Licking, more than grooming?

Licking – when is it more than just grooming?

Licking to groom fur is a perfectly normal and healthy behaviour of pets – when done in moderation. Too much of it, however, and it may be a sign that your pet is uncomfortable. Obsessive licking or grooming of certain areas can indicate an underlying issue. Here are a few of the top culprits that can cause excess licking!


External parasites such as fleas can cause significant discomfort when they bite your pet. Even indoor pets can get fleas, who may hitch a ride in on clothes, other pets, or even potted plant soil that contains eggs. A single adult flea can lay up to 5,000 eggs in their life time, which is 30-90 days. Imagine the itch that could cause! Other external parasites like lice or mites can also be present. Luckily, all these problematic pests are easily avoided or treated with parasite prevention products.

Skin Infections

Hot Spots

More common in dogs, hot spots are also known as acute moist dermatitis. Irritation can begin due to an insect bite, a scratch, or damp fur. Licking the area causes further irritation, which in turn causes more licking. Quickly developing hair loss and red open patches of skin with intense localized itching are classic signs of hot spots. Treatment usually involves a cone (e-collar) to prevent licking the area, along with some medication to reduce the itch and prevent infection.


Pets get allergies just like people. Also like us, they are usually as a result of environmental or food triggers. Signs and symptoms of allergies can include licking the skin, including paw pads or in between toes, red and irritated skin, and recurring ear infections. Some allergies can be treated with special foods, while others may need medications in addition.

Psychogenic Factors

Stress is something that animals can experience in ways which may not be immediately obvious. It can be something as simple as rearranging furniture, separation anxiety when left alone, or as a result of a sizeable change, such as moving houses or adding a new family member. These pets seek to alleviate their stress through compulsive, habitual licking. This most often leads to hair loss on areas such as the belly, base of the tail, or front legs. Treatment usually focuses on encouraging mental well-being by understanding the root cause of the stress. Using plug-in pheromone diffusers such as Feliway (cats) or Adaptil (dogs) can make a big difference. In some cases, anti-anxiety medication may be recommended.

Next time you’re relaxing with your pet, take a moment to observe their grooming behaviour. If you have any questions or concerns, send us a message and we’d be happy to speak with you further!