Why Beet Pulp is Good for Dogs
Why Beet Pulp is Good for Dogs

Why Do Dogs Lick You? Common Reasons and Indications

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There’s no doubt that dogs are affectionate creatures. And they have numerous ways of showing it. One of these ways is by licking their owners. You may enjoy it when your furry friend comes up and gives you a big ol’ pooch smooch.  But why do dogs lick you? In a poll* of dog owners, IAMS™ found a large majority (75%) believe dogs lick people to offer signs of friendliness. That’s definitely a correct assumption. Let’s dive a bit deeper for a better understanding. 

Licking has been a social behaviour among dogs since the days of the great-great-great granddaddy wolf. 'It’s a standard canine greeting to lick others around the face,” agrees James Serpell, B.S., Ph.D., Professor of Humane Ethics & Animal Welfare at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine. “Junior members of the pack will run around and lick the mouths of more senior members.” But is that all that there is to dog licking behaviour? Or are there more reasons why dogs lick people? Let’s find out!


Why do dogs lick people?

Here are a few reasons that can explain why dogs like to lick.  


  • It’s their way of showing affection

For dogs, licking is equivalent to kissing or showing affection. You may have noticed female dogs licking their puppies which is a behaviour that is intended to show affection. And your dog considers you part of their pack, so they show you affection the same way their kind does - by licking.

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  • You taste great… or at least interesting

Dogs are oral creatures and gather a lot of information about their surroundings through taste and smell. Maybe you’re salty after a sweaty run. Maybe you’ve got barbecue sauce on your face. “Dogs can smell a lot better than we can,” says Dr. Jo Gale, BVetMed CertLAS MRCVS, Senior Manager, Global Science Advocacy at Waltham Petcare Science Institute, “so they find a lot more things interesting to lick than we can.” This is despite the fact that dogs only have about 1,700 taste buds compared to around 9,000 in humans.


  • They want your attention

Have you been too busy with work lately? Or has anything kept you inattentive toward your pooch? If so, it’s probably one of the reasons why your dog is licking you. It is also possible that your dog just got too bored and wants you to play with them, which is why they’re suddenly licking you.


  • They have OCD

That’s true. Much like humans, dogs can also suffer from obsessive-compulsive disorder, which can be concerning. It is often triggered due to stress and anxiety and makes the dogs suddenly begin licking. You will need to visit your vet if you suspect this to be the case. 


Why is my dog licking my wounds?

Unlike humans, no other animals have knowledge about or access to proper healthcare. So, when they get injured, their first instinct is to lick their wounds. This helps them numb the pain to a certain extent, and also clean the wound. Thus, when your dog sees a wound on you, their natural instincts kick in and they try to help you by licking the wound, thinking it will clean the wound and lower the pain.

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In fact, in ancient Greece, dogs at the shrine of Asclepius were trained to lick patients. In the Middle Ages, Saint Roch was said to have been cured of a plague of sores through his dog’s licking. The French even have a saying, “langue de chien, langue de médecin,” which translates to, “a dog’s tongue, a doctor’s tongue.”

Don’t cancel your health insurance just yet. While a dog’s saliva does have some possible bactericidal properties against some types of bacteria, it can put you at risk of exposure to others. Too much licking can also reopen the wound and cause further infection. With modern medicine, you’re much better off hitting the first-aid kit. And that myth about dogs’ mouths being cleaner than humans’? Not true — both contain over 600 types of bacteria. 


How to handle a dog that licks too much?

While an occasional canine kiss is “aww”-inducing, some dogs can overdo it to the point of annoyance. When this happens, the best thing to do is “completely ignore it and give no attention,” suggests Dr. Jo Gale. “When they stop, provide them with attention.” This acts as a form of positive reinforcement. Over time your dog will learn to scale back on the smooches. Another thing you can try is training them to cut back on the licking. Remember to use positive reinforcement in this case too - reward them with treats or toys when they display good behavior.

FAQs on Why Do Dogs Lick You

  1. Does dog licking mean affection?
  2. Yes, but not always. For dogs, licking is also a way to explore and understand the world and the beings around them. Sometimes it can also be an indication of their OCD.

  3. Why does my dog keep licking me?
  4. Your dog may be licking you because of either of these reasons - to show affection, to seek your attention, because they like how you taste, or because they are feeling stressed or anxious.

  5. What does it mean when a dog keeps licking?
  6. If a dog keeps licking constantly, it may be because they are feeling anxious or stressed. Sometimes these feelings also trigger OCD in dogs, which can make them lick obsessively. They may also do it when they are bored and want your attention.

  7. Is dog licking a dominant behaviour?
  8. Sometimes, dogs choose to show dominance via licking. They may do this with either other dogs of the pack or with humans. Dog licking may indicate dominance especially when the licks are uninvited, and the dog begins showing dominant behaviour. This can include not obeying commands and acting in a demanding way.

  9. What is a dog telling you when they lick you?
  10. A dog’s licking may indicate several things. They are either showing affection or are just bored and need your attention. They may also lick you if they think you taste good or interesting.

  • Your Senior Dog’s Special Nutritional Needs
    Your Senior Dog’s Special Nutritional Needs

    Your Senior Dog’s Special Nutritional Needs

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    One of the most important things you can do is to feed your senior dog a diet formulated for his age featuring nutritional breakthroughs developed by the geriatric research team at The IAMS™ Company. As the years take their toll, a complete, well-balanced diet can help older dogs maintain health and ideal body weight, maximize their ability to stay healthy, and promote and maintain muscle tone and digestive health.



    How Old Is Old?

    To call a dog 'old,' one mustn't consider chronological age, but rather physiological condition. Aging begins when the body's systems start to slow down when cells deteriorate faster than the body can repair them. Though the process is different for every animal (large and giant breeds tend to age faster than smaller breeds), dogs are generally considered seniors beginning at around 7 years (5 years for large and giant breeds). If you feed your dog a diet designed to address the nutritional needs of his age, you can best maintain your dog's overall health and well-being. As your dog ages, detecting and addressing signs of wear and tear or disease early might help your dog adjust more readily to his condition.

    How your dog ages has much to do with genetics and environment, but nutrition plays an equally important role. The quality of the food and its ability to maintain and nourish your dog's cells can slow or delay the effects of aging and help promote a long, healthy life. As your dog ages and his systems become less efficient, he relies increasingly on the food you provide to make up for his body's shortfalls. According to Michael Hayek, PhD, a research nutritionist at The IAMS Company who specializes in geriatric nutrition, 'Aging dogs need the same nutrients as younger dogs; however, the quantity or the way the nutrients are provided may change.'

    Dr. Hayek advises not waiting until you see signs of aging in your dog to consider the proper diet. Feeding a high-quality, premium diet throughout your dog's life is the best way to help him age gracefully. When your dog reaches the golden years, choose IAMS for nutrition suited to this stage of life. 'Good nutrition starts early,' says Dr. Hayek. 'It should be viewed as proactive health care because it may be a deterrent to aging later on.'

    If your dog already exhibits signs of aging, look for a high-quality, balanced maintenance food that caters to his changing metabolism. When you're shopping for a formula that's right for your older dog, look for and compare these important features:

    High-quality animal protein. Just like us, as dogs grow older, they naturally tend to lose lean body mass (muscle). High-quality protein becomes increasingly significant by providing the essential amino acids your dog needs to minimize the loss of lean body tissue. By nature, dogs are carnivores, and they do best on high-quality, animal-based proteins from sources such as chicken or lamb. Some people believe that aging dogs should be fed less protein to prevent or minimize kidney disease. However, the evidence is just not there. Reduced protein has a significant effect only after a certain level of renal dysfunction occurs. Signs of renal dysfunction include an increase in water consumption and increased urination. If you're concerned about your dog's renal health, your veterinarian can run tests to assess the level of renal function and recommend appropriate treatments if they are needed.

    'If your dog is generally in a state of good health,' explains Dr. Hayek, 'protein should not be restricted. Rather, it should be available for building those all-important muscle reserves.' Some studies have shown that a diet of high-quality protein might actually help improve kidney function, and no research has indicated that low-protein diets slow the progression of renal damage in dogs.

    Lower fat. Less-active, older dogs need fewer calories. Look for a food that's low in fat compared to our other adult formulas, but don't eliminate fat completely or feed a food that doesn't have enough fat. Pick a formula with at least 10% fat. Older dogs still need essential fatty acids. The inclusion of omega-3 fatty acids helps a senior dog maintain a proper fatty-acid balance as the body's fatty-acid synthesis naturally decreases.

    Moderately fermentable fiber. The goal of fiber is to help maintain optimal intestinal health. 'You want to aim for consistent stools,' explains Dr. Hayek. The goal is to promote digestibility and the ability to process food and absorb nutrients. At the same time, fiber levels should promote and maintain a healthy intestinal tract, which often can be problematic for older dogs. A fiber level of no more than 5% is appropriate for seniors to maintain an optimal intestinal environment for a healthy gut, which helps result in excellent nutrient absorption and small, firm stools. IAMS includes dried beet pulp, a patented fiber source, in all of its foods to make elimination easier and regular. According to Dr. Hayek, if you've been feeding your dog properly all along, fiber requirements shouldn't change.

    Fructooligosaccharides (FOS) are a unique fiber source. FOS is a moderately fermentable fiber which can help maintain a healthy intestinal environment.

    Antioxidants. These help maintain balance within the body by ridding it of harmful compounds called free radicals, which increase as a dog ages. Antioxidants fend off free radicals and help protect cell membranes and DNA. To maintain your older dog's immune-system response, feed a formula with important antioxidant nutrients such as vitamin E and beta-carotene.

    Vitamins and minerals. A high-quality, nutritionally balanced dog food should include all of the essential nutrients in the proper proportions. Some say that vitamin and mineral supplements are necessary as a dog's systems age. The fact is that, unless your veterinarian specifically identifies a deficiency, vitamin and mineral supplements are unnecessary and, in some cases, might do more harm than good by creating an unhealthy imbalance.



    The Golden Years

    Balanced feeding is vital as a dog ages, but it's just as essential throughout his life. The longer and more consistently you feed him a healthy diet for his life stage, such as IAMS ProActive Health™ Senior Plus, the greater his chances of living a long, healthy life. As your dog reaches the senior years for his breed or size, remember these tips:

    • Minimize stress and change. Avoid big moves or changes in your dog's schedule. If you must disturb a routine, give him some added attention to ease the adjustment.
    • Provide regular exercise. Two 15-minute walks each day will help maintain muscle tone, enhance circulation, promote digestion, and prevent weight gain.
    • Feed smaller, more frequent meals. Instead of one large portion a day, try two or three smaller meals, which will also help increase your dog's metabolism, burn calories, and provide all of the needed nourishment.
    • Schedule routine veterinary checkups and immunizations. Regular dental care and thorough physicals will help you identify subtle changes in your dog's health. At home, take a few minutes each month to closely examine your dog for odd-shaped bumps or lumps. If you discover something unusual on the body, and it seems to be growing rapidly, call your veterinarian. Early detection and preventive treatment can go a long way toward extending life expectancy.
    • Buy palatable, high-quality premium pet food. As your dog ages, he might become less interested in eating. Offer palatable, nutrient-dense food to encourage productive, efficient digestion and to maintain essential bodily functions.

    Finally, Dr. Hayek points out that there's still much to learn about canine geriatric nutrition. For now, realize that every animal ages at a different rate and in different ways. Monitor your dog and especially watch for changes after 7 years of age (5 years for large and giant breeds). With the help of your veterinarian and responsible pet food manufacturers, your pet can live to a comfortable, healthy old age.