Why Does My Dog Lick Himself So Much? The Most Common Cause of Excessive Licking

Skylar Dial
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Question: Why is my dog licking his skin all the time?

He has red, hot, swollen spots.

Excessive licking or chewing of the skin, known as acral lick or acral lick dermatitis, is a disorder that is seen in dogs that live in groups (kennels, hoarding situations, dog shows). Usually it is in an unprovoked manner and is not related to fleas or allergies. It is probably the most common disorder seen by a veterinarian in boarding kennels. In large kennels, there can be many cases at one time. It is not an uncommon disease in puppies.

The cause can be gastrointestinal in nature, i.e., it is secondary to a harmful bacteria or parasite. Chewing at the skin may be the dog's response to irritation of his mouth and tongue. The buccal mucosa appears inflamed and small ulcers may be present. Other causes of chronic acral lick dermatitis include boredom, stress, and itchiness.


Food allergies in dogs is one of the most common allergy related issues. Your dog licks himself so much because his allergies seem to be causing him lots of discomfort.

Dogs lick and chew themselves because of allergies. So the need to itch or scratch comes about because your dog's body is trying to rid itself of the allergens or irritants.

Frequent licking and scratching is a sign that your dog's immune system has a system image of the allergen. The physical discomfort and resulting skin irritation are the way that his body is telling you that he's having a reaction to something that he’s been exposed to. But in order for your dog's body to rid itself of these irritants, he has to lick at them. After all, that's just what dogs do when they itch – they lick it.

The problem with allergies is that a cure doesn't exist. Dogs can only be given medication to alleviate the symptoms, the itching. But if you don't treat the underlying cause of the allergies, your dog can continue to have problems.

So be sure to take the time to treat your dog. Try to pinpoint what's causing the allergies and then eliminate it or at the very least reduce it. Otherwise, you can find yourself facing the same problem again… and again … and again.

What Are Skin Allergies in Dogs?

Dog skin allergies are quite common. Skin allergies occur when your dog's immune system reacts to a protein known as flea saliva. Other allergens that your dog has been exposed to such as pollen, dust, and mold can also cause allergic reactions.

The symptoms of an allergic reaction include hair loss, scaly skin, red patches, and swelling in the body part that has been affected. When the reaction is not too severe, it may result in several skin eruptions, redness, and itching. In severe cases, the hair may fall out and the skin will become patchy.

Severe allergic reactions can be dangerous to the dog. The dog may develop small lumps under the skin and the affected areas will begin to bleed. Allergic reactions may also spread beyond the original areas of the skin.

Symptoms of Skin Allergies

Your dog may lick his coat, roll and rub his body on the ground, and scratch his skin, and that could be a sign of skin allergies. Dogs can suffer from seasonal allergies, and they are generally indicated by increased awareness of the environment.

Because of the change in the environment, they can scratch and lick themselves incessantly. They shake their heads and lick their chops. This usually occurs within ten to twenty-four hours after they encounter the allergen.

During the allergy season, they can be found scratching their ears or shaking their heads. You probably have seen your dog doing this countless times, but you may not have bothered to pay attention.

The other symptom of dog skin allergies is thumping and licking of the paws. This occurs when they walk on things that give them irritation. This may be grass, pollen, or even sawdust. It doesn’t matter what it is, they will react the same way.

If you notice this kind of behavior, consult a veterinarian. This is the best way to make a timely diagnosis.

Diagnosing Skin Allergies

And the Most Common Cause of Excessive Dog Licking, Scratching, and Chewing.

Dogs lick to help soothe themselves, to comfort themselves, and to try and cool themselves off. Dogs will chew on objects and lick their fur to clean lingering smelly odors and residues from their bodies. This behavior can look like stress, like boredom, like an itch, or just a bad habit.

Many things can cause a dog to lick, and if it’s excessive and persistent, then the underlying cause should be diagnosed by your veterinarian – you should see a vet if the licking is accompanied by other behaviors like biting at themselves, allergy symptoms, skin infections, hair loss, or loss of appetite.

Skin allergies are one of the most common causes of excessive licking, but the medical term for it is pruritus. The first step to diagnose a skin allergy is to check the dog for flea infestation. If fleas are ruled out, then a veterinarian should do a physical exam including looking at the skin under a microscope for parasites and bacterial infections. In some cases, a veterinary dermatologist may try to determine the cause of the itching by skin testing the dog – this is especially the case if the dog has chronic itchy skin.

Other Things Can Look Like Skin Allergies

Most dogs have pretty healthy skin, but some find skin disorders quite uncomfortable. Skin allergies are one of the most common health problems in canines, as it is in humans. So what could it be?

When a dog licks or chews at his skin excessively, most owners immediately associate such behavior with an allergy. But allergies manifest as itching, rather than licking. If you observe your dog closely, you will most probably notice he is licking upwards rather than sideways, which is a pretty big hint that licking is not caused by an allergic reaction.

The most likely cause of such behavior are parasitic skin infections such as mites, fleas, or ringworm. Another possible but rare cause is food allergy. Skin problems can seriously affect your dog’s health, and it is best to seek the advice of a dog’s vet for proper diagnosis and treatment.

Treatment of Dog Skin Allergies

When a dog licks the same spot over and over, he can develop skin irritation. Some dogs continuously lick their paws and legs. Others lick any particular area of their body such as under their chin, stomach, or tail.

If your dog has an itchy skin condition or has sustained an injury, he may be licking the area to relieve pain or discomfort. Dogs who are bored or anxious may lick to pass time. And dogs who live outdoors are more likely to lick irritating substances that may have gotten onto their coat during play or walks.

If your dog has itchy skin and is licking excessively, check for signs of fleas, ticks, and other external parasites first. Then you can take it from there: a trip to the vet is definitely warranted. Dogs who lick themselves excessively without a skin rash have a skin allergy or a food allergy. They may need treatment with an oral antihistamine or special diet.