Why Does My Dog Compulsively Lick The Air?

Dog licking the air
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Q. Why does my dog lick the air? She does it for hours.

A. There are various reasons your dog may be licking the air, but the fact that she does it for long periods of time is suggestive of a possible compulsive disorder. However, because there may be other causes for this behavior, including health concerns such as dental pain, nausea, gastrointestinal discomfort, seizures and canine cognitive dysfunction, you should first visit your veterinarian for a proper diagnosis.

Preparing for the Vet Visit

You can help your veterinarian get to the root of the problem by providing a history of the licking behavior, including when it first appeared, how long it has been going on, specific situations where it’s most likely to occur, how long the episodes last and how your dog acts after an episode. In addition, it can be helpful to videotape the specific behavior; if possible, film your dog when you’re not around, to see if the behavior takes place all the time. Some dogs only perform repetitive behaviors around humans, because those behaviors have become conditioned responses. It will also help if you can describe the responses of people in your house to the behavior.

Your vet will need to know about your pet's home life as well. Honestly assess the amount of exercise, mental stimulation and interaction your dog gets on a daily basis, as well as any training or punishment that is used in your home.

Finally, tell your vet about other areas of stress in your pet’s life (or yours) that may be contributing to the situation, such as a new baby, a move, or an illness in the family.

Diagnosing a Compulsive Disorder

Get your dog to the vet as soon as possible; the less time she has to repeat this behavior, the better the outlook might be for treatment. Your veterinarian will perform a full physical exam to look for medical causes of the licking. Diagnostic testing may also be recommended. Once medical explanations have been ruled out, he may diagnose your pet with a compulsive disorder, which is often treated with a combination of medication, environmental management and training.

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