Why do dogs lick their butts? 4 reasons and how to stop it

Dog licking their butt
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Why do dogs lick their butts? It's one of the most popular questions amongst those of us who are parents to a canine companion, not just because we're curious to know what causes this strange phenomenon but also because, let's be honest, it kind of grosses us out! 

When it comes to the reasons your dog is obsessed with their rear end, you might be surprised to learn that there are a number of causes that could be driving their licking behavior. While your pup could simply be undertaking their daily grooming routine, it's worth being aware of other factors that may require your attention.

For some dogs, licking their butt is a way of seeking relief from anal gland issues or the itchiness that could be being caused by a flea infestation or skin infection. Other dogs may get an itchy rear end if they're allergic to something they're consuming, in which case trialling them on one of the best dog food for allergies may help to put an end to the behavior.

To help you figure out whether your dog's butt-licking is a cause for concern, we've gone into detail below about the four most common reasons your canine companion may be spending so much time with their head between their legs. Plus, we share our top tips on how you can help get your pup back to their happy and healthy self. 

Why do dogs lick their butts?

While dogs will think nothing of licking their butt in order to groom themselves, excessive licking goes beyond simple cleanliness, so if you spot it, you'll want to take note, as it's most likely the result of a health problem that needs addressing.

Irritation and inflammation are the main reasons why your dog will take to compulsively licking their rear end and both of these causes will require a trip to your vet who will be able to diagnose the exact problem and suggest a cause of treatment.

To help you ascertain what might be causing the irritation or inflammation that is causing your dog to lick excessively, here are the four most common reasons to be on the lookout for: 

1. Anal gland issues

If your dog is licking its butt incessantly, they could be dealing with an anal gland issue. While we outline exactly why your dog smells like fish, and explain anal sac disease in another piece, you should definitely consider this as a possible reason for your dog's yucky behavior. 

In case you didn't know, your pup has anal glands (also known as scent glands) on either side of their rectum. The purpose of these glands is to produce a very strong odor that your dog expresses as fluid in very small amounts to mark their territory.

The usual process is that these glands empty themselves when they become full during your dog's bowel movements, but occasionally they can stop functioning the way they should and become clogged with excess fluid. When this happens, your dog may lick or bite at their butt to try and find relief. 

If you notice your dog's licking is accompanied by them scooting their butt across the floor, this is a tell-tale sign that they're trying to express their anal glands on their own. Unfortunately, licking can often lead to an anal gland infection due to the bacteria in your dog's mouth, so it's important you get your dog to the vet so they can receive the appropriate treatment. 

2. Parasites and worms 

Your dog could be licking their rear because of a parasite problem. Hookworm and roundworm are common intestinal parasites that can be passed from an infected dog to your dog via feces. If your dog accidentally ingests feces or licks their feet after stepping in it, they could get either hookworm or roundworm. 

Tapeworm is also a possibility, though it's not as common as your dog would have to ingest a tapeworm-infected flea while grooming. If you regularly treat your pup with one of the best flea treatments for dogs, tapeworm is less likely to the the culprit. 

One of the common problems associated with parasites and worms is that they can cause loose stools and diarrhea, both of which can not only prevent the anal glands from expressing properly but can also cause irritation around your dog's anus itself - hence the licking. 

Your vet will need to do a fecal test to determine if your dog does indeed have parasites and/or worms and if the test comes back positive, they'll be able to advise you on the best course of action. 

Portrait of British Bulldog, tongue sticking out

(Image credit: Getty Images)

3. Allergies

Your dog may be licking its butt because of an allergy. Generally, there are two types of allergies that dogs are most susceptible too: those triggered by something in their environment and those that are caused by certain ingredients in the food they're consuming.

Environmental allergies can be caused by pollen during the spring and summer as well as things like mold that your pup may be coming into contact with around the home. Food allergies occur when your dog responds negatively to a certain ingredient in their diet. Common triggers include chicken, beef, eggs, gluten and soy.

If your dog is having a reaction to something, their skin can get red, dry, itchy, and inflamed pretty much anywhere on their body - including the skin around their anus. You may also notice other symptoms, such as watery eyes, a runny nose or chronic ear infections. 

4. Skin infections

When it comes to butt-licking, skin infections are another possible cause. Your dog could have a bacterial or fungal infection in the skin around its rectum, either from an open wound that got infected or because of long-term exposure to feces (basically if poop stays by their butt for too long). 

If you notice swollen or red skin and see your dog trying to chew or lick their anus, there may be a skin infection involved. You'll want to take your dog to the vet to get a proper diagnosis and treatment plan as there are two types of skin infections - primary and secondary, the latter of which may be being caused by another issue, such as parasites or allergies.

Vet feeling a dogs stomach

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How do I stop my dog licking their butt?

The first thing you want to do if you notice that your pup has begun to lick their butt excessively is to schedule an appointment with your vet. They'll be able to conduct any tests that they deem necessary, and, depending on the result, formulate an appropriate treatment plan. 

If the issue ends up being related to the anal glands and they're full, your vet will be able to express these to help your dog feel more comfortable again and they may also prescribe antibiotics if all that licking has led to a skin infection. 

A stool check will quickly be able to determine whether any parasites are present and the good news is, they're easy to treat with a dewormer. Once again though, antibiotics may be required if the excessive licking has resulted in an infection.

Blood tests are available for food and environmental allergies, but food allergies can be quite tricky to diagnose at times as the blood test results for these aren't always accurate. If your vet suspects a food allergy, they'll likely recommend a prescription diet to see if that addresses the problem.

If all of these are ruled out, you may have to consider that this is a behavioral problem. Consult a behaviorist or dog trainer to help figure out how to work with your dog to fix this behavior. 

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