Your dog’s at it again- for the third time today, already.
It’s got you all sorts of worried. After all, when a dog won’t stop licking the floor and coughing no matter what solution is attempted, it’s bound to make any loving owner mightily concerned.
What’s even more heartbreaking is just how uncomfortable your dog looks.
Thankfully, there are relatively straightforward explanations for this puzzling phenomenon. Five possible reasons that can induce a dog to lick the floor include:
- Appetizing food that might have spilled onto the floor (simple, yes- but surprisingly common)
- Neurological disorders
- Gastrointestinal disease or nutritional deficiencies
- Acid reflux; and
- Behavioral causes.
It is important to correctly identify the reason behind your dog’s actions, as only then can a suitable solution be applied. Once you know what causes your dog to lick the floor, you will have all the tools you need to prevent it from happening again in the future as well.
(Side note: I am a member of the Amazon Associates program. From time to time I like to recommend products in my posts that I feel may truly be helpful to readers and their pets. If you do end up buying something by clicking the links on my site, I may receive a tiny amount of commission from the big guys.
And if you do end up buying something- Thank you! I really appreciate your support and I’ll always do my best to put out more quality content for you 🙂 )
Every dog will lick a lot of things over the course of its life.
Bowls. Walls. Windows. Ice cream. Hands. Blue Kote.
Much of the time, the objects and substances that a dog chooses to lick will be harmless. However, if you find your dog licking the floor and gulping, or if it won’t stop coughing or panting after licking carpet, it could be due to the fiber or dust of the flooring irritating its throat.
Though the probability is low, there is a small chance that a dog might lap up harmful things that reside on the floor, such as carpet material, toxic residue or disease-causing bacteria.
While dogs that lick the floor from time to time will have a low probability of picking up these harmful entities, canines that have a frequent habit of licking the carpet or ground will suffer an increased risk to their health.
Fibers or debris can become lodged in a dog’s throat, or cause an internal blockage in the stomach. Both of these would result in reactions such as coughing, panting, or vomiting. In more severe cases, toxic microorganisms may even cause the dog to become ill.
Chemicals and tiny dust particles on the floor might also be aggravating enough to provoke allergic or asthmatic reactions in dogs that inhale them. Floor cleaners are a particular culprit here as they frequently contain ingredients that are toxic to dogs if ingested.
If you have a dog who is constantly licking the floor, you need to be particularly careful to use a pet-safe floor cleaner to avoid your dog licking up toxic ingredients.
When it comes to why a dog coughs after licking the floor, much of it can be explained by common sense. Take a second to consider the average state and cleanliness of the floors inside our homes.
Even if they are vacuumed or wiped down frequently, you’d cough, hack, spit and wheeze if you licked them too… wouldn’t you?
If you find your dog licking carpet and coughing afterwards, know that this is a somewhat normal behavior- at least if it is occasional and infrequent.
However, some dogs make such a habit out of licking floors that it becomes a significant health problem that even has a proper name attached to it: Excessive Licking Syndrome. While you may see your dog licking floors, it will probably be licking a lot of other different surfaces too.
It’s important to be able to distinguish between isolated, one-off incidents of floor-licking (normal, exploratory instinct) and repetitive, constant or obsessive licking (abnormal). This is especially the case if this behavior only suddenly emerged.
Excessive licking can be caused by factors such as existing physical illnesses, neurological disorders, or behavioral issues.
While the below sections give an overview of what might be causing this tendency in your pet, it’s still vital to consult a vet to confirm or eliminate the possible medical causes.
Remember also that the coughing after licking floors is a likely aftereffect caused by the dust, fibers, and particles inhaled- not a separate illness in itself.
Without further ado, let’s go to our first likely explanation.
1. Spilt Deliciousness
What is the principle of Occam’s Razor?
In paraphrased terms:
“The simplest explanation is the most likely one.”
It doesn’t get much easier to explain why a dog might lick the floor than if a delicious food or drink item was recently spilled on it.
Even if the spill has been cleaned up and is no longer visible to the human eye, residual scent and flavor particles can be very enticing to a dog’s keen sense of smell.
If even the tiniest hint of a new taste or smell is detected, they won’t show any hesitation in exploring it with their mouth and tongue.
So, if your dog suddenly starts to lick at one particular spot on the floor with special aplomb, take a look to see if there are little scraps, crumbs or smears of food or drink there.
If not, think back and try to remember whether you or someone else might have dropped some tasty morsel in the past.
If you do discover that the licking is scent-related, all it takes to stop the behavior then is to wipe the area clean. A vinegar and water mixture will do the trick just fine.
For owners with persistent pooches that need a little more discouragement, spraying the floor with bitter apple spray or similar will keep their tongues off the floor very effectively.
However, if you are absolutely certain that you haven’t dropped food, or if your dog’s incessant licking is not restricted to one single spot, then it’s likely that there are other factors at play that are causing your dog to act in this manner.
2. Neurological Disorders
Neurological diseases such as dementia or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) may be what is driving your dog’s sudden floor-licking habit. It is particularly likely for the root of the behavior to be obsessive, since the dog is performing the same action repeatedly.
Just like in humans affected by obsessive disorders, a dog will obsessively lick the floor if it feels comforted by engaging in the behavior. The neurotransmitters in its brain fire less frequently as it licks, rewarding the dog with feelings of reduced stress and frustration.
This feeds into an eventually debilitating cycle as the compulsive behaviour becomes worse and worse.
While licking a (clean) floor might seem harmless, it can actually be extremely disruptive to sleep and eating patterns- and to the dog’s overall quality of life.
It certainly is gut-wrenching for a dog owner to see their best friend engaging in a pointless activity in such a frenzied, mindless manner.
However, OCD in dogs can be treated, usually with medicines that control impulse and lower arousal. This can be coupled with specific behavioral training that can help to replace the negative coping behaviors with more positive ones.
Alternative medication and natural calming products may also be used, such as calming treats, pheromone collars, calming drops, and thunder shirts.
It is very important to take your dog to the vet for testing if you suspect that its licking has a neurological basis. This is because your vet will be able to rule out other possible physical or behavioral causes, and by doing so can move forward with an effective treatment plan.
3. Gastrointestinal Disease
Gastrointestinal diseases are another likely reason behind your dog’s constant floor-licking behavior.
In fact, it has been found in a 2008 study that diseases such as irritable bowel syndrome, delayed gastric emptying, chronic pancreatitis, and giardiasis have a strong connection to excessive licking syndrome.
The Canadian study also discovered that once the GI condition was properly treated either with medication or an appropriate elimination diet, 60% of the dogs showed improvement in their licking behaviors. Eventually, 90% of those actually stopped excessive licking entirely!
One theory behind the link is that when a dog has a sore, painful or otherwise uncomfortable stomach, it seeks out grass to soothe its digestive system. By seeking out large quantities of coarse, dry grass, it eventually induces itself to vomit and feels better as a result.
If they are outside, this can be done by licking or biting at the ground. However, if they are inside the home in a domestic setting, there is no grass for them to eat. Regardless, the dog will still lick at the floor or carpet as instinct takes over and they try to find something to ingest.
Therefore, if you see your dog persistently licking the floor and coughing, there is a strong chance that it has an upset stomach or other gastrointestinal disease.
It may be licking the floor in an attempt to make itself better, but instead of grass it will likely be ingesting carpet fibers or other household debris- materials which can be potentially harmful to its health.
Unfortunately, there is such a wide range of gastrointestinal diseases that the source of pain can be difficult to accurately diagnose by yourself.
If your dog is showing signs of gastrointestinal discomfort such as bloating, vomiting or diarrhea, you can try to help it to feel better by putting it on a fast for the next 12 hours. After that, feed it a bland diet of boiled lean chicken and white rice in small frequent amounts for the next few days.
However, if at any point your dog refuses food, vomits the bland diet, continues to have diarrhea, or becomes lethargic, you need to take it to the vet right away as it could be something more serious than a straightforward upset tummy.
4. Acid Reflux
Though acid reflux could rightly be considered a gastrointestinal issue, it’s such a prominent (yet unexpected) cause of continuous licking behavior that it really deserves its own section.
Acid reflux in dogs can occur due to poor digestion, low stomach acid (hypochlorhydria), food intolerances, allergies, or other bowel disorders. When repeated episodes of acid reflux take place, it is known as gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD.
GERD is when the acids and fluids of the stomach and intestines flow back up the esophagus. When they do so, it can cause damage to the lining of the esophagus, resulting in significant inflammation, pain and discomfort.
If you notice your dog constantly licking the floor and gulping or coughing, it could be because of acid reflux. Gulping and coughing episodes occur as the acid comes back up and burns and aggravates the throat.
Other common signs of acid reflux include:
- Vomiting of bile
- Vomiting of undigested food shortly after eating
- Excessive grass eating
- Constantly Hiccuping and Swallowing
- Regurgitation noises, such as gagging or burping
- Panting, especially after meals
- Pacing after meals
- Lack of appetite, especially in the AM.
The good news is that GERD in dogs is completely resolvable in most cases through medication, diet changes, and even home remedies.
Antacids such as famotidine (Pepcid-AC) can be given to provide fast-acting relief from acid reflux and heartburn by neutralizing the acid in the stomach. In the same manner, feeding your dog some plain bread during an episode can help to soak up some of the corrosive fluids.
However, these are only temporary solutions. Permanent dietary changes are necessary in order to prevent acid reflux in the future. Giving your dog low-acid, high-moisture foods spaced out in 3 or more small meals throughout the day will go a long way in reducing acid reflux issues.
You might also want to look into adding powdered slippery elm into your dog’s food, as the herb has been shown to reduce inflammation in the GI tract and to be beneficial for bowel diseases. Once the irritation in your pup’s stomach has been reduced, normal behavior should follow suit.
5. Behavioral Causes
Finally, if your dog is licking the floor non-stop, the action could be behavioral in origin.
As mentioned previously, licking is a completely normal way for dogs to explore their environment. It’s only when they can’t be stopped or distracted from licking continuously that it becomes a detrimental problem.
If all other physical and neurological issues are ruled out, it could very well be behavioral causes such as stress, anxiety, a change in environment or routine, or boredom that drive the excessive licking.
Sudden stress or anxiety brought on by recent change is a common reason for behavioral differences.
Have you recently moved house, changed jobs, or lost or added new family members? Events such as these can temporarily destabilize a dog’s usual routine and ‘place in the pack’ and result in it feeling nervous and insecure.
More of than not, it will try to cope with these new events by performing a behavior that makes it feel more comfortable- such as licking the floor.
If you think that your dog’s behavior is rooted in nervousness, you can try to make it more comfortable by stabilizing its routine and creating as safe of a space for it as possible.
Provide it with a warm and welcoming crate that it can retreat to when it’s feeling scared, and desensitize its fears by letting it know that everything is OK even if there are a few new faces or time patterns.
Boredom is unsurprisingly a big contributing factor when it comes to negative habits being built in dogs.
A dog that has excess amounts of energy which can’t be released will frequently find an outlet through problem behaviors such as digging, chewing, and licking. While troublesome, it is simple enough to solve.
Provide your dog with more exercise and mental stimulation by taking it out for daily walks, playing with it, and giving it suitable puzzle toys.
Dogs, like any other animal, don’t have an inherent sense of what is ‘good’ or ‘bad’- so it’s up to their humans to give them the right type of activities. It may be helpful to consult with a canine behavioral specialist on the best ways to curb bad behaviors and encourage good ones.
If your dog won’t stop licking the floor and coughing, it’s important to find the exact reason so you can stop this debilitating behavior from taking place. Since this can be difficult to diagnose by yourself unless the reason is blindingly obvious, it’s best to take your dog to the vet for a thorough examination.
While coughing, gulping and panting is likely caused by the fibers and other residue that is being inhaled, there can be many different causes behind a dog licking excessively.
These causes can be physical, neurological, or behavioral in nature. The most likely physical sources involve gastrointestinal disorders and acid reflux, while neurological diseases such as obsessive compulsive disorder can also induce a dog to lick the floor continuously.
Boredom, anxiety and stress can also result in a dog performing repetitive behaviors that provide a sense of regularity and comfort.
If all other medical possibilities are ruled out, you can help your dog to replace negative behaviors by providing more physical and mental stimulation every day so that its attention is constantly occupied.
Elena Gherman is a highly skilled and knowledgeable animal care expert. At the start of her career, she gained practical expertise with multiple animals. In addition to that, she works as a DVM veterinary editor for Joy Pet Products, which focuses on offering reliable information on pet health and wellbeing. She meticulously reviews each piece of writing before it is published to make sure pet owners get the most precise and updated information possible.