WHY DO ANIMALS LICK?
We have all had the adorable experience of being licked by a companion animal. While it may appear that they are trying to communicate their love of us, we may in fact be misjudging the situation. Often animals exhibit behaviour that seems cute and cuddly when in fact they are trying to tell us something entirely different. Cats and dogs communicate in a variety of ways of which many people are unaware. Unless paying close attention and being open to why an animal is behaving a certain way, many of these communicative efforts go unnoticed.
Many cats and dogs develop a “licking” habit and it may be a warning sign to pay attention to. Though it may seem like your cat or dog is grooming or kissing you, this is very often not the case. Whether physical or behavioural, when an animal begins to excessively lick, this is a very first sign of something serious.
Animals lick excessively for several reasons. The first and least problematic is that they were weaned too early from their mothers. This is common in certain breeding situations. When the breeder is careless and takes the babes from their mother before they’re ready, the babies will compensate for the rest of their lives by suckling and licking people or toys. This licking behaviour is also common in situations where something happens to the mother and she is unavailable to feed her babies. This , again, often results in a lifelong licking habit.
Mostly in dogs, a reason for licking is dominance-type behaviour. If your dog is constantly licking the faces of other dogs and people, take note, as this is a potential dominance behaviour pattern that should be addressed with behaviour modification. Or, the dog who is engaging in the licking of faces is curious as to what the face ate for lunch.
Animals may lick objects in the house that are non-food related such as furniture, appliances, walls or other metals. This is a sign of many potential issues that bear examination. One such issue is that they have developed a compulsive licking habit as a result of household stress. If an animal lives in a home with constant noise, yelling and arguing, people regularly filtering in and out of the house, a dirty environment, a smoky home, a home with an offensive odour, many children yelling and screaming or any other type of high stress household, they may outlet their anxiety by licking household items, excessively self-grooming or licking their people. In this particular case, this dog or cat is attempting to communicate that her/his living conditions are too stressful. It is important to take heed of what you and your family members are currently doing to impose this behaviour on your animal. It is important to take significant measures to tone down whatever you are doing to offend your animal. After all, your animal is a member of your family just like the rest of you. Only he is unable to verbally ask you to turn down your volume, stop smoking, ask the kids to stop jumping on and tugging at his ears and tail and so on. So he begins to compulsively lick.
As opposed to physical behaviours, there is a more dangerous side to excessive licking. This danger lies in the health-related licking patterns. One such behaviour is excessive licking of people as a message that the animal is thirsty and dehydrated. Feline and canine dehydration is highly prevalent in today’s society. With the human belief that dry food and water provides adequate moisture to their diet, they suffer. Dry food is dehydrated food. If anyone was to attempt to subsist on dehydrated food for their whole lives, their insides would shrivel up. Water alone is insufficient in terms of providing and distributing moisture to all of the body’s organs. Water is an excellent cleanser of toxins from the body, however it often does not nourish the body as it needs. By adding wild salmon oil or coconut oil and/or wet food, you will be adding necessary moisture to their diet, thereby decreasing the likelihood of dehydration. In a best case scenario, integrating whole foods such as ground turkey or beef, whole pieces of fish or chicken, venison or other forms of whole proteins (WITHOUT sauces and spices!), you will be ensuring that adequate moisture is distributed properly to their body’s organs and tissues. If your kitty or puppy is excessively licking you, themselves or other household objects, and you’re feeding a mostly or completely dry food diet, it is definitely time to consider a diet switch.
Because the kidneys are responsible for processing the body’s water as well as filtering the body’s toxins for urination, when a cat or dog eats mainly or all dry food, the kidneys work overtime to process the dry food through. This is because the kidneys do not have adequate moisture to properly and easily do their job. Prolonged dehydration from a dry-food based diet will inevitably lead to kidney failure and a lot of pain for your animal and yourself. If your animal licks you excessively, it is always important to weed out this potentiality by adding more moisture to the diet. If, after a week or two of added moisture, the animal is still licking, you will know that it is not dehydration.
Perhaps most dangerously, excessive licking of the animal’s own body is a sure sign of distress. Whether an animal is licking the wall or household item or excessively self-grooming, there is a potential that the animal is in extreme pain. Studies have linked wall-licking to severe headaches, extreme liver imbalances and other fatal illnesses. If you notice that your animal is excessively self- grooming, Pay attention to where the animal is grooming herself. Generally, excessive licking of the abdomen can mean a tummy ache, constipation, diarrhea, bladder crystals, painful elimination, or other physical discomfort. This can be a sign of extreme stress such as living in a house with a smoker or severe abdominal pain. If your animal is excessively licking her/his spine or lower back, he may have a painful back injury that needs attention. Or, he may have a kidney issue as the kidneys of the cat and dog run along the lower portion of their spine. If the excessive grooming is accompanied by apparent straining to go to the bathroom, loss of appetite, lethargy, hiding, red eyes, vomiting, a discoloration of the tongue or saliva, or any other unusual symptoms, take your animal to a vet or holistic care practitioner IMMEDIATELY. If your animal is excessively grooming and it is not accompanied by any other “red flags”, pay attention to the levels of stress your animal may be encountering and do your best to remove the stresses from her life.
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