Why is My Dog Licking the Air?

July 2, 2018

Body language is one way that dogs communicate what they want or how they feel. Some behaviors may seem trivial and unimportant to us, but that’s not always true. Dogs usually have a reason for doing things. If you notice your dog licking the air, he may be trying to tell you that something isn’t right. It could even be something that warrants a trip to the vet. Here are 8 reasons why your dog might lick the air.


Air licking is often a sign that your dog is feeling anxious or stressed. The challenge is to figure out what’s causing him to feel uncomfortable. Some of the things that can cause anxiety in dogs are loud noises coming from outside (e.g., thunder, fireworks, construction, motorcycles, a neighborhood gathering), a new pet in the home, guests in the home during a party, renovations, or a move into a new home.

Compulsive Disorder

Some dogs develop a repetitive behavior as a result of stress, frustration, boredom or to get attention. Behaviors that could be a sign include air licking, barking, chewing, tail chasing, spinning, light chasing, sucking on toys, staring into space, and biting at imaginary flies.

Upset Stomach/ GI Issue

Excessive licking of surfaces, including the air, can be a sign of an underlying gastrointestinal issue. It could be that your dog simply ate something that gave him an upset stomach and made him nauseated. Prior to vomiting, some dogs lick the air instead of their lips. Excessive licking of the air or other surfaces can also be a sign of more serious conditions including some types of seizures, irritable bowel syndrome, intestinal blockage, pancreatitis, esophagitis (an inflammation of the esophagus) or giardiasis (an intestinal infection caused by a parasite).


Air licking can be a subtle sign of boredom for some dogs. A bored dog left alone in the home will usually find his own entertainment, and it’s often something destructive to the personal belongs of the owner.

Picking Up a Strong Scent

Interesting pheromone molecules picked up by a dog or cat enter the Jacobson’s organ and are then transmitted to the brain. Cats generally display an opened mouth lip curl in response to certain smells. Dogs are a bit more discreet when smelling an intriguing odor, and sometimes appear to be licking the air.

Skin Issues

Dogs that have itchy skin will usually engage in excessive licking of their paws, but some dogs may turn to licking the air if they have been punished for licking their paws or other areas of their body.

Obstruction in the Mouth

Dogs love to chew on toys, sticks, balls, remote controls, furniture and anything else they can wrap their teeth around. It’s not uncommon for them to get something caught in their mouth or teeth. Licking the air can be a sign that you should check your pet’s mouth to make sure there isn’t an obstruction. He may also be licking the air if he has a loose tooth or other dental issues that are causing him pain.

Canine Cognitive Dysfunction

As dogs age they can develop canine cognitive dysfunction, which is similar to Alzheimer’s in humans. Repetitive behaviors like air licking are signs to watch for. Canine cognitive dysfunction can be managed with medications, and it’s also important to feed him a healthy dog food such as CANIDAE, to play with him regularly and continue taking him for walks.

Do Cats Lick the Air, Too?

Some cats do have a habit of licking the air or themselves when they are petted. This could be an indication that your kitty is dealing with itchy skin caused by allergies or fleas. Feline hyperesthesia syndrome is a disease that causes the skin to be extremely sensitive to touch and a cat may lick the air, bite or scratch the person petting them because it’s painful or makes them feel uncomfortable.

If you see your dog or cat licking the air now and then, that doesn’t necessarily mean something is wrong. But if you notice your pet licking the air all the time, schedule a vet checkup to determine if there’s an underlying medical reason.

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