My Dog Keeps Smacking His Lips

Food is one of the most powerful motivators of dogs. When they smack their lips, we assume that it is simply a sign of hunger or anticipation of food. But when a dog is continually smacking his lips - unrelated to food, the smell of food, or even the thought of food - it is obviously the sign of something else. To find out what that something else is, examine your dog and ask a few questions, and you may be able to solve the problem.

What to Look For

Your first step should be to put on a pair of rubber exam gloves and perform a thorough oral exam using the technique described in “My Dog Is Drooling Excessively”. Follow your oral exam with an assessment of your dog's recent dietary, urine, and bowel history.

Also check your dog for signs of dehydration. Grasp a handful of skin at the scruff of your dog's neck. Lift it up as far as it will stretch, then release it. A well-hydrated dog's skin will snap briskly back into place, while that of a dehydrated dog will return slowly to its original position, forming a “tent” in the process. If this test seems inconclusive, inspect his gums. Wet, slippery, reflective gums are healthy. Dull, sticky gums confirm dehydration.

What to Do

Once you have answered a few questions, you should be well on your way to explaining your dog's lip smacking behavior.

  • Did your dog have any evidence of oral disease or infection?Gingivitis and oral infections are both possible reasons for lip smacking behavior. If your dog has signs of these, enlist the help of your veterinarian to get them under control and the lip smacking should end. If it doesn't, your vet may find some other reason for the behavior.
  • Does your dog have a recent history of illness? Systemic illness, especially liver and kidney disease, can cause a dog to smack his lips. Your dog's vet can make these diagnoses by doing the appropriate blood testing. You can resolve the lip smacking behavior by treating the illness that brought it on.
  • Is your dog nauseated or in pain? If your physical exam indicated that your dog is either in pain or nauseated, there is a good chance that the nausea or pain is also the reason for the lip smacking. Once again, if you can resolve the nausea and pain, you will be likely to put an end to the lip smacking.
  • Is your dog dehydrated? If you notice the “tenting” of your dog's skin, and/or if his gums are dull and tacky, you are likely dealing with dehydration. Since dehydration will often cause a dog to smack his lips repeatedly, correct the dehydration by giving fluids aggressively and you may correct the lip smacking. Simply administer fluids either orally, subcutaneously, or intravenously. The first method, orally, is one you can accomplish at home. The second method, subcutaneously, can also be accomplished at home, but you'll need to get the necessary equipment from a nurse, doctor, or veterinarian. The third method, intravenous hydration, should only be performed professionally, in a hospital setting.