Have you noticed that your dog has been licking the floor or carpet lately for no apparent reason? If there are traces of leftover food, it is quite natural for dogs to lick the floor or carpet. But what does it mean when this is not the case?
The fact that dogs lick the floor or the carpet is often a normal behavior. However, there can also be a medical problem behind it, especially if it happens excessively. The reason could be a gastrointestinal disorder, a tooth or mouth problem, a neurological problem, or pica syndrome. But other behavioral disorders or obsessive-compulsive disorder may also be responsible. Or maybe your dog is driven by fear or boredom.
There are perfectly reasonable reasons for licking the floor, especially if it happens around the dinner table. However, some reasons are not as harmless as picking up food scraps.
The reason dogs lick so much in the first place is because dogs use it for a lot of things. This ranges from grooming to communicating to exploring their surroundings.
However, if dogs are constantly licking unusual surfaces like the carpet, it may be a sign of a health problem.
This article will explore when this behavior is expected in dogs and what other reasons may be behind it that may require intervention.
Why Dogs Lick the Floor Or Carpet
Some dogs spend more time licking surfaces than they should. This is medically referred to as Excessive Licking of Surfaces (ELS).
However, dogs do not lick things excessively while simply exploring their environment. This is a normal behavior in dogs.
ELS refers to how long they lick things, how often they lick things, or how hard they lick things.
Affected dogs may lick the carpet, the couch, floor tiles, or other surfaces in the home. There is usually no obvious reason or motive for this.
Licking a spot where food has recently been spilled is not considered abnormal or excessive. If your dog smells something tasty, he will understandably want to investigate what is behind it.
This is usually not a cause for concern unless the spill was potentially toxic, such as a cleaning product. So, if your dog has sniffed and licked something toxic, contact your veterinarian immediately.
Excessive and seemingly unprovoked licking can have various causes, mainly caused by the following diseases.
A study conducted by the University of Montreal found that 14 of 19 dogs with ELS also had gastrointestinal tract abnormalities.
These included various disorders like chronic pancreatitis, inflammation of the pancreas and related diseases, irritable bowel syndrome, delayed gastric emptying, and giardiasis, a parasitic infection.
When the underlying gastrointestinal disease of the dogs from this study was treated, ELS behavior improved in most of these dogs.
In fact, in more than half of the dogs, the symptoms subsequently disappeared entirely.
Gastrointestinal disorders are often uncomfortable or painful, leading to more severe consequences, especially if left untreated.
For this and other reasons, you should have your dog examined by a veterinarian if he is constantly licking the floor or carpet without any apparent reason.
Teeth and Mouth Issues
Any injury or disease to the teeth, mouth, or gums can also lead to ELS.
Dogs with pain or disease in their mouths may also try to scratch with their paws, drool more than usual, have difficulty chewing, or have an unpleasant mouth odor.
More common diseases of the mouth and oral cavity include:
- Dental disease, gum disease, loose, broken, or infected teeth.
- Injuries, such as from chewing on a stick.
- Foreign bodies in the mouth
- stomach ulcers
- mouth tumors
Your veterinarian can examine your dog’s mouth to find the cause. However, sedation or general anesthesia may sometimes be needed to examine the area thoroughly.
Neurological problems can cause behavioral changes, which may include ELS.
Although not common, neurologic disorders should always be considered with excessive floor licking.
In older dogs that lick the carpet, cognitive dysfunction may be the cause. These are changes related to brain aging, similar to dementia in humans.
Seizures, hydrocephalus, fluid buildup in the brain, and brain tumors are other possible causes of behavioral changes.
If your veterinarian is considering the possibility of a neurological disorder, he or she may perform several diagnostic tests.
These include blood and urine tests, X-rays, CT scans, MRIs, and spinal fluid analysis.
Does your dog actually try to eat unusual and inedible objects like a wall or your carpet? This behavior is called pica syndrome.
Dogs with pica syndrome often eat smelly items like socks, towels, or underwear. Sometimes, they will also eat wood because of its texture.
Dogs with pica may also be attracted to carpets, especially if something has recently been spilled.
Pica syndrome should be treated as a serious problem that warrants further investigation. The items your dog swallows in this condition could be toxic or cause constipation.
Like ELS, pica is a non-specific behavior that various conditions can cause.
Polyphagia means increased appetite, usually due to diabetes or steroid use. It is only one possible cause of pica syndrome.
Behavioral problems such as boredom or separation anxiety can also lead to pica syndrome in dogs.
Your veterinarian will likely perform diagnostic tests, including blood and urine, to determine the underlying cause.
Several underlying conditions can cause excessive licking of carpets or floors in dogs. It is essential to have each of these conditions evaluated by a vet.
These conditions can cause nausea, pain, or discomfort and have severe consequences if left untreated.
If you take your dog to the vet because he is licking carpets or floors, taking a video of the incidents on your cell phone can be beneficial.
Another tip before your appointment is to see if your dog responds to you while licking the floor. Watch his reactions when you try calling his name or distracting him with food.
Keeping a journal and noting any recurring patterns or triggers for the behavior can also be helpful.
These tips can help your veterinarian determine why your dog is exhibiting the behavior.
Compulsive disorders involve repetitive behaviors that dogs use to relieve chronic stress and anxiety.
Dogs perform these behaviors to such an extent that they significantly interfere with the dog’s normal daily functions.
Compulsive behaviors in dogs include licking or excessive grooming, spinning in circles, chasing their tails, freezing, running up and down constantly, and self-injury.
Certain breeds are prone to certain compulsive behaviors. For example, excessive spinning in circles is more common in bull terriers. This suggests that genetics may also play a role.
Anxiety and Boredom
ELS can become a compensatory behavior to relieve stress and anxiety.
You may notice your dog licking the carpet in response to a specific trigger. This could be a loud noise or a person yelling. However, these triggers are not always easy to identify.
Dogs also lick their paws or groom themselves excessively in response to stress or anxiety.
Boredom resulting from a lack of environmental stimuli can also cause these signs. It often occurs with the destruction of the carpet or other objects.
Why Dogs Lick the Floor When They Are Sick
Although it has been proven that there is a close connection between ELS and gastrointestinal diseases, the exact mechanism of why dogs show this behavior when they feel sick is unknown.
However, it is reasonable to assume that the excessive licking is a response to nausea.
However, many dogs in the Canadian ELS study mentioned above did not exhibit other typical behaviors commonly seen with nausea. These would be lip licking, drooling, or increased swallowing.
Unfortunately, you cannot ask dogs if they are nauseous, or at least they will not respond to the question. Also, their behavioral changes can be very subtle when sick, making it difficult to assess.
How to Stop Dogs from Licking Carpets Or the Floor
Since there are many possible causes of ELS, the most essential first step is to make an appointment with a veterinarian.
The underlying cause must be investigated and correctly diagnosed, critical to the treatment plan.
Your veterinarian will take a history and perform a comprehensive clinical examination. He can rule out or confirm various underlying medical problems through diagnostic testing.
Depending on your dog’s situation, your veterinarian may perform blood and urine tests, x-rays, or ultrasounds.
He may even recommend MRI or CT scans if he suspects a neurological disorder.
Once the underlying medical cause is determined, treatment options are discussed.
The treatment of ELS is highly variable, as it depends on the underlying cause. For example, a chipped tooth that causes pain in the mouth is extracted under general anesthesia.
For behavioral causes such as obsessive-compulsive disorder and anxiety, treatment may be somewhat less straightforward. Consultation with a behavioral therapist is always recommended whenever possible.
Treatment for behavioral disorders leading to ELS often involves several issues, which we discuss in the following sections.
Ensure your dog’s home environment has the resources to keep him busy and entertained.
Does he have the space he needs? Does he have access to interactive toys and regular contact with people? Is he getting enough exercise?
Can the dog relax? Dim lights and soothing music, for example, can help with this. Pheromone diffusers are also available in veterinary offices and pet stores, which can help with anxiety.
Your veterinarian or behavioral therapist should devise a plan for incorporating behavior modification techniques into your dog’s daily routine.
This plan will be individualized to your dog’s diagnosis and triggers but often includes counter-conditioning.
It involves learning a new behavior that does not trigger anxiety and replaces the negative behavior.
Many dogs also require medication to manage behavioral problems such as anxiety.
Medication does not replace the importance of behavioral and environmental modification and should be used in addition to these interventions.
Summary: Why Dogs Lick the Floor Or Carpet
Licking the wall, couch, or floor occasionally is usually an expected part of a dog’s life. However, constant licking of these surfaces should be taken seriously.
Excessive licking of surfaces or ELS warrants a visit to your veterinarian, as it often indicates an underlying medical condition or behavioral disorder.
Therefore, successful treatment of ELS depends on accurately diagnosing the underlying cause of the behavior. Only then can the problem be effectively treated.