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My Dog Keeps Licking His Lips & Swallowing: 9 Reasons Why (Vet Answer)

Written by: Dr. Emma Chandley BVM MRCVS (Veterinarian)

Last Updated on June 10, 2024 by Dogster Team

golden retriever dog licking its mouth

My Dog Keeps Licking His Lips & Swallowing: 9 Reasons Why (Vet Answer)

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Dr. Emma Chandley  Photo

WRITTEN BY

Dr. Emma Chandley

BVM MRCVS (Veterinarian)

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Dogs frequently lick their lips and swallow. There are many reasons why they do this. Some are completely harmless and a normal part of their routine, some are an indication that there is something wrong, or a warning sign of something about to happen. If you notice your dog has started licking and drooling or swallowing more frequently, it is always best to have them checked out by your vet to be on the safe side.

Bear in mind that there will be individual variations between dogs, and some dogs love to lick and take great joy in licking themselves, their owners, and anything else they can get their paws on. Other dogs are much more reserved and won’t be as liberal with their tongue. You know your own dog and can gauge if there have been any changes in their behavior.

Have you noticed your dog licking their lips and swallowing? Would you like to know what this means? Read this vet-written guide to get the low down on this behavior and find out if it is something you need to worry about.

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The 9 Reasons Your Dog Keeps Licking His Lips & Swallowing

1. Anxiety

Dogs may lick their lips and gulp when they are anxious or stressed. They may be uncomfortable in the situation they are in, or with something in their immediate environment. Licking their lips is a method of calming themselves down and regulating their nervous system. Dogs may be anxious about loud unpredictable noises, new humans or other animals, or changes in their routine or their home environment.

It is important to identify the source of the stress to enable you to remove the thing that is stressing your dog out or take them away from it.

boston terrier dog closed eyes and licking nose
Image By: _e-Kis, Shutterstock

2. Poison/Toxin Exposure

Some dogs lick their lips and swallow more if they have been exposed to toxins. If your dog has been licking cleaning products left out by accident or other toxic substances, they can start licking their lips excessively. They may also begin to hypersalivate in response to whatever they have licked or ingested. Dogs can also have a similar reaction if they lick or eat a toad. Common symptoms of toad poisoning include frothing at the mouth and excessive licking and lip-smacking.


3. Nausea

When your dog feels sick, they may start hypersalivating and licking their lips. The feeling of nausea, whether it is followed by actual vomiting or not, can still cause physical signs in your dog.

Nausea can be caused by motion sickness in a vehicle, toxins ingested, infectious agents, blockages in the gastrointestinal tract, parasites, gastroenteritis, and many other things. Your dog may also seem quieter than usual and more subdued. They may be off their food and have other signs such as diarrhea.

If your dog does vomit, the lip licking and swallowing of excessive saliva may stop if the underlying cause is resolved. If not, then your dog may carry on licking their lips and swallowing.

Dog vomit in the living room
Image By: A-photographyy, Shutterstock

4. Foreign Body

Lip licking and swallowing may be a sign of a foreign body stuck somewhere inside your dog. Non-food items that your dog is unable to digest are referred to as foreign bodies by vets. Foreign bodies can irritate the lining of the gastrointestinal tract, causing nausea, hypersalivation, and vomiting.

If your dog is licking their lips and showing signs of discomfort, along with excessive salivation, there may be something stuck in your dog’s mouth or throat that they are trying to dislodge. Your dog may also be pawing at their mouth and shaking their head or rubbing their head against objects.

Common things that become lodged in your dog's mouth include:
  • Wooden sticks
  • Bones
  • Stones
  • Rawhide chews
  • Bits of chewed-up toy
  • Bits of plants

Sharp objects may also migrate from the mouth or throat to other parts of the body and cause significant damage.


5. Dehydration

Your dog may start licking their lips and swallowing if they are becoming dehydrated. This is more common in hot weather or after intense exercise. If your dog has underlying diseases such as kidney or liver disorders, they are more prone to dehydration. Your dog may also become lethargic and have sunken eyes and poor skin elasticity.

sick dog lying on the floor
Image Credit: EugeneEdge, Shutterstock

6. Seizures

Some early signs of seizure activity in dogs can start as lip licking and swallowing. Dogs may suddenly start licking the air and snap or bite at the air. They may also lick their lips and swallow more after they have had a seizure in the recovery period.


7. Sign of Submission

Your dog may start licking their lips and swallowing as a sign of appeasement or submission. This may be signaling to another dog or human that they perceive them as a threat. When they lick their lips, it is a signal that they intend to stand down and not fight. They may also avert their eyes and look down or sideways.

sick dog lying
Image By: MDV Edwards, Shutterstock

8. Dental Disease

Dogs experience dental disease just like humans do, and they can suffer from tooth decay. They can have traumatic injuries to their teeth, they can get abscesses in the tooth roots, oral ulcers, and other painful conditions due to inflammation in the mouth. If a dog’s teeth are not kept clean, plaque can build up and form tartar and this causes gingivitis, which is a painful inflammation of the gums.

The combination of the pain and potential pus or blood in the mouth can cause overproduction of saliva and your dog can start to lick their lips repeatedly. You may notice a foul smell coming from your dog’s mouth if they are suffering from tooth decay.


9.  Normal Behavior

The reason your dog may be licking their lips and swallowing may be completely harmless and a normal part of their behavior. Some degree of licking lips and swallowing is completely normal, and you do not need to worry at all. Dogs lick their lips to wet them to make them hydrated if they have been panting.

Some may lick their lips if they have some leftover food on them or if they have something on them after they have been exploring on a walk. Some dogs lick their lips when they can see, hear, or smell their food being prepared at home. They may also swallow more if they are salivating in anticipation of their food being served.

Image Credit: smrm1977, Shutterstock

Conclusion

It is a very common sight to see your dog licking their lips and swallowing. It can simply be a normal part of their daily routine or a healthy way to keep themselves clean, and it is nothing to worry about. It can, however, mean that there is something wrong. They can use this behavior to signal to humans or other dogs that they are feeling stressed or threatened.

They may have something stuck in their mouth, or they may have ingested some poison or toxin. They may also use licking as a way to soothe themselves if they are anxious about something.

If you notice your dog excessively licking and swallowing, bear in mind it can be a sign of an illness or health issue. Contact your vet to have your dog checked out as soon as possible. Your vet will be able to diagnose any health issues and rectify the problem or administer treatment if appropriate.

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Featured Image Credit: demanescale, Shutterstock

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