Is Your Shih Tzu Licking All The Time?
There could be one of several reasons for a shih tzu licking all the time to excess. Though this reason is much more likely to be a behavioral issue rather than a serious medical one, it is better to be safe than sorry and to go through the possible medical conditions first, if only to eliminate them from the list of possible reasons. Any suspected medical conditions should be checked out by a vet as quickly as you can.
The medical conditions that may encourage excessive licking are:
- Allergies – the skin or paws or both may itch.
- Infection – bacterial, fungal or parasitic infections may all cause itching.
- Pain – pain from an injury or arthritis may cause a shih tzu to lick the affected area.
- Gastroenteritis – or GI for short, and other stomach upsets may result in the dog licking surfaces and objects.
While these are the conditions that may result in behavioral licking:
- Separation anxiety
- Stress and anxiety in the home
- Liking the taste of something
- Long term habit.
Under these behavioral conditions, the shih tzu may lick one or more of the following:
Why You Need To Prevent Excessive Licking
If your shih tzu is constantly licking himself there is the risk of red raw sore patches and thinning hair developing in the areas of skin where most of the licking occurs. This is known as lick granuloma and it leaves the affected area open to infection which, because dogs lick their wounds to release pain-numbing endorphins, then encourages even more licking, creating a vicious circle.
Speaking on behalf of all shih tzu owners, I think we all like an affectionate, loving lick, the canine version of the kiss, now and again but persistent and constant attempts to lick you at every opportunity can be overwhelming. Even if we are prepared to put up with it, our family, friends and acquaintances probably aren’t. Plus, and I speak from first hand experience here, if you have an open wound and your, albeit well-meaning, shih tzu licks it, you then run the risk of a serious infection developing.
I will now go into all of the conditions under which a shih tzu may be licking excessively to help you identify the reason why your dog is doing this and, once this reason is identified, how to remedy the situation.
Medical Conditions That May Cause Excessive Licking
As I said before, in most cases the cause of excessive licking is behavioral but sometimes it is for a medical reason. If you suspect that you shih tzu does have a medical reason for excessive licking it is important that you have the diagnosis and course of treatment confirmed by a vet. The following notes in this section are designed only to serve as a guide.
You may also like to see “Shih Tzu Common Health Problems” also posted on this website.
By far, the most common medical reason for a shih tzu licking all the time is an allergy. If you have ruled out all other possibilities it almost certainly is an allergy. Allergies can affect the skin and paws, making for an itchy and scratchy experience. Allergies can make the eyes red and watery and may also affect the ears where a reddish wax accumulates. If the wax is not cleared away with a proprietary pet ear cleaning fluid and a cotton ball it will almost certainly lead to a yeast or fungal infection that can prove painful.
A shih tzu will bite, scratch and lick the affected areas of skin leaving it damp and open to fungal infections. These fungal infections give off a musty odor and discolor the hair to a red rust color.
If you suspect that your shih tzu is suffering from an allergy, take him to your vet who can arrange a skin test to discover the exact triggers of the allergy. In particularly severe or persistent cases the vet may prescribe topical creams or lotions to treat the affected areas and antihistamines to suppress further development of the symptoms.
Preventative And Remedial Action You Can Take
Chemical additives, preservatives and colorings added to food can all be triggers, so only give your shih tzu additive-free, hypoallergenic food made with quality ingredients. It may cost a little more initially than big brand dog food but it will prove cost-effective in the savings made on vet’s bills.
If you try this and the allergy still persists, then it may be that a protein is causing the reaction. Experiment by removing one protein at a time from your dog’s diet. For example, try a lamb free diet for a spell. If it proves not to be that, re-introduce the lamb and remove another protein, say, beef. Keep on experimenting until you discover the culprit. It may even prove to be the chicken.
Take a look at “Best Dog Food For A Shih Tzu? – Find Out Here” for more feeding advice.
When grooming your shih tzu, only use hypoallergenic, pet-specific, shampoos, conditioners and sprays. If the areas of irritation have developed a fungal infection use products that also have antifungal and antibacterial properties.
Treat the sensitive areas that your dog is licking with medicated lotions and sprays that contain hydrocortisone to relieve itching and other ingredients such as aloe vera, tea tree oil or chamomile to treat the dry skin.
Also see “How To Bathe A Shih Tzu Dog For Healthy Skin And Coat” for further information on grooming products.
It can be difficult to prevent your shih tzu from licking off any topical treatment that you have administered and you may need to use an Elizabethan collar to do so. To prevent the paws from being licked you can try putting on dog socks immediately after applying the treatment. Choose a good quality set of socks that are difficult for your shih tzu to remove by himself and that have grips on the soles to prevent him from slipping.
Around the house, if you have air conditioning ensure that you have a HEPA filter fitted. Vacuum the floor regularly with a pet-friendly vacuum that also has a HEPA filter fitted. Every time you enter the home with your dog, rub him down with hypoallergenic wipes, making sure that you also clean his paws well.
Lick granuloma is not so much the initial reason why your shih tzu licks himself excessively, it’s more as a result of excessive licking for another reason that encourages even more licking. It starts as a small sore that spreads out as the shih tzu licks more and more. As the sore spreads, the skin is subject to break in places. Where the skin is broken it is subject to bacterial infection. This infection, in turn, can spread to the skin follicles and cause thinning of the hair and bald patches.
This condition, in minor cases where the skin isn’t broken, can be treated with proprietary lotions, creams and sprays. If the skin is broken and there is bleeding or pus, then there is almost certainly a bacterial infection that needs to be treated by a vet. The vet may prescribe antibiotics to treat the infection and, in the case of large skin breaks, recommend surgery.
The shih tzu breed, with its double coat of hair instead of fur, is prone to suffering from dry skin. The itching sensation caused by the dry skin results in the shih tzu licking the affected area. The licking action washes away any essential skin oils that remain, making the dry skin condition even worse.
Dry skin can be caused by weather conditions, such as the cold, dry winds of winter or too much exposure to the sun in summer. It can be caused by using shampoos and conditioners intended for humans that are too strong for a shih tzu’s skin or by using pet-friendly products but using them too often. Both scenarios result in essential hair and skin oils being flushed away. Finally, if the shih tzu rolls around a lot on dry, abrasive surfaces, this can also develop dry skin.
What You Can Do
To help to clear dry skin problems and prevent them from recurring, always, when bathing your shih tzu, use quality, pet-friendly, hypoallergenic products and, to retain essential skin and hair oils, do not bathe your shih tzu more than every four to six weeks. Keep him clean in the meantime with hypoallergenic wipes.
See “How Often Should You Bathe A Shih Tzu?’ for more on this.
Try to keep your home humidified. If you don’t have a humidifier use house plants and bowls of water strategically placed around the house to moisten the air somewhat.
Keep your shih tzu hydrated by making sure he always has access to fresh drinking water and supplement his food with a few drops of omega-3 fish oil and water-bearing additions such as blueberries and raspberries.
Urinary Tract Infection or UTI
This can become a very serious condition, especially if your shih tzu is not peeing at all when it should be treated as an emergency. If you suspect your shih tzu’s excessive licking is because or a UTI, consult your vet as soon as possible.
Although if your dog is licking around the genitals does not necessarily mean a UTI is present, it is one of the signs. Others are too much or too little urine being produced, pain when peeing and peeing “accidents”.
A shih tzu may lick if there is a hormone deficiency of the thyroid. This is another condition where, if you suspect that this is the problem, you need to contact your vet as soon as possible.
Suspect a problem with the thyroid if your shih tzu is weak, slow and lethargic with noticeable weight gain or loss. The coat will also lose its shine and there will be thinning hair and bald patches.
Injuries, visible or internal, are another possible cause of a shih tzu licking. The licking will take place at the site of the injury in an attempt to alleviate the pain.
If your dog is limping or walking awkwardly and constantly licking the same paw, then there may be a foreign object wedged between the paw pads. These foreign objects are usually easily removed.
If a dog is playing host to fleas, ticks or mites, he might not only lick the areas where he is being bitten but may also chew, gnaw at or scratch to try and free himself of his invaders.
If it is only a minor case, you may be able to treat the condition with over the counter parasiticidal skin treatments, lotions and shampoos. For more severe cases your vet can prescribe stronger medicated products. Regular application of “spot-on” type skin treatments will help prevent parasitic invasions altogether.
Behavioral Conditions That May Cause Excessive Licking
As the name suggests, separation anxiety is the stress a shih tzu may suffer when the owner is away from the home for some time leaving the dog behind, though it can also happen if the owner is there but too busy to pay any attention to the dog. Licking either himself or objects is a way of trying to soothe away the loneliness. Again, excessive self-licking will develop sore spots that will lead to even more licking.
A shih tzu can get up to all kinds of strange and sometimes destructive behavior when left alone and suffering separation anxiety but as soon as you return, apart from perhaps an over enthusiastic greeting, the unusual behavior ends. If there is no physical evidence, that is, for example, pee or poo where it shouldn’t be or damaged furnishings, you would have no idea that your shih tzu has separation anxiety. The answer is to observe unnoticed through a window if you can or install a pet cam.
My post, “Shih Tzu Separation Anxiety – How To Cope” shows ways of dealing with and preventing this problem.
Stress From An Over Busy House
This, if you like, is the exact opposite of separation anxiety in that the shih tzu is stressed out because there is too much noise and mayhem going on in the house. Again, the shih tzu may try to soothe away the stress by self-licking with the same compounded problems of sore spots developing as a result.
The answer is to create a small but adequate space for the shih tzu in a quieter part of the house. Make it into a space that he can identify as his own, what he will think of as his den. Include a warm and comfortable bed and make sure his favorite comfort toys are there. Ensure that he also has adequate water to drink. If he usually sleeps in a crate, include this in the quiet area too.
Excessive Licking Of The Owner
Your shih tzu may start off licking you as a sign of affection but then he will soon realize how much he likes the taste of the mineral salts left on your skin after any of your perspiration evaporates.
If you are not careful, this licking can become obsessive.
You can break this habit with some behavioral training that is similar to my “no bark” training in another post,
With this training I said that to stop a shih tzu from barking, you have to teach him what you mean by “bark” in the first place. It follows, then, that in order to stop your shih tzu licking you, you have to teach him what you mean by “lick” first before you can ask him to stop.
So, when your shih tzu does start licking you, say “lick” in the same voice that you would use for a command. Repeat this action for a few days every time that your shih tzu starts to lick you. By this time he should now have grasped what “lick” means.
He is now ready for the next stage. This time as he moves to lick you, move back just out of range and command “no lick”. When he doesn’t lick you on command, reward him initially using a small treat, then, as he starts to “get it”, by diverting his attention with a favorite toy. Keep this up persistently for a few days or more and he will eventually understand that he is not to lick you under the “no lick” command.
Compulsive Licking Of Furniture Or Objects
Shih tzu may lick furniture or objects for a number of reasons but it is likely to be one or more of the following:
Although a shih tzu’s sense of smell is way behind that of a bloodhound, it is still way ahead of that of a human. Your shih tzu may be sniffing where your perspiration has permeated the material of your sofa and starts licking for the same salty taste he experiences when licking you. This behavior can be connected with the next reason, which is:
When a shih tzu licks away at a piece of furniture or object it could be because he finds it comforting and calming, so much so that it may become a habit bordering on obsessive-compulsive disorder. He may be licking to relieve the stress of separation anxiety or a noisy household. To help manage this stress, see previously under the heading “Stress From An Over Busy House”, or my “Shih Tzu Separation Anxiety – How To Cope” post.
It just may be that your shih tzu is licking furniture out of sheer boredom. To alleviate this boredom, try to spend as much quality time with your shih tzu as you can. Ideally, go for two walks per day, one of at least twenty minutes, the other between twenty minutes and one hour.
For more information on walks, see my post “How Often Should You Walk A Shih Tzu?”.
Play regular games, such as “fetch the ball” or “chase and catch the frisbee” with your shih tzu and also give him interactive toys to keep him amused. For example, toys where he has to work out how to remove a treat, toys where he has to work out a puzzle, toys that make noises or companion toys that have a simulated heartbeat.
See “Best Toys For A Shih Tzu – What To Look Out For” for further details.
You may also like to try adding a second shih tzu or other breed of dog to your family as a living companion, though it can never be guaranteed that they will “hit it off” together, so beware as this one can be a bit risky. If you are going to do this it’s best, if you can, to have the two dogs spend some time together before actually adopting or buying.
Other Things To Try To End Excessive Licking
To finish off with, then, here are a couple of other things you can try to stop your shih tzu licking all the time.
A shih tzu doesn’t need a lot of exercise, so avoid overfeeding him, that way he doesn’t have a lot of excess energy to burn off.
For further guidance on feeding a shih tzu, see “How Much Food Should A Shih Tzu Eat?”.
To break your shih tzu’s licking habit when he will not pay any attention to you, try to divert his attention away from licking and give him something to occupy his mind. To get his attention when he is suffering from the traditional shih tzu “selected deafness”, try scrunching an empty, plastic water bottle. Or, you can use a “positive interrupter” which is a word of your choice that isn’t a negative word such as “no”. Your positive interrupter must be a word that grabs your shih tzu’s attention. For example, say “treat”, then give him the promised treat.
Once you have your shih tzu’s attention, offer him a toy to mouth instead of whatever he was licking. Use a toy that is filled with treats or flavored, a good quality, synthetic bone, a speaking toy or a comfort toy. Once he accepts the toy, lavish him with praise to reinforce this behavior.
If you have the time and the commitment you could also try teaching your shih tzu tricks to keep his mind off of licking.
One perhaps worthwhile trick you can teach a shih tzu is to fetch a certain toy or object and bring it to you. Keep the name of the toy or object to one or two syllables if you can to make it easier to remember. You need to offer a reward every time he gets it right and brings whatever it is you asked for. Some shih tzu have been known to memorize up to twenty toys or objects by name, by which time I am sure that they have forgotten about licking!
If you have any questions or comments relevant to this article, to this website or shih tzu in general, please leave a comment below or, if you prefer, use our contact us form. You should get an answer within 24 hours, though sometimes this may not be possible.
Until next time, this is
Shih Tzu Steve
saying “bye for now”.