All dogs have their quirks. Some dogs are terrified of the mail truck, some dogs want to adopt wild animals they found in the backyard, and some dogs lick the carpet as a form of communication.
Although this behavior is strange, it’s often innocuous. In some cases, it’s a sign that your dog is feeling some kind of stress-induced hyperactivity or tension that needs to be addressed. Before you jump to any conclusions, you need to rule out the possibility that you might have a tasty carpet.
First Things First: Check for Crumbs
If your dog is licking the carpet right after your toddler ate chicken nuggets, chances are high your dog is only licking the carpet to get to the tasty crumbs. Toddlers and young children can be messy when they eat, and this isn’t lost on your dog. Dogs have a profound sense of smell. If there’s a single bit of something yummy anywhere on the floor, they’re going to find it.
This isn’t an issue with your dog’s behavior, but a completely normal instinct to root around and hunt for food. While the occasional crumb of breading or stray green beans tossed off a child’s plate won’t necessarily hurt your dog, you can’t guarantee that everything your dog finds and eats will be safe.
After mealtimes, check the area around where your family eats to vacuum up any crumbs. Emphasize to your youngsters the importance of keeping food contained. It’s natural that they won’t be very neat and composed at every meal. A talk about keeping their favorite pup safe by keeping "people food” away may motivate a youngster to try their best.
Your Dog Might Be Bored
Have you ever been so bored that licking the carpet seemed like a good idea? Your dog might feel that way. Strange behaviors like carpet licking may be a cry for attention. If your dog knows you’ll respond by interacting with them, they may engage in these behaviors specifically to make you take notice.
Spending more quality time with your dog and providing stimulating distractions, such as puzzle toys, may keep your dog sufficiently entertained. When your dog has something more enjoyable to do, licking or tearing at the carpet falls lower on their list of priorities.
It May Be a Stress Response
Dogs react to environmental stress in odd ways. When you’re feeling stressed, you might go out for your favorite meal, take a leisurely stroll, talk to a friend, or journal. Your dog doesn’t have the autonomy and capability of finding healthy outlets and may instead choose to engage in strange behaviors.
If the licking behavior comes in conjunction with other behaviors like whining, crying, digging, or pacing, your dog could be telling you that they’re unhappy or uncomfortable.
If there have been major changes in your household, if there are loud noises outside due to fireworks, thunderstorms, or construction, or if there are unfamiliar people visiting, your dog might be expressing discomfort and crying for your help.
Illness of the Throat or Mouth
Dogs may excessively drool or develop a bad taste in their mouths if they have an illness affecting their throat or mouth. Dental infections or abscesses, ulcers, or something stuck in the throat or the gums may cause your dog to salivate. Your dog is using the carpet to get the taste out of their mouth and dry away the excess saliva.
Most of the time, owners will be able to spot the problem by taking a look in the dog’s mouth. Irritation or broken teeth are often visible. If your dog hasn’t had a dental checkup in a while or it’s possible something may be stuck in the dog’s throat, it’s time to go to the vet.
Neurological Disorders or Impaired Cognition
If you call your dog’s name and get a response, your dog is simply licking the carpet. If your dog is behaving erratically and won’t respond when called or ignores the sound of a treat bag shaking, your dog may be having a seizure.
If your dog has been engaging in broadly strange behavior, like forgetting where the food bowl is or treating familiar people like strangers, this could be a result of cognitive decline. Older dogs may sometimes behave similarly to older adults with conditions like Alzheimer’s disease.
Dogs may engage in strange or repetitive behaviors when having seizures or experiencing neurological anomalies. If your dog doesn’t seem to be mentally present when engaging in these behaviors, go to the vet immediately.
Is Your Dog Obsessively Licking Everything?
If your dog seems obsessive or fanatical about licking things, your dog may have a compulsive disorder. This is the canine equivalent of obsessive-compulsive disorder in humans. The only difference is that dogs cannot cognitively formulate obsessions in the same way humans can.
Dogs with obsessive disorders require a multidisciplinary approach for behavioral resolution. This may involve the use of medications to be administered daily or to be administered when the animal participates in an obsessive activity.
Making Your Floors Safe
The ideal outcome would be to resolve the problem overnight and never have your dog lick the carpet again. Dogs do learn, but they can be slow learners when they develop habits. Some dogs may have difficulty resisting the urge.
You shouldn’t allow your dog to lick the carpet. Small dogs may ingest carpet fibers that will lead to bowel obstruction. If you use cleaning products on your floor, your dog may be ingesting toxic chemicals. In the meantime, switch to pet-safe cleaners. If your dog has a favorite spot to lick, place a rubber mat or chair pad on top of the carpet to make it inaccessible.
You can also use deterrent sprays. These sprays are often made with bitter apple or bitter lemon. Your dog won’t like the taste, and this is sometimes enough to redirect your dog. If the deterrents aren’t enough, try distracting your dog with a puzzle toy.
See a Veterinarian
If your dog is simply finding secret nacho crumbs or lost french fries, there’s no reason to go to the vet. All you need to do is make sure there are no little snacks hiding in the carpet. If the licking was a temporary response to a temporary environmental stressor and it resolved itself when the stressor went away, there is no sense of urgency.
Under any other circumstances, your trip to the vet needs to be scheduled as soon as possible. Your dog needs a full evaluation, and potentially a treatment plan, to resolve the behavior and preserve the health of your pet.
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People Food Dogs Can Eat and Can't Eat | American Kennel Club
Seizures in Dogs | VCA Animal Hospital
Cognitive Decline In Aging Dogs: What To Know | Texas A&M University Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences