My Dog Won’t Stop Licking and Swallowing: What Does It Mean?

Have you ever noticed your dog constantly licking their lips and swallowing? It’s a common behavior that can have various implications, some of which may indicate underlying health problems. Let’s delve into the reasons why dogs exhibit this behavior and what you can do about it.

What Causes Dogs to Lick and Swallow?

Behavioral Causes

Communication Behavior

Dogs often lick their lips when they feel confused or frustrated. Behaviorists refer to this as an “appeasement gesture,” indicating a calming signal. For instance, when approached by another dog, a frightened dog may make direct eye contact and lick their lips to communicate a lack of interest in conflict. Another example is when dogs experience confusing or excessive training measures, leading to frustrated lip licking.

Environmental Response

Sometimes, dogs lick their lips in response to a dry mouth, a bug hitting their face, or something stuck near their lip, like a piece of food or a blade of grass. This behavior is often followed by swallowing. Additionally, the anticipation of food can trigger the salivary glands to flow, resulting in lip licking and swallowing.

Medical Causes

Foreign Body

Dogs may lick and swallow due to an item stuck in their mouth, causing pain and discomfort. They might also shake their heads and paw at their mouths. Common items that get caught in a dog’s mouth include bones, rawhide, toys, and sticks.

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Dental Disease

As dental disease progresses, dogs may exhibit excessive licking and swallowing. Plaque buildup turns into tartar, creating an environment for bacteria to thrive and causing damage to the gums and teeth. Signs of dental disease include a foul odor from the mouth, accumulations of tartar, inflamed gums, and food and hair wrapped around infected teeth.


One of the most prevalent causes of lip licking and swallowing is nausea. Dogs experiencing nausea may drool, lick their lips, or eat grass due to hypersalivation. It’s important to monitor dogs exhibiting these signs and consider potential causes of nausea, such as certain foods or other health issues.

Oral Ulcers

Oral ulcers can cause pain, leading to lip licking, excessive swallowing, drooling, and discomfort. Ulcers can result from oral infections, dental disease, systemic infections, or ingestion of caustic substances. It’s crucial to identify the cause of oral ulcers and seek prompt veterinary care.

Unpleasant Tastes and Toxins

Dogs may develop a funny taste in their mouths from licking or consuming new foods, table scraps, or plant material. Exposure to toxins, such as cleaning chemicals, pesticides, or poisonous toads, can also stimulate excessive licking and salivation. Signs of toad venom toxicity include drooling, lip licking, and foaming at the mouth.


Bites to the face or around the lips, whether from insects or animals like snakes, can cause pain, swelling, discharge, and lip licking. It’s essential to observe any signs of a bite and seek appropriate medical attention.

What Should You Do if Your Dog Keeps Licking and Swallowing?

If you notice your dog frequently licking their lips and swallowing, it’s important to evaluate their behavior and consider potential medical causes.

  • Evaluate your dog’s behavior: Determine if your dog is displaying signs of nervousness, anxiety, or fear. If they feel uncomfortable or cornered, provide them with space and remove them from stressful situations. You can redirect their behavior by offering toys, playing games, or going for walks. Avoid giving excessive attention, as it can reinforce anxiety or fear.

  • Consider a medical problem: Schedule a visit with your veterinarian for a thorough examination. They will assess your dog’s skin, face, lips, gums, teeth, and overall oral health. Providing a detailed history of your dog’s eating patterns, exposure to toxins or trash, vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, and weight loss will assist the veterinarian in making an accurate diagnosis. If your dog attempts to vomit unsuccessfully, it could be a medical emergency known as “bloat,” requiring immediate veterinary attention.

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If you have concerns about potential behavioral or medical health issues for your dog, pet insurance may be a helpful option. Consider reaching out to Figo Pet Insurance for coverage related to common illnesses, accidents, and emergencies.

Remember, keeping your furry friend healthy and happy is vital, and understanding their behavior is the first step to providing them with the care they need.

Visit Katten TrimSalon for more information about pet care and grooming services.