As pet owners, we accept the fact that our dogs do strange things — it’s part of their charm. Some dogs chase their tails, while others like to roll around in the foulest smelling thing they can find in the back yard. My normally fearless Rottie is absolutely petrified of plastic grocery bags.
There’s one especially strange behavior that seems to be part of the domestic dog’s DNA: licking the carpet.
Excessive Licking Syndrome: What Does It Mean?
Many dogs lick the occasional carpet, but some dogs are such dedicated floor lickers that veterinarians have coined a term — excessive licking syndrome – for the condition. Afflicted dogs don’t limit their licking behavior to the floor – they may lick virtually any surface in your home, including the walls, furniture and their own crate.
It is important to distinguish between isolated instances of floor-licking behavior and the nearly constant, obsessive licking that characterizes excessive licking syndrome. While the former is rarely any cause for concern, the latter can be indicative of serious health problems.
Reasons Your Dog May Be Licking the Carpet
There are a variety of reasons your dog may lick the carpet, but the following are some of the most likely causes:
- Something tasty or interesting was spilled on the carpet. Your dog interacts with the world differently than humans do. Whereas we are primarily visual creatures, dogs depend far more heavily on their sense of smell and taste to learn about the world around them. Accordingly, they’ll readily taste and sniff novel items, instead of giving them the kind of visual inspection you or I would.
- Your dog is feeling anxious, depressed or bored. Emotional pain can manifest in a number of different ways, and because dogs use their mouths to learn about and interact with the world, things like destructive chewing and carpet licking can arise from emotional distress. Similarly, canine dementia, physical pain and neurological problems can also cause your dog to spend extended periods licking the floor.
- Your dog has a gastrointestinal disease or issue. Historically, researchers and veterinarians have considered floor licking to be a behavioral or emotional issue. However, a 2008 study found a strong connection between gastrointestinal disease and excessive licking syndrome. Irritable bowel syndrome, giardiasis, delayed gastric emptying, foreign bodies and chronic pancreatitis have all been documented to occur in some floor-licking pups.
Is Carpet Licking a Serious Problem?
Your dog is going to lick a lot of things over the course of her life, and there’s not a whole lot you can do to stop her from doing so.
Yes, there is a small chance she could ingest something harmful, like a long carpet fiber, a harmful residue or pathogenic bacteria. But the odds of such eventualities are rather low for dogs that only engage in casual and infrequent licking.
On the other hand, dogs that constantly lick the carpet or floor are at an increased risk for gobbling up something dangerous. Your dog may lick up enough fibers to clog up her digestive tract, or she may lap up dangerous substances, which can cause her to fall ill.
The size and health status of your dog also factors into the issue. For example, a 5-pound Chihuahua may suffer a serious intestinal obstruction from swallowing a long carpet fiber, but a 150-pound Great Dane may pass the same fiber without issue.
Additionally, smaller animals are more likely to get sick from germs or hazardous products that may be on the floor.
If you have a dog who is constantly licking the floor, you may need to be particularly careful to use a pet-safe floor cleaner to avoid your dog licking up toxic ingredients.
Putting A Stop To Your Dog’s Carpet Licking
With a little trial and error, you can probably stop isolated cases of floor- or carpet-licking behavior, however, more serious cases will require veterinary attention.
Some potential solutions may include:
- Spraying surfaces your dog likes to lick with a deterrent, such as Grannick’s Bitter Apple spray or Bohdi Dog’s Bitter Lemon Spray. These and similar products may stop your dog from licking the carpet, but you should always test such products on an inconspicuous area of the carpet first, to ensure they won’t cause discoloration.
- Being more careful about crumbs and spill You’re not a kid anymore, and this isn’t your college dorm – clean up your place and stop seeding your carpet with delicious morsels. You can’t blame a dog for taking advantage of those tasty crumbs!
- Increasing the amount of exercise and play your dog enjoys. Many behavioral problems arise from insufficient exercise and stimulation, so by simply lengthening your pup’s walks or tossing the ball for a few more minutes each day, you may be able to stop the behavior altogether.
- Give them something better to lick, like a puzzle toy, a treat-stuffed Kong toy or a puppy popsicle.
- Veterinary care may be necessary to eliminate the underlying problem. If your dog’s floor-licking habits are the result of a medical issue, you’ll need to address the problem with your vet to have any chance of rectifying the licking issue.
While it won’t help much with licking, we also recommend purchasing a short-haired rug that’s more suited for pet ownership. That, along with a strong pet vacuum, will help keep your home clean and tidy despite dogs running around!
Have you ever had to deal with a dog that can’t stop licking the furniture? We’d love to hear about it in the comments below. Let us know if your vet was able to determine the cause and what steps you took to fix the problem.