Have you ever been snuggled up in bed, ready to close your eyes and say goodbye to another day until you hear a ‘slurp’ sound? As soon as you hear that excessive licking sound you basically say goodbye to your sweet slumber. Tiredness is quickly replaced by annoyance because your dog is once again licking himself when you’ve only just crawled into bed.
It is just like listening to nails on a chalkboard, especially when it won’t stop. This then begs the question, why do dogs lick their paws before bed?
Why Do Dogs Lick Their Paws Before Bed?
John Ciribassi, DVM, says “the likely explanation is that the dog is merely grooming himself prior to going to sleep”. He then goes on to say, “Grooming while relaxed is a common cause for the behavior.”
It is sometimes possible that the dog is licking himself throughout the day and we don’t realize because we aren’t home to notice. Perhaps it is because you only notice it at night when things are quiet and you’re trying to sleep.
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Veterinarians and behaviorists are still fairly lost when it comes to the nocturnal gnawing phenomenon. They are yet to understand why dogs choose the time right before sleep to lick themselves. However, there are many theories.
One particular theory states that they choose to do it simply because it is annoying to you. Dogs choosing to lick themselves before sleeping can be a behavior that dogs associate with attention, even if it is negative. The reaction you give to them for licking their paws could actually reinforce their behavior.
On top of that, self-licking for attention can sometimes occur due to misunderstandings. For example, if your dog has licked your face and you’ve praised them, they could associate a reward with all forms of licking. Other professionals also say that separation anxiety could be a major cause of paw licking.
If you and your dog sleep apart, the physical separation from one another could be a trigger for licking. Often, licking is used as a stress reliever. However, this could be more deeply rooted than you think.
Some theorize that separation anxiety comes from some form of maternal separation. This is a common belief as mothers lick their pups to groom them, show affection, and stimulate bodily functions. Self-licking can often mimic maternal care.
Licking has also been shown to release chemicals called endorphins that bring calm and comfort to your pup. So, you shouldn’t always worry straight away.
A Little Bit of Luxury
Sometimes, your dog could be licking themselves simply to enjoy a pause at the end of the day. It is normal for them to sit down, relax, and enjoy some pampering. After all, who doesn’t love a spa day?
You should always look out for excessive licking as it could be a medical or behavioral issue. Dr. Ciribassi says, “licking can have many causes. Medically, skin disease, especially atopy [immune response to allergens], is at the top of the list.”
Fleas, mites, hormonal imbalances, and dry skin can cause itchiness for your canine companion. Dr. Ciribassi goes on to say, “Compulsive disorders often related to anxiety can cause excessive licking.”
Speak to A Professional
Don’t let your sleep cycle meet a detrimental end. Instead, you should have your dog examined and evaluated by a veterinarian. If your dog is consistently seeing the vet, then you may need to speak to a behaviorist who is comfortable dealing with behavioral issues.
There are many tools available to help self-licking. These solutions range from enriching your dog’s life to soothing shampoos. Other options include taste-deterrent topical sprays, creams, pheromone therapies, calming supplements, calming methods, security vets, soft collars, and even anti-anxiety medication.
Licking, in moderation, can be absolutely fine. In fact, it can even be food for your dog. Saliva aids in the healing of wounds.
On top of that, who doesn’t love a pup with good hygiene?
Signs of Trouble
There are some things you will need to keep an eye on that can indicate trouble:
- Hot spots (inflamed skin)
- Granulomas (skin lesions)
- Excessive licking
- Loss of appetite
- Licking that comes on suddenly
- Hair loss
The Do’s and Don’ts of Dog Licking
- Brush your pup before bed
- Check your pup’s paws before bed
- Keep your dog active
- Encourage your dog to drink water before bed
- Stay on a regular sleeping schedule
- Maintain a calm environment
- Check your dog’s bedding for irritants such as burrs or fleas
- Ask your veterinarian to identify any allergies your dog may have
- Wash your dog’s bedding often
- Pay attention to where your dog licks
- Provide a safe toy for your dog at bedtime
- Practice patience when your dog licks
- Engage in play immediately before bedtime
- Feed your dog right before bed
- Let your dog out just before bed
- Change your sleeping schedule often
- Yell at your dog to stop
- Let your dog’s bedding stay dirty
The Bottom Line
There are many reasons that a dog may lick themselves before they go to bed. It is natural, for the most part. As long as your dog is not excessively licking its paws or its body, it should be fine.
Sometimes, your dog could just be replicating the sensation of being stroked because you’re no longer stroking them. Your dog could simply be missing you if you have left the house or have gone to bed. If you are worried about your dog, it is best to speak to a vet about the issues you’re having.