Man and dog in the park

Living With Animals: Licking

My dad, a man of many “unique” theories, would on occasion tell me that the reason dogs lick is because they need salt. This announcement, as I recall, always came out of the blue, relevant to nothing, and ignored the fact that we did not have a dog. Since you’re not my therapist I’ll stop talking about my dad’s unusual behaviors. But I am left wondering whether he was correct.

Why do dogs lick? The salt theory does not get much support from experts, most of whom talk instead about how licking brings a dog pleasure, allows them to show affection, and can be a stress release for an anxious pooch. Licking releases pleasure-causing endorphins resulting in a sense of comfort or self-soothing. Since pleasure is not only pleasurable but can become addictive, dogs can become compulsive lickers, looking for the high that results from that hormone release. Such addicted dogs can lick themselves raw, creating those red, inflamed “hot spots” on their own skin.

Our little dog Lola licks her people mostly during relaxed sleepy moments, and they sure seem like kisses in every way. Our wonderful big dog Eli often soothed him and me to sleep by licking my arm. I’d wake up hours later to find his tongue glued to my arm with dried saliva. I learned to gently pry his tongue off me without waking him. Gotta say it: I love doggy licks!

What about cats? If dogs are the sloppy version of man and woman’s best friends, do the typically more genteel cats also lick? Yes! Cats are thought to lick their people for various reasons, including affection (based on the parental grooming they experienced as kittens), seeking attention (a kinder version of attracting attention than biting), cleaning you (you might not think of cat spittle as a cleaning product but don’t tell your cat), and the related cleaning up after you (assuming something tasty on your skin). 

What about dogs and cats licking each other? Among my favorite animal memories: Archie (70 pound Sheepdog-mix) and Frida (30 pound Beagle-Collie), one on each side of our red tabby Tsimmes, each licking an ear, Tsimmes sitting like a statue with an orgasmic look on his face.

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