Why Is My Dog Licking the Carpet & What to Do?

Dogs have a different way of interacting with the world, and this can lead to strange behavior, to say the least. From chasing their own tails, barking at thin air, rolling in things that should not be rolled in, and licking almost everything, these strange behaviors are usually just a part of their unique charm.

After all, dogs have a sense of smell 10,000-100,000 times better than our own, depending on the breed, so they can detect smells that we cannot possibly perceive. Their sense of taste is only around 20% as good as ours, however.

Strange behavior can sometimes be a cause for concern, though, and may point to serious underlying issues. While dogs are known to lick almost everything, if your dog has suddenly begun licking your carpet excessively out of nowhere, this may be something that you should look into.

In this article, we’ll take a look at the most common reason that your dog is licking the carpet and what you can do about it.

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Excessive Licking Syndrome (ELS)

First, you should know that this condition of excessive licking is fairly common, so vets have coined a name for this compulsive behavior: excessive licking syndrome (ELS). Dogs with this condition will excessively lick not only carpets but all manner of other surfaces too, including furniture, walls, and shoes.

Of course, your dog licking things (or themselves) here and there is perfectly normal behavior, but it’s when the behavior becomes repetitive and compulsive that there is usually an underlying problem. This excessive licking can also cause problems such as intestinal blockages and dental issues.

In a study done at the University of Montreal Veterinary Teaching Hospital, researchers studied 29 dogs, 10 of which were healthy as normal, and the other 19 had ELS.1 The results were troubling: 14 of the 19 dogs with ELS had some form of gastrointestinal disease. After being treated for stomach issues, 10 of the dogs showed a significant reduction in ELS, and nine were eventually completely cured. While this does not conclusively prove that gastrointestinal issues are the cause of ELS, this research shows that there is a good chance that your dog’s excessive licking may likely have a gastrointestinal cause, and this should be the first thing to investigate with your vet.

Dog is cleaning itself
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Boredom

No matter the breed of dog you own, they will need regular, daily exercise to stay happy and healthy. While some breeds may require upward of 2 hours a day to burn off their abundant energy, even the most docile dogs need at least 30-60 minutes a day of intensive exercise. Boredom can lead to a host of bad behaviors, including excessive barking, digging, chewing, aggression, and of course, licking. If your dog is compulsively doing any of these, exercise and interaction are the first potential cure.

The good news is that if your dog is licking the carpet out of boredom, the problem is relatively easy to fix! Simply take your dog for more walks in interesting places, interact and play with them more, and even purchase mentally stimulating toys to keep their mind working. If you are away from home frequently, you may consider taking your dog to daycare or hiring a dog walker or even getting them a friend to keep each other company. Other activities, like agility training and competitions, are great ways to burn off energy and interact with your dog too, especially high-energy pooches.

Anxiety and Stress

Separation anxiety and stress are also common causes of strange and compulsive behaviors like excessive licking. This is usually coupled with other symptoms, like decreased appetite, isolation, and even aggression. There are many potential reasons that your dog could be anxious or stressed, including moving to a new home, bringing home new pets, and of course, having separation anxiety from being left alone.

Again, regular interaction and exercise is usually the best treatment. Make sure your dog is getting daily walks and play sessions and eating a healthy and well-balanced diet. You may consider creating a safe zone in your home if you have a new pet or have moved to a new home. This could be a small corner in a room with their own blankets, basket, or crate, where they can feel safe and unbothered.

Cute puppy in trouble
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Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

While this is fairly rare in dogs, they can still suffer from different degrees of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Also referred to as canine compulsive disorder (CCD), this disorder can manifest in a variety of different ways, including tail chasing, snapping at non-existent insects and flies, air licking, and of course, carpet licking. Retrievers and herding breeds have been shown to be more predisposed to OCD, but it can occur in other breeds too. OCD can be triggered by anxiety or stress, and repeated exposure to stressful situations can lead to repetitive and compulsive behavior.

The solution to OCD can be a challenge, but the first step is to try and eliminate the source of any stress or anxiety. Ignoring the behavior is recommended, as any reprimand or scolding may serve to reward the behavior by gaining your attention. Regular exercise, specific training methods, and predictable routines will all be helpful in mitigating compulsive behavior.

Smell

Your dog may be licking the carpet excessively for the simplest of reasons: spilled food. Dogs depend heavily on their sense of taste and smell to interact with the world around them, and they’ll investigate anything and everything that may potentially taste good. You may have spilled something and cleaned it up, but according to your dog’s smell, there is still food to be had in that spot! Wherever food is involved, dogs never forget, and they’ll keep going back to the spot until there is no more taste or smell.

You could try and disguise the smell with a fragrant essential oil or even a bitter deterrent, make sure your dog cannot get to the spot by keeping them away from the area or consider steam cleaning the area to make 100% sure the smell and taste are gone.

Cute puppy sitting on carpet near wet spot
Image Credit: Africa Studio, Shutterstock

Pica

Pica is a disorder in which dogs crave and eat non-food items such as rocks, sticks, and balls, and although not usually associated with excessive licking, it may also be a potential cause of the issue. The condition is typically caused by a nutritional deficiency or a behavioral issue like OCD. If it is health-related, it is fairly easy to remedy by adding in supplements or switching up your dog’s diet. Behavioral issues may present more of a challenge. The same methods for treating boredom and anxiety need to be applied, including exercise, interaction and play, and specific training methods.

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Final Thoughts

If your dog is licking the floor every now and then, there is usually nothing to worry about, as this is fairly normal behavior — you may have dropped something on the floor that your dog cannot resist! Of course, if the behavior becomes compulsive, you may need to intervene and follow a few of the discussed methods. Lastly, if the behavior persists, we recommend a visit with the vet to address any underlying nutritional or neurological issues that may be causing the behavior.

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Featured Image Credit: Africa Studio, Shutterstock