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It seems that dogs missed the memo that it’s impolite to lick their butts when people are watching. When owners see their dog’s tongue going, well, back there, it can be cringeworthy for people. But this behavior is completely normal for dogs, and they don’t feel any shame about it. Is there a purpose to it?
Why Do Dogs Lick Their Butts?
It’s actually very natural for dogs to lick their butts. “Dogs licking their anus is a normal behavior and part of their regular grooming process,” says Dr. Jerry Klein, Chief Veterinary Officer for the American Kennel Club. Dr. Klein says that dogs lick their hindquarters and other parts of their bodies to remove dirt, discharge, or debris. Dog saliva contains enzymes that wipe out bacteria, so spreading the slobber removes dead tissues and helps canines clean their wounds or irritations – even on their rear ends.
So it’s normal for your dog to lick their butts, but how much licking is normal behavior? Is a few times a day okay? What if your dog is continually licking their butt throughout the day? Although a quick tongue flick isn’t an issue, the action varies for each dog, and a longer encounter may spell trouble.
What if Your Dog is Constantly Licking Their Butt?
If you’re noticing that your dog is licking their hindquarters more than usual, it could be due to irritation or pain. It could also be boredom, but more likely if it’s more than usual, it’s a medical issue.
“Often, if a dog is licking its anal area, it could signal inflammation or a medical issue,” says Dr. Mary Burch, Ph.D., a certified applied animal behaviorist, and the Director of the AKC Family Dog Program.
All dogs lick their butts, whether you’re watching or not, but excessive licking of their private parts could be a sign that something’s wrong. Check if the area is free from debris, feces, and hair mats.
“It should not be continuous or obsessive.” Dr. Klein says. “Excessive licking can indicate or cause inflammation or a medical issue, such as dermatitis, laceration, infection, anal sac impaction, or a growth.”
Possible Causes for Your Dog’s Excessive Licking
Dogs lick at the area to relieve discomfort and “clean” areas with their saliva. If they’re doing it more than usual, It might be the cause of a larger issue. Dogs can typically express their anal glands themselves, but if they can’t, it can mean that the smelly fluid inside is built up to the point of discomfort. Aside from the anal glands, anal licking can also be caused from issues in and around your dog’s butt. Some of the most common causes of excessive anal licking in dogs include:
Bacterial Infection: While healthy anal glands naturally fill with fluid and expel with defecation, bacterial infection can set in and clog these sacs. This can feel uncomfortable and painful, so dogs can often lick at the area to relieve their discomfort. Your veterinarian can express the glands and treat any infection. If left untreated, impacted anal glands can rupture and require surgical removal.
Canine Allergies: Your dog can be allergic to things in the same way you can. If they’re allergic to something and they sit on it, it can cause discomfort. “Canine allergies, similar to the health issues people experience, whether from food or the environment, can cause dogs to excessively lick their hindquarters,” says Dr. Jamie Whittenburg, DVM, director of Kingsgate Animal Hospital in Lubbock, Texas. “Identifying the allergy, removing it if possible, and administering allergy medications and shampoos will help control the licking.”
Urinary Tract Infections: Urinary tract infections, allergies, and parasites can also cause your dog to lick their rear end and require a visit to the veterinarian. The most common cause of urinary tract infections in dogs is bacteria getting into the urethral opening, which is where urine comes out. This bacteria can also develop when feces or debris enter the urethral opening.
Parasites: External parasites, such as fleas, ticks, and mites, and internal parasites, such as tapeworms, will cause dogs to scoot their rear ends along the floor or lick the area under the tail. Fleas can make dogs itchy, especially if they are allergic to them. “Fleas love to congregate near the base of the dog’s tail,” Dr. Wittenburg says. “Effective flea control on the dog and the environment will help eradicate the problem.”
Canine Cancer: Canine cancer threatens dogs’ lives in many ways, but tumors in and around the anus pose another reason dogs are obsessed with licking the area. “Depending on the type, size, and stage of tumorous cancer, chemotherapy, immunomodulation, and radiation will be necessary to alleviate the problem licking,” Dr. Wittenburg says.
What to Do If Your Dog Keeps Licking Their Butt
Some of these issues can be solved at home by cleaning the rear with canine shampoo and water or brushing the dog thoroughly. If they still continue after you try this, and you can’t identify the issue yourself, it’s time to see the vet, especially if your dog’s rear is red and inflamed and shows no signs of healing on its own or after cleaning or brushing.
“To remove these irritations, do not apply diaper rash cream, as many of these over-the-counter ointments may contain zinc, petroleum, cod liver oil, or lanolin,” says Dr. Whittenburg. Licking and swallowing too much human diaper rash cream can cause intestinal upset or toxicity. These may work great for people, but they’re not meant for dogs.
“Never give any over-the-counter medications to your dog without your veterinarian’s approval,” Dr. Whittenburg says. “Many of these drugs are toxic to dogs, and others, if given, may make it impossible for your veterinarian to treat your dog due to drug interaction issues appropriately.”
Your vet will be able to better identify the cause of excessive licking. They may need to run different test depending on your dog’s symptoms, and provide proper treatment. Unless your dog is licking their butt more than usual, it’s totally normal and part of your dog’s self-grooming routine. Keep an eye on them and consult your veterinarian if you have any concerns.