why do dogs lick the air

Why Do Dogs Lick The Air?

Watching dogs be themselves can be an interesting experience, and most of the time it is nothing more than them being entertaining. On other occasions, however, there may be an underlying issue that needs to be addressed before it becomes severe. When you notice your dog licking air, both of these situations apply, and it is up to you to pay attention and know the difference. The action involves the dog sticking out their tongue as if to lap a liquid that only they can see. It is different from their behavior of licking their lips and can be very strange to you. There are various reasons why your dog keeps licking air, and some will be discussed in this article. By the end, you’ll be able to tell when your dog is itself and when it’s time to visit the vet, based on their air licking.

Irish Setter in the grass

Reasons Why Your Dog Keeps Licking Air

  • There is something stuck in the mouth

There are some foods that naturally, due to their texture, can stay lodged in one part of the mouth, creating a little discomfort. For example, peanut butter, because of its thickness, needs a lot of tongue-twisting and twirling to get it all down. Imagine getting some stuck to the roof of your mouth and the work you have to do to get it off. Also, when you chew some meat, there is a possibility of some getting stuck in your teeth that you have to remove. Unlike you, dogs cannot use their fingers or a toothpick to get the stuck food out of the way, and so they lick the air. The aim is to get the tongue to reach the area where the food is to get it out. In this instance, the air licking behavior should not last long, and the dog will stop after achieving their goal. On some occasions, it might not be just food but pieces of their play items like sticks, which might lead to a more severe issue.

  • They are stressed or anxious

Dogs express stress differently from humans, and licking the air is one strange way of coping. They do this to induce the production of endorphins into the brain to help them feel better. These hormones are referred to as the feel-good chemicals due to their soothing properties. If your dog is stressed, it will lick the air for a more extended period uncontrollably. They will only stop when they are hungry or about to sleep, and it is often hard to determine what is causing the anxiety. If it is not addressed early and properly, it can become a part of their lifestyle forever.

  • It is a sign of Gastrointestinal disorder

This is an abnormality with the digestive system of the dog with symptoms like drooling, loss of appetite, vomiting, and air licking. The correlation between GI disorders and air licking is made based on the fact that nausea causes the dog to lick their lips. Some other lick air instead of their mouths to cope with nausea, but ultimately, the underlying cause is the same. The condition should not be left untreated since it can lead to more severe health issues.

  • They may be having a partial seizure

Unlike extreme seizures that come with dramatic symptoms like foaming at the mouth and twitching, partial seizures can be more challenging to identify. They are more subtle and do not produce dramatic symptoms, making it difficult to detect. Air licking or biting has been associated with partial seizures, which are known to affect only one part of the brain. The air licking can become chronic if not given the needed attention and can interfere with the quality of life of your pet.

  • They are trying to take in a potent smell

There is a phenomenon known as the Flehmen’s response that is characterized by behavior that resembles air licking. When the molecules of an overpowering scent that come into contact with the dog’s nose, it’ll try to get them over an organ called the vomeronasal organ. Here, the dog makes motions like curling their lip, wrinkling the nose and breathing out through the mouth. It sometimes looks like they are licking the air, but they are just smelling their environment. In this case, it will not be a serious issue because as soon as the smell is diffused, the action also stops.

  • They are bored

Most dogs are intelligent and playful and need a lot of mental stimulation to stay active. When your dog has nothing to do, the next best thing will be to entertain itself. Though it might seem strange to you, it finds air licking to be exciting and will do it until they get something else to do. If you do not address the issue when you initially notice it, your dog might progress to destroying your personal belongings.

Check out 15 Ways To Relieve Your Dog’s Boredom

welsh corgi dog licking nose

What To Do When You Notice Your Dog Licking The Air?

The first thing to do is try to find the cause of the problem. You can start by inspecting your dog’s mouth to check for pieces of food or non-food items lodged in the mouth. If you find any, you can either wait for the dog to clear it or try cleaning their mouth to get it out. Also, make sure to feed your dog a meal that is easily digestible to prevent related problems. You can get your dog chew toys, which have lower chances of getting stuck in their teeth so that they don’t have to use sticks. Make sure there is enough clean water to wash everything down. You should brush your dog’s teeth regularly always to keep it clean and prevent build-up of bacteria that may cause severe health problems.

In the case of anxiety, pay attention to the surroundings of your pet that may be triggering the dog. For example, dogs are known to get anxious when they are in a new environment, or their owners are loud. You can keep a journal of when the behavior starts, what happened before it started, and how long it started for. You can also take some footage of your pet anytime the reaction occurs and note whether it stopped when you distracted the animal. Establishing a cause and effect correlation between the possible triggers in the surroundings and the behavior is a step in the right direction. This is because you can put measures in place to create a more conducive environment for the dog. You can help by training and socializing the dog so that it can cope with the changes in the new environment. Also, try your possible best to keep your dog active with exercise and playtime so that they do not get bored quickly.

To check for Gastrointestinal disorders, look out for additional symptoms like vomiting, diarrhea, and decreased appetite. You can also feel the abdomen of the dog to see if it responds in a painful manner. Feed your dog a well-balanced diet to reduce the chances of getting the disorder. The meal should have the required ingredients and hence, nutrients needed for healthy growth. You must also make sure your dog receives the necessary vaccinations that protect it from developing such disorders. Seizures are more challenging to detect, and so you might need to take a step further to book a doctor’s appointment for your dog.

When To Go To The Vet

It is time to see the Vet when you notice your dog constantly licking the air. The action must be repetitive and should be interfering with the quality of life of your pet for it to be severe. Also, when you try your best at home and nothing seems to work you might need a professional to come in and diagnose the problem. The vet can give you more detailed information on what to do and what treatments will benefit the dog best. Take along the journal and video with information about the behavior to help the doctor make a better assessment of your dog. If your dog is medically fit, then a behavioral specialist might need to come in.

cute dog licking air

To Summarize

In as much as dogs like to play and be goofy, some of their behaviors can be signs of a more severe condition. Indeed, since dogs cannot speak, air licking is another form of body language that can be interpreted to be meaningful. Air licking is one of those behaviors that should be looked at with a pinch of salt, as ignoring may turn into something ugly. It is either your dog is just being themselves or might be suffering from a severe condition. It is not always that you can help them at home and so it will be necessary to take them to the vet. One way you can be a step ahead is to document the processes involved whenever your dog licks air to help the vet with the diagnosis. Paying attention to your dog’s wellbeing is a step in the right direction towards creating a happy home and a quality lifestyle for both of you.


  1. Nicole Pajer, Why Do Dogs Lick The Air?, PetMD
  2. Mikkel Becker, Why Does My Dog Compulsively Lick The Air?, VetStreet

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