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Posted on Wed, Jul 24, 2013 : 6 a.m.

Excessive licking of surfaces by dogs may not be a behavioral problem, but a clue to something more

By Lorrie Shaw


Flickr photo by greencolander

What was once thought to be strictly a compulsive disorder in dogs could very well be easily explained, and the problem quickly resolved.

Excessive licking of surfaces , or ELS, is something that I hear families mention when I’m meeting their pet for the first time, as I inquire if there are any health issues or behaviors that I ought to be aware of.

Dogs who engage in ELS will lick the bare floor, carpeting, furniture, walls — just about anything.

Often thought of as a behavioral problem, a lot of times, the behavior doesn’t meet any resolution and can potentially result in a life-threatening intestinal blockage that requires surgery in a small number of cases as hair and fibers may be ingested.

Researchers now believe that ELS could simply be a clue that something else is up.

A study published in the Journal of Veterinary Behavior details the outcome of two groups of dogs — 19 presenting with ELS and 10 healthy canines as the control group.

Researchers focused first on evaluating the dogs from a behavioral, physical, and neurological standpoint. Then tests were performed on their gastrointestinal (GI) systems, and based on any abnormalities that were discovered, those were treated accordingly.

This is where it gets interesting: GI disorders were found in 14 of the 19 dogs, and ranged from giardiasis, eosinophilic and/or lymphoplasmacytic infiltration of the GI tract, delayed gastric emptying and chronic pancreatitis.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome was also discovered in some of the pets.

Ten of the 17 dogs saw significant reduction in their presentation of ELS, and in over half of 17 of the dogs, ELS was eventually resolved completely.

Ahh, if only dogs could talk, right? Most of the time, pets exhibit what we think are ‘behaviors’ but are really the animal’s way of saying, “I’m not feeling well.”.

We often look to changes in their willingness to engage, to eat and their sleeping habits in order for us to help ascertain if they are feeling unwell. While those cues can be helpful, it’s a good thing for clinicians and pet owners alike to think outside the box when trying to address a vexing problem.

Click here to read more on the study.

Lorrie Shaw leads the pets section for and is owner of Professional Pet Sitting. Shoot her an email, contact her at 734-904-7279 or follow her adventures on Twitter.


Elaine McFadden

Thu, Aug 1, 2013 : 8:08 p.m.

Has anyone considered that our animals are being exposed to genetically modified organisms and pesticides in food not to mention all of the chemicals and artificial flavors in so many products. If you see the words "artificial flavor" know that is hiding another 50+ chemicals required to make that fake flavor. They don't have to tell you. There is also high risk from products originating from China. If it doesn't say where a product you will feed you dog is from, don't buy it. High arsenic and even lead in products from China. Conditions so bad where chickens are raised they have to give arsenic to keep them alive. NEVER buy chicken treats from China. Have a great interview with Dr. Al Plechner on our website and YourTube. He's been practicing for 50 years as vet. His # 1 healing tool is calcium montmorillonite minerals. Best product is Nutramin (on Amazon). For cost one container can last a year and save thousands in vet bills. He has cured animals that no one could help with these 57 IONIC minerals. For skin and other animals too. Other great advice on all kinds of things in interviews.


Tue, Jul 30, 2013 : 7:36 p.m.

my dog has blocked up his digestive track from carpet licking, and i was told he has anxiety. so he is kenneled any time i leave the house. i also know he has acid reflux. he's on 1/4 of a pepcid ac every day. i've noticed a dramatic improvement -- he throws up a lot less. this article says "Significant improvement in both frequency and duration of the basal ELS behavior was observed in 10 of 17 dogs (59%). Resolution of ELS occurred in 9 of 17 dogs (53%)." BUT HOW??????????? i'd love a resolution! maybe then my dog wouldn't have to be kenneled all day!!

Lorrie Shaw

Tue, Jul 30, 2013 : 10:26 p.m.

cre8iveenergy: First, I'm so sorry that your pet is going through that. I know that must be difficult on you as well. It can be *very* frustrating. Acid reflux could only be part of the problem. Sure, the Pepcid will help with the reflux, but there may be something more going on and obviously the meds are not resolving it. With a number of dogs, it is a behavioral issue, yes. But anytime there is an issue going on behaviorally, a pet should be medically evaluated. As I noted in the piece, things like giardiasis, eosinophilic and/or lymphoplasmacytic infiltration of the GI tract, delayed gastric emptying, chronic pancreatitis and other GI problems can be the culprit. Has your dog been tested for a GI disorder or infection? Some breeds are more prone to some GI problems than others, as well. I would suggest meeting with your vet and discuss the avenue of having some GI tests scheduled if this has not been done already. If you are not happy with your veterinarian's course of action, I suggest getting a second opinion to have your pet evaluated for a possible GI problem that has not been brought to light yet. I hope that this helps!

Jana Rade

Tue, Jul 30, 2013 : 2:29 a.m.

It always made sense to me that it would be something like that. I think too many things get written off as behavior problems, while indeed they are physiological. After all, much of behavior has physiological roots.

Lorrie Shaw

Tue, Jul 30, 2013 : 10:27 p.m.

Thinking outside the box helps, Jana. Thanks for taking the time to comment. :)


Wed, Jul 24, 2013 : 7:43 p.m.

Thanks for this, Lorrie. I've heard of this behavior before, but had no idea what caused it.

Lorrie Shaw

Tue, Jul 30, 2013 : 10:27 p.m.

It is complex, Julie -- and frustrating. Thanks for chiming in!