a quick clean up. If it occurs in this situation, a dog will likely do it for a very short time. Therefore, this is somewhat acceptable behavior. However, there may be an issue if a dog persistently licks their privates. They may need to see a veterinarian for a potential infection, illness, etc.

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However, there could also be a medical reason why a dog licks itself, especially if they excessively lick themselves. It is normal for a dog to lick themselves for a short while several times a day. It is not normal if a dog keeps licking itself, particularly if they stop other actions to lick. For instance, it is odd for a dog to stop eating to lick themselves, especially if they decide to lick themselves for a long time.

A very common cause for excessive licking is allergies, which can get triggered by food or the environment. If it was an environmental allergen, it likely occurs when a dog comes in contact with an allergen. Environmental allergens can cause rashes, redness, itching, etc.  Food allergies occur when a dog eats a specific food, and it can cause bloating, vomiting, diarrhoea, etc. These allergies can cause pain and discomfort, making a dog lick itself to soothe the irritation.

What Happens When a Dog Excessively Licks Themselves?

Excessively licking should not be encouraged because it can cause a number of issues. For instance, excessive licking can lead to hotspots. A hotspot is a raw, red spot on the skin. The excessive licking is abrasion on the skin, causing the fur to fall off and the skin to get irritated and wounded. Therefore, preventative measures like a cone and proper treatment is ideal to prevent hot spots.

Other than hot spots, excessive licking can also be an issue for current medical issues a dog may have. For instance, a dog may have allergies, causing them to excessively lick. The excessive licking can further aggravate conditions like rashes. 

Why Do Puppies Lick You?

Similar to older dogs, puppies will lick people for many reasons. They may lick people because they are curious, and they do not understand what proper behavior is yet. Puppies will also lick their owners out of excitement and happiness. 

However, it is important to discourage excessive licking in puppies as early as possible. If a puppy is allowed to lick constantly, then they will think it is acceptable behavior. Try to redirect the licking with other things, such as toys. Try to not pet the dog when they lick you because they will think that licking will be rewarded.

Is It Okay to Let Dogs Lick You?

It can be okay to let a dog lick a person 1-2 times given that the person is healthy and the dog is healthy. The dog should not lick any open wound or mouth, eyes etc., of a person. Additionally, a person should still wash the area that the dog licked to prevent germs from lingering on their skin.

However, people who are sickly, especially those with weak immune systems, should not let dogs lick them. The germs in a dog’s mouth are opportunistic. Therefore, they can cause infections in the right circumstances, and immunocompromised people will be more likely to get an infection. 

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All in All

A dog that occasionally licks their paws, privates or even their owners for a few licks is perfectly normal to groom or communicate. It can show many emotions, that can range from affection or boredom. However, excessive licking can be an issue, especially if there is a root medical cause.

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References:

  1. Center of Disease Control and Prevention, ‘How Do People Get Infected with Capnocytophaga?’, https://www.cdc.gov/capnocytophaga/transmission/index.html, Date Accessed – 7 June, 2021
  2. Science Direct, ‘Gastrointestinal disorders in dogs with excessive licking of surfaces’, https://www.journalvetbehavior.com/article/S1558-7878(11)00122-5/pdf, Date Accessed – 7 June, 2021
  3. American Kennel Club, ‘Dog Allergies: Symptoms and Treatment’, https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/health/dog-allergies-symptoms-treatment/, Date Accessed – 7 June, 2021
  4. Penn Medicine, ‘What You Need to Know About Being Immunocompromised During COVID-19’, https://www.pennmedicine.org/updates/blogs/health-and-wellness/2020/may/what-it-means-to-be-immunocompromised, Date Accessed – 7 June, 2021

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