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What is Licking Air?

If you notice your dog licking the air or biting at imaginary flying insects it could just be a bad habit they have developed, but it could be something more serious. Some dogs also lick the floor or furniture or lick their bowls obsessively even when there is no longer a single crumb left inside. Licking the air can also indicate hunger but if it becomes excessive then it may be a sign of a compulsive disorder or even an underlying medical condition. Your pet may have a sore tooth causing discomfort or he may be experiencing gastrointestinal problems. Liver disease can sometimes cause this behavior, as can a partial seizure. Other reasons this may be happening include environmental triggers and:

  • A foreign object in his mouth
  • A compulsive disorder
  • Suffering from anxiety
  • Boredom
  • Nausea
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Canine cognitive dysfunction

Although dogs often lick people to show affection or to investigate things in their surroundings, when it becomes more frequent than normal it is a good idea to get a thorough check-up with a vet..

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Why Licking Air Occurs in Dogs

Because licking is a typical behavior in dogs it is not always easy to diagnose whether it is a behavioral problem or indicative of an underlying medical condition. Some of the reasons include:

A Foreign Object in his Mouth

Your dog may have got something caught between his teeth, or if he has been chewing a stick it may have got caught on the roof of his mouth. Try to see if you can see or feel any foreign objects that may be causing discomfort. Also check his gums and make sure he doesn’t have any loose teeth that could be painful.

A Compulsive Disorder

Like people, dogs can also develop compulsive disorders where they display repetitive behavior. Some dogs can develop compulsive disorders because they are bored or stressed or it may be an attempt at attention seeking. 

Suffering from Anxiety

If something is upsetting your dog and making him anxious, the best bet is to find out what it is and try to eliminate it. It could be a loud neighborhood noise that is stressing him out or possibly the introduction of a new pet.


Sometimes air licking is a result of boredom so make sure your dog gets enough exercise and provide an interesting environment to stimulate him.


If a dog is feeling nauseous he will often start to lick his lips or other surfaces before vomiting. Make sure your dog hasn’t eaten something that is causing an upset stomach and also ensure the food being fed agrees with your dog. 

Inflammatory Bowel Disease

Licking the air can indicate some kind of gastrointestinal problem. The obsession with licking things is also called "excessive licking of surfaces," or ELS. A Canadian study which tested 19 dogs with ELS found that 14 of the 19 dogs had gastrointestinal diseases ranging from irritable bowel syndrome and chronic pancreatitis to gastric foreign bodies and giardiasis.

Canine Cognitive Dysfunction

If your dog is elderly he can develop canine cognitive dysfunction which is a bit like Alzheimer's in humans. It can result in the onset of air licking and other repetitive behaviors. While it can’t be stopped it can usually be managed with medication and diet and it remains important to play with your pet and take him for walks every day.

What to do if your Dog is Licking Air

If you notice that your dog is licking the air excessively then it is best to seek veterinary treatment because it could very well be caused by an underlying medical condition. A vet can do a thorough exam to get to the bottom of the likely cause and eliminate others. It’s best not to wait too long especially if it something like a partial seizure or a gastrointestinal disease needing medication. 

It is best to give your vet a thorough picture of how your pet has been behaving and if possible, capture the activity on video. Alternatively, provide a detailed description of what your pet has been doing, including when and how often, and if there have been any changes in the household.

If your dog is medically fit, the vet may treat him for a compulsive or behavioral disorder. Medication may be prescribed or a vet might suggest consulting a behaviorist to help manage the problem.

If the air licking is not that severe, it may be worth trying to distract your dog. When he starts to lick try to distract him with a ball or a toy. Or take him for a romp in the garden.

Prevention of Licking Air

There could be a number of reasons why your dog is licking the air and there are a few things you can do to prevent it.

  • If your dog starts to lick the air after going on to a new diet, make sure he isn’t allergic to it
  • If he has been chewing sticks make sure there is nothing stuck in his teeth
  • Make sure your dog is not suffering from stress if a new animal has been introduced to the household
  • Ensure there are enough toys and chewies to keep your dog interested and stimulated
  • Make sure your dog gets enough exercise so he doesn’t get bored
  • Feed your dog good quality veterinary approved food and make sure there is always fresh water
  • Make sure vaccinations are up to date

Cost of Licking Air

The cost of treating your dog for air licking will depend on the reason causing it and whether there are any underlying medical conditions. If your dog has lost or dislocated a tooth it will set you back around $850. Something more serious like liver disease will cost in the region of $2,500 or in the case of Inflammatory bowel disease you would be looking at about $2800.