Dogs can be embarrassing. Especially when you have company over for dinner and they decide to lie in full view and lick their crotch. As your company averts their eyes, you can’t help but wonder why on earth your dog is doing that and if it’s normal.
Crotch licking is a perfectly natural dog behavior most of the time, but it can also be a sign of a health problem. Read on to learn more about why your dog licks their private parts and when the behavior is cause for concern.
Dogs Lick Their Crotch to Stay Clean
Although we associate fastidious grooming with cats, dogs lick themselves to stay clean too. They will lick their paws, legs, and body, so why not their crotch? They need to keep their genitals clean from dirt and discharge, and they don’t use toilet paper for their anal region, so their tongue is the way to do it.
Also, dogs don’t have any body hang-ups. They aren’t ashamed to groom their crotch regardless of who’s watching. If it needs to be cleaned, they’ll clean it. The hang-ups belong to us. Accepting your dog’s self-grooming as normal canine behavior will help put it in perspective. And if your dog chooses an inappropriate time to lick, like when your in-laws are visiting, simply redirect your pup to another activity such as performing some tricks in exchange for a treat or playing with a toy.
Reasons for Excessive Crotch Licking
Normally, your dog will only require a few licks to keep things clean in their private area — a quick groom after urinating or a loose bowel movement. Anything more might indicate a range of health issues. Some conditions that can lead to undue crotch licking include:
- Urinary tract infections. Just as they do in humans, urinary tract infections can cause discomfort and more frequent urination. The infection could be in the bladder, the upper urinary tract, or the kidneys. Treatment with antibiotics is required to clear up the bacteria responsible for the infection.
- Allergies. Food or environmental allergies can cause rashes and irritation, and your dog will feel this even more in the genital area. Licking can be an attempt to soothe the inflamed skin. Avoiding the allergen will prevent the problem, but if it can’t be avoided, medication can provide relief.
- Yeast infections. Yeast lives naturally on your dog’s skin and inside their intestinal system, but a flare-up causes an itchy yeast infection. Other parts of the body are often infected — ear infections are common — but the genital area can be infected as well. Topical and oral treatments can clear up the issue.
- Impacted anal glands. Dogs have two anal glands, one on either side of their rectum. These glands usually empty with a firm bowel movement, but can become clogged, causing swelling, pain, and infection. The glands may need to be professionally drained and antibiotics prescribed.
- Vaginitis. Both intact and spayed female dogs can suffer from inflammation of the vagina or urogenital tract, which will make the vaginal area red and swollen. Vaginitis that occurs before puberty will often clear up after the first heat cycle, otherwise treatment will depend on the cause.
Signs that Crotch Licking Is Cause for Concern
Any of the above health issues will likely lead to excess crotch licking as your dog tries to relieve the discomfort. But you won’t know what’s ailing your dog until you visit the veterinarian. In the meantime, if you think your dog is paying more attention to their crotch than normal, keep your eye out for the following signs and symptoms:
- Swelling or redness in the genital or anal area
- More frequent urination
- Scooting or rubbing the anal area on the ground
- Discharge or swelling in the genital or anal area
- Foul odor from the crotch
- Discoloration or a rash on the skin in the crotch area
Once your vet has treated the underlying condition, the extra crotch licking should stop. But if your vet gives your dog a clean bill of health and there is still a licking issue, consult a dog trainer or animal behaviorist for help breaking your dog’s embarrassing habit.