Lick, lick, lick, lick, lick, lick, lick, lick, lick, lick, lick, lick, lick, lick...
February 28, 2007 2:19 PM   Subscribe

How do we keep our dog from obsessively licking the floor?

I have looked online for answers, and our vet seems puzzled as well. Anyway, the dog is a 4-5 year-old beagle mix. He's very friendly, loves walks, loves lazing around with us on the couch, etc. Last January he had a couple of siezures which led to him going on the anti-siezure medication phenabarbatol. That stopped the siezures, but after that, the licking began.

The vet seems to think this may be connected, that there's some sort of short-circuit in the dog's brain that makes him do this. He licks our wood floors and the marble floors in the bathroom. He hasn't done this at any other houses, like my mom's or my in-laws. He does this constantly when we are getting ready in the morning, sitting to eat breakfast, and sometimes when we're at home at night and settled in (it's not like he senses we're leaving and gets nervous.) He can do it for an hour at a time or so, or maybe it just seems this long to us.

He gets two 20-30 minute walks a day and is home alone from about 9 to 4. He doesn't destroy anything in the house while we're gone, but may tip over the occasional trash can. He gets lots of attention and love when we're home.

I'm not sure if spraying bitter Apple spray or something like that on the floors is necessarily the solution, (that's a lot of spray for a lot of floor) and when we tell him to stop, he just acknowledges us with a tail wag and keeps on licking.

posted by printchick to Pets & Animals (15 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
We solved an obsessive self-licking problem with our dog by keeping him supplied with lots of fresh rawhide bones and chew toys. Before that he had been licking at areas of skin on his legs and feet until they bled. Now he just chews the bones and toys.
posted by bonheur at 2:36 PM on February 28, 2007

I saw this recently on a tv vet program (so I can't vouch for it).

The vet got the owners to make up a big block of ice (in an ice cream container or something) which they were supposed to give to the dog to lick in place of the floor. I don't know if it was successful or not though.
posted by sarahw at 2:54 PM on February 28, 2007

As you probably know dogs will eat grass and dirt sometimes to suppliment thier diet, usually when they're not feeling well. Is he eating any dirt/grass while walking?

This may sound silly, but he's probably expecting dirt when he's licking the floor. I'd offer him a little bowl of mineral water whenever he starts licking.
posted by snsranch at 2:54 PM on February 28, 2007

If it makes you feel any better, my 12-13-year-old basenji mix has done this all his life to no ill effect. He especially enjoys the really dusty parts, like the corners of our wood floors and furnace floor vents.

I've discussed it with vets over the years, and most have suggested a vitamin deficiency or anxiety. But he gets pretty much the highest quality food available, plus occasional human food leftovers, plenty of hikes and exercise, and it doesn't seem to make a difference.

He also eats grass sometimes, then throws it up, then eats that. yum.

Our other dog had a self-licking problem, like bonheur's, and about a month of The Cone solved that forever.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 2:59 PM on February 28, 2007

My cat likes plastic.

She licks plastic bags, but especially likes foot soak tubs (empty) and the small space heater (not when it's on, fortunately!).

I've just thought that she's weird - never suspected any foul play.

She's never had any health problems, and is about 1.5 years old.
posted by puddleglum at 3:10 PM on February 28, 2007

I know a very sweet, very overweight beagle who loves eating more than anything and often licks the floor. She has the best food/mineral water, and can run free in a forest full of things to supplement her diet if she detected any deficiencies. She trails us around the kitchen when we're cooking and hoovers up every last dropped crumb. I always assumed the floor licking was a desperate search for a snack. So, maybe he's hungry.
posted by defreckled at 3:22 PM on February 28, 2007

puddleglum, my cat licks plastic bags too (has done for 10 years). Also chews on Kleenex, which renders them nasty and unusable. Never shown any ill effects from the above.

printchick, does the dog seem upset or stressed by the licking, or does he seem to enjoy it? I would worry a lot more if he seemed to be doing it out of compulsion than if he seemed to have found a new enjoyable hobby.
posted by katemonster at 3:46 PM on February 28, 2007

Dogs can get obsessive-compulsive disorder, and there is medication which works very well for it, compulsive licking, "fly-snapping", shadow chasing, etc. can all be obsessive-compulsive behaviours in dogs. I would ask your vet to refer you to a canine behaviour specialist, or find one yourself. At very least, a behaviourist should be able to tell you if this is OCD or not, and suggest some possible ways to manage it.

I commend your goal to find a solution rather than a band-aid. I like the idea of supplying him with lots of enticing chew toys (I don't feed rawhide, because it can cause GI problems, but bully sticks are very appealing to dogs and are more digestible, stuffed Kongs are also good), I also find the idea of an ice block intriguing - especially if you froze chicken stock or something like that, your dog might get the same anxiety relief (or whatever it is - even if he doesn't seem anxious, this could be an anxiety disorder) that he's getting from licking the floor, but be licking something more appropriate.
posted by biscotti at 3:59 PM on February 28, 2007

Seconding biscotti's suggestion on looking into doggy-OCD and medications, if needed; they can be quite helpful when other approaches have failed. I've never had to use them on any of my pack, but meds were the only thing that helped break the cycle for a friend's dog with separation anxiety. (And it's not necessarily a lifetime prescription -- my friend was able to wean her dog off the meds after several months, without a return to the behavioral problems; the time off via the drugs was somehow enough to break the habit.)

As for the ice-block and long-lasting-chew suggestions, frozen stuffed Kong toys might be worth trying. (Just remember that if you're using lots of actual treats, broth, etc., you may need to cut back on the regular meals a little bit to keep the pup from getting pudgy.
posted by Smilla's Sense of Snark at 4:13 PM on February 28, 2007

Just a data point for you, our shar-pei is on phenobarb too and licks our carpets all the time. He's a rescue and has been on his anti-seizure meds since before we had him, so I don't know if he was doing this before.
posted by revgeorge at 4:33 PM on February 28, 2007

Wow. I always thought it was just us, but my chihuahua, Chalupa, does this all the time, we're always begging "Lulu quit cleaning the floors they're plenty shiny already". But I think she's just trying to get at all the spilled beer...

She's not doing this so much since we got a coffee table, and another dog.

Since it sounds like neither of those solutions will work for you, what about blocking your dog's access to some rooms (keep bathroom door closed) making it more feasible to use a non-poisonous but nasty tasting light spray you can jsut give the other floors a quick coat with? Incidentally, Lulu's fetish is also for the hardwood floors so I'm wondering if maybe there's something in floor varnish that a dog finds yummy.
posted by bunnycup at 4:42 PM on February 28, 2007

Our 9 year old does it too. He was also on Phenobarb for a good 6 years before we took him off last year. We haven't seen him have seizures since, so we're thinking it was something to do with the food we were feeding him.

That said, we usually distract him when we catch him doing it by giving him a treat or something. Doesn't seem to really stop it for good, but it helps in the short term.
posted by arishaun at 5:59 PM on February 28, 2007

I asked this question a few months back and the consensus appears to be the some dogs are just OCD. Ours did it for a long time after we moved into a new house and recently has cut back. I assume that she had anxiety related to the move, expressed it through her compulsive carpet licking and now is comfortable.
posted by cyphill at 6:34 PM on February 28, 2007

Original poster here--to answer people's questions, he occasionally eats grass when we're out for a walk, but never throws it up or anything. He can probably use an upgrade in dog food, so I'll probably try that when it's time to buy another big bag (which is soon.) He's always hungry--snarfs up his breakfast and dinner, snarfs up every last morsel that may have flown out of the bowl due to the initial snarfing, and is always hanging around to lick up crumbs when I eat or cook. He's a little overweight, so he doesn't need any more food. I'm not sure if he seems stressed by it or enjoys it -- he does it in the morning when he knows we're leaving, and he did it tonight when we were meeting with our Edward Jones guy and not paying attention to him (he licked, licked licked right at our feet, and it was annoying) but he also does it sometimes when he knows we're in for the evening. But not all the time. He gets a Kong before I leave for the day, but I like the idea of the frozen Kongs--not sure how the bucket of frozen chicken broth would go over, because he would probably stand there and lick that until it was gone every night, and then I'd be buying a ton of chicken broth and freezing it. The wood floors go all throughout the main part of the house, so shutting him out doesn't work (except when we shut him in our carpeted bedroom when we're getting ready in the morning--he can't get to the bathroom floors, and he can't get to the wood floors in the hall). We talked about anti-anxiety meds with the vet, but I can't exactly remember what he said--either they are super-expensive or he didn't think they would help.

Glad I'm not alone here! I hope this post helps other folks. Maybe we can form a support group or something. Keep the ideas coming...
posted by printchick at 7:20 PM on February 28, 2007

Vets are not behaviourists (or nutritionists, or anything else other than a medical/surgical doctor for your dog, the training they get in things like behaviour and nutrition is very superficial), unless they are specifically trained as such - I still think you should consult with an actual canine behaviourist.
posted by biscotti at 8:27 PM on February 28, 2007

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