Some dogs lick surfaces with more frequency or intensity than is required for exploration. This behavior is called excessive licking of surfaces (ELS), thought to be the consequence of several conditions. This prospective study characterized ELS behavior in dogs and examined whether underlying GI pathology may have been the cause of the ELS behavior as opposed to a primary behavioral problem. Seventeen ELS dogs participated in the study and 10 healthy dogs were controls. Behavioral, physical, and neurological examinations were performed before a complete evaluation of the GI system that included laboratory testing, ultrasonography, endoscopy, and histopathologic evaluation of GI tissue samples. Behavior was also evaluated with a questionnaire. Fourteen ELS dogs were diagnosed with GI disease, and specific treatment was recommended accordingly. If no specific disorder was diagnosed, a nonspecific treatment was recommended (eg, elimination diet, antacid, antiemetic). Response to treatment was evaluated at 30, 60, and 90 days after onset. Licking behavior was also recorded during this period. Significant improvement in frequency and duration of the ELS behavior was observed in 10/17 dogs; resolution occurred in 9/17 dogs. Based on this study, dogs with ELS should be evaluated for GI disorders.

How pets feel physically and how they act are often directly related; for example, a dog that may be in pain may have a lower threshold for aggression. Pets presented with behavior issues need a thorough physical examination and baseline laboratory work to rule out medical issues before addressing behavior. With the information provided in this report, I will be more inclined to offer my ELS patients the “GI extravaganza” as part of their examination.—Sandra Sawchuk, DVM, MS

Gastrointestinal disorders in dogs with excessive licking of surfaces. Bécuwe-Bonnet V, Bélanger MC, Frank D, et al. J VET BEHAV 7:194-204, 2012.