If your dog is licking the air, they probably look a little funny. It’s easy to imagine why a dog might lick a plate clean. It’s a little more abstract to see your dog licking the air, seemingly attempting to taste nothing.
Your dog’s senses work a little differently from yours, and licking is an important part of the way they relate to the world. Licking the air is rarely a reason to be concerned, but there may be some circumstances where you should be concerned about the behavior.
Here are some tips to help you know when to laugh at your dog for being silly and when to be concerned that your dog may not be feeling well.
Why Do Dogs Lick So Much?
Dogs are adept at finding ways to communicate with their owners and with each other, but their experience of the world is vastly different from our experience. Dogs rely on vocalizations and behaviors to interact with the world around them.
Dogs have an extremely heightened sense of smell, and smell and taste are closely connected. Dogs use their mouth as a way to learn about their environment. Taste and smell give them important cues and a wealth of information about a place, object, or even a person or another dog.
Sometimes, your dog may lick as a way to communicate with you. They could be expressing a need they’d like for you to meet, or they might use their tongue to groom you as a sign of affection.
Why Does My Dog Lick the Air Near Their Food Dish?
Your dog could be licking their lips near their food or water dish in an attempt to signal to you that they’re hungry. Your dog might also lick the air next to you while you’re eating if you have something that smells tasty. Your dog has a very acute sense of smell, and they might be attempting to take in the scent through their mouth.
Why Does My Dog Lick the Air in the Car?
If your dog is putting their head out of the window on a car ride and licking the air, they might be doing that to entertain themselves. It might feel fun or stimulating.
They may also be licking the air in an attempt to produce saliva. The wind can quickly dry out your dog’s mouth and make them uncomfortable. The inside of their lips and cheeks may stick to their teeth and their throat may feel dry.
It’s a good idea to roll up the window and give your pup a drink of water if you see them licking the air and they seem uncomfortable — they may be enjoying the breeze too much to come back inside and give their drying mouths a chance to rehydrate.
Why Does My Dog Lick the Air Outside?
Your dog may not be licking the air outside. Your dog might see or smell small insects that are too far away for you to see. If they appear to be licking the air and chasing something, they might be attempting to capture a fly or dewdrops from surrounding plants. If your dog stops licking when you distract them, this is probably the case.
Why Does My Dog Lick the Air When I Scratch Near Their Tail?
Some dogs and cats have a “sweet spot” near their tail. They have a difficult time grooming or scratching that spot when it gets dirty or when it itches. When you scratch that spot, it’s the equivalent of scratching the impossible itch. Your dog might lick the air or vocalize with appreciation because it feels so good.
Why Does My Dog Lick the Air When He’s Sniffing Something?
Dogs use their tongue to aid in their profound sense of smell. Dogs have a special organ called a vomeronasal organ. This organ is what makes dogs so adept at tracking other animals. They use the organ to receive and interpret bodily smells, like the urine of prey or predators.
Your dog may engage in something called the Flehmen response when detecting strong scents. They’ll move their tongue around to open up their nasal passages, allowing them to draw in subtle or faint scents that they can further analyze.
It’s common for dogs to engage in the Flehmen response when they’re in an outdoor area where another animal or wildlife may have been present. They may also use this response if they find a dead animal near their normal walking path.
Why Does My Dog Lick the Air When There Are Loud Noises?
Dogs often experience environmental distress as a result of loud noises, especially if they’re unable to figure out when the noises will occur or why they’re happening in the first place. Thunderstorms and fireworks are commonly distressing to dogs, but loud televisions and vacuum cleaners can also affect dogs.
Your dog may lick the air as a stress-coping mechanism when they get listless and they aren’t sure how to feel safe. Turn down the TV or put your dog in an area of the house where they can’t hear the vacuum.
If you can’t control the source of the noise, like with a storm or a holiday celebration involving fireworks, consider giving your pet some CBD.
VETCBD Hemp’s Pet CBD can help to ease your dog through brief periods of environmental distress. If you know your dog routinely has trouble with things like storm noises, prepare a comfortable place for them to wait out the storm and give them CBD at the first sign of thunder.
Why Does My Dog Lick the Air and Cough or Sneeze?
Sometimes, dogs lick the air in an attempt to dislodge foreign bodies from their mouth or throat. They may also cough, sniffle, sneeze, or spit. When your dog is distressed, you shouldn’t attempt to look in their mouth. They may reactively nip you when they’re feeling uncomfortable.
Give your dog some water and monitor them to assure they aren’t choking. If they don’t spit anything out or if the behavior persists for more than a minute or two, go to the emergency vet.
It’s best to assure there isn’t anything lodged in your dog’s teeth or gums that could become a choking hazard.
When To Worry About Your Dog Licking the Air
Most of the time, you should be able to figure out why your dog is licking the air with a little observation. If the behavior always correlates to a particular set of circumstances, it’s usually no cause for concern.
If your dog is licking the air erratically and you can’t identify a trigger for the behavior, you need to call your vet.
Some dogs will lick the air, jerk their head, and show their teeth when they’re experiencing focal seizures. Focal seizures are seizures that affect one specific area of the brain. This can lead to uncontrollable movements of the head and face, as well as disorientation.
One of the easiest ways to determine if your dog is having a focal seizure is to call their name. If your dog doesn’t reliably respond to their name, offer them their favorite treat, grab the leash, or jingle your car keys. Use a trigger they reliably and consistently respond to.
If you can redirect their attention and their behavior stops, it isn’t indicative of a focal seizure. Dogs having focal seizures cannot cease the behavior at will. If your dog doesn’t easily stop licking the air, you should treat the situation like a seizure. Call an emergency vet immediately. Don’t attempt to put anything in your dog’s mouth or make them stop. Follow the instructions provided by the emergency vet.
Always Prioritize Your Dog’s Health
If you believe your dog may be having a seizure, the situation should always be treated as an emergency. If you think there’s a possibility your dog may be choking or could possibly choke as a result of a foreign body in their mouth or throat, you should also treat the situation as an emergency. Most other instances of licking the air are normal canine behavior.
You should always trust your gut as a dog parent. If something doesn’t look right about a situation, call an emergency vet and give them as much information as possible. If they believe it’s a good idea to bring your dog in, bring them in. Even if it turns out to be nothing, you’ll feel relieved that you trusted your instincts.
VETCBD Hemp is here to help give you the info you need to help you be the best pet parent you can be. Check out our blog for more tips about pet safety and holistic animal wellness.
Dogs' Dazzling Sense of Smell | NOVA | PBS
Flehmen - an overview | ScienceDirect Topics
Understanding Canine Epilepsy | American Kennel Club Canine Health Foundation