Have you noticed that your dog has recently started licking the floor for no apparent reason? Believe it or not, floor licking is actually fairly normal behavior for most dogs. There are a variety of reasons they use their mouths to explore, and most of them aren’t likely to cause your pup harm.
On the other hand, some reasons that dogs may lick are complex and not fully understood by us humans. From grooming to communicating and exploring their environment, licking is likely something you will see or have seen in your canine companion’s lifetime.
However, if your canine companion is constantly licking unusual surfaces like the carpet, it may signal something more serious. In the article below, we look at if this behavior is normal for your pup. You’ll also learn when it’s time to seek veterinary advice because it’s more serious. Let’s jump in!
Why Do Dogs Lick the Floor or Carpet?
Dogs with ELS spend more time licking surfaces than they should. Dogs don’t lick excessively if they are simply exploring their surrounding environment. ELS may apply to how long they lick for, how often they lick, or how hard they lick. Affected dogs may lick the carpet, floor tiles, couch, or any other surfaces in the home. There may not be any obvious reason or motive.
Licking an area that has recently had food spilled on it is not considered abnormal or excessive. If your pup can smell something delicious they will likely be (quite understandably) investigating! This usually isn’t anything to be worried about unless the spilled substance was potentially toxic like a chemical used for cleaning. If this is the case, contact your veterinarian immediately. ELS can be caused by the following disorders below.
A study conducted by the University of Montreal revealed that 14 out of 19 dogs with ELS were also found to have gastrointestinal tract abnormalities. These included disorders such as chronic pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas and associated illness), irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), delayed gastric emptying, and giardiasis (a parasitic infection).
When the underlying gastrointestinal disorder was treated, ELS behavior improved for the majority of these dogs. Over half of them resolved completely. Many of these gastrointestinal disorders are uncomfortable or painful and may lead to more severe consequences. Especially if left untreated. This is just one of the reasons why it’s so important to have your pup examined by a veterinarian if they’re constantly licking the floor or carpet.
Issues With the Teeth and Mouth
Any injury or condition involving the teeth, mouth, or gums could also lead to abnormal licking or ELS behavior. Dogs with mouth pain or disease may also paw at their mouth, drool more than normal, experience difficulty chewing, or have an unpleasant smell to their mouth. Some of the more common conditions of the mouth and oral cavity include:
- Dental disease (eg gum disease, loose, fractured, or infected teeth)
- Traumatic injuries (eg penetrating injury from chewing on a stick)
- A foreign object stuck in the mouth e.g piece of bone
- Ulcers of the stomach
- Oral tumors that may cause discomfort or pain
Your veterinarian will carefully examine your dog’s mouth in consultation but in some cases, sedation or general anesthesia may be required to fully assess the area.
Problems with the brain can also lead to behavioral changes which may include ELS. Though it’s not a common presentation, neurological disorders should always be considered in cases of floor licking. Older dogs licking the carpet may be starting to experience canine cognitive dysfunction – changes related to brain aging, similar to dementia in humans.
Seizures, hydrocephalus (fluid accumulation within the brain), and brain tumors are other potential causes of behavioral changes. If your vet is concerned about the possibility of a neurological disorder they will discuss diagnostic testing with you, which may include blood and urine tests, x-rays, CT, MRI, and spinal fluid analysis.
Pica and Polyphagia
Is your pup actually trying to eat unusual and inedible objects like your drywall or carpeting? This behavior is known as pica. Dogs with pica often eat smelly items like socks, towels, or underwear. Sometimes they may eat wood because of the texture. They may also be attracted to the carpet, especially after a recent spill.
Pica should be treated as a serious condition that warrants further investigation. The items your dog swallows with this condition could be toxic or cause a blockage (intestinal obstruction). Like ELS, pica is also a non-specific behavior that can be caused by a wide variety of medical conditions.
Polyphagia (increased appetite) due to diabetes or the use of steroids is just one potential cause. Even behavioral issues such as boredom or separation anxiety can lead to pica in dogs. Your veterinarian will likely perform some diagnostic testing including blood and urine tests to try to identify the underlying cause.
There are a number of underlying medical conditions that can cause excessive carpet or floor licking in dogs. It’s important to have each one of them checked by a veterinarian. Many of these conditions cause nausea, pain, or discomfort and can have severe consequences if left untreated.
When taking your dog to your veterinarian for carpet or floor licking, it can be really helpful to bring a video of the episodes with you on your mobile phone. Another tip before you head off to your appointment is to check to see if your dog responds to you when licking the floor. You should try calling his name or distracting him with food.
Keeping a diary and taking note of any repeatable patterns or triggers for the behavior can also be useful. These tips may help your veterinarian piece together the puzzle of why your dog has decided to start exhibiting this behavior.
Compulsive disorders are characterized by repetitive behaviors that dogs perform to try and alleviate chronic stress and anxiety. These behaviors are performed to such an extent that they significantly interfere with their normal day-to-day function.
Compulsive behaviors seen in dogs include licking or over-grooming but can also include spinning, tail-chasing, mouthing, freezing, constantly pacing, and self-trauma. Certain breeds tend to be prone to particular compulsive behaviors such as spinning in Bull Terriers, which suggests genetics may also play a role.
Anxiety and Boredom
As discussed previously, ELS can become a ‘displacement behavior’ to alleviate stress and anxiety. You might notice your dog starts licking the carpet in response to a particular trigger. This might be a loud noise, or someone yelling. However, these triggers are not always easy to spot.
Dogs will also lick their paws or ‘overgroom’ in response to stress or anxiety. Boredom resulting from a lack of environmental stimulation can also cause these signs, often combined with the destruction of the carpet or walls.
Why Do Dogs Lick the Floor When Sick?
Though we know there is a strong link between ELS and gastrointestinal tract disorders, the precise mechanism as to why dogs exhibit this behavior when feeling sick is unknown. It has been suspected that excessive licking is a response to nausea.
However, many of the dogs in the ELS study did not show any other ‘typical’ behaviors commonly associated with nausea in dogs such as lip-licking, drooling, or swallowing. Unfortunately, we can’t ask our patients if they’re feeling nauseous and their behavioral changes can be subtle, which makes evaluation difficult!
How Do You Stop a Dog From Licking?
As there are many possible causes for ELS, the most important first step is to book an appointment with your veterinarian. The underlying cause needs to be investigated and correctly diagnosed as this will guide the treatment plan. Your veterinarian will take the case history, perform an extensive clinical examination. They will then discuss diagnostic testing to rule in or out an underlying medical problem.
Depending on your dog’s unique situation, your vet may recommend blood and urine testing, x-rays, ultrasound examination, and even MRI or CT if they are concerned about a neurological disorder. If a medical problem is identified they will then discuss treatment options. Treatment for ELS is extremely variable as it is specific to the underlying cause. For example, a fractured tooth causing mouth pain will need to be extracted under general anesthesia.
For behavioral causes such as compulsive disorders and anxiety, treatment can be a little less straightforward. Consultation with a veterinary behaviorist is always recommended where possible. Management of behavioral disorders causing ELS will often involve:
Make sure that your dog’s home environment has the resources to keep them busy and entertained. Do they have the space they need? Do they have access to interactive toys such as food puzzles and regular interaction with people? Are they getting enough exercise?
Can they relax? Think low lighting and calming music. Pheromone diffusers designed to help with anxiety are also available from vet clinics and pet stores.
Behavior Modification Techniques
A plan to integrate behavior modification techniques should be put in place by your veterinarian or veterinary behaviorist. This plan will be unique to your dog’s diagnosis and triggers but will often involve counter-conditioning (learning a new behavior that doesn’t trigger anxiety to replace the negative one).
For many dogs, medication will also be required to help manage behavioral disorders such as anxiety. Medication does not replace the importance of behavior and environmental modification techniques and should be used in addition, not instead of, these interventions.
The odd lick of the wall, couch, or floor might just part of being a dog. Constant licking of any of these surfaces should be taken seriously. Excessive licking of surfaces (ELS) warrants a trip to your veterinarian as it is often indicative of an underlying medical condition or behavioral disorder.
Successful management of ELS, therefore, relies on making an accurate diagnosis of the underlying cause for the behavior, so it can be treated effectively.