Why Do Dogs Lick Their Butts?

As cute as dogs are, they might engage in strange and repulsive behaviors that aren't always understood by their owners.

More often than not, they’re perfectly normal. Circling before lying down, eating grass or sniffing another dog's butt are all habits you don't have to worry about.

In this article, we will look at the question why do dogs lick their butts, the reasons for excessive butt licking, and what you can do about it.

Why Do Dogs Lick Their Butts: The Answer

Shiba Inu on top of a trash can

Even though butt licking is off-putting for dog owners, your dog is most likely licking his butt to clean himself.

Yes, that’s right – grooming is the main reason for butt licking! He is trying to make sure the private area remains clean, the same way we take regular showers.

Sometimes poo gets stuck to the fur around the butt, so your dog will take a little more time to groom that area.

In the vast majority of cases, it is nothing to be concerned about. However, when a dog licks its private area too frequently, it might be a sign of a serious health issue.

Is Your Dog Licking His Butt Excessively? 5 Possible Reasons

Now that we’ve established grooming is the common reason why dogs lick their butts, what if your pup is licking it excessively?

Below we talk about the most common health problems associated with frequent butt licking. Whether you're a dog owner or simply curious, this section is for you.

1 - Anal Gland Problems

The first explanation on the list has to do with anal gland problems that are an extremely common condition.

Also known as anal sacks, these glands are located just below the skin, at either side of a dog's anus.

When your dog poops, the glands are emptied leaving a foul smell behind. This smell plays an important role in social interaction.

Dogs sniff other dogs' butts to befriend them and communicate with one another. Additionally, the fluid is used to mark territory and signal the dog's presence.

Unfortunately, this foul-smelling liquid can be the cause of anal gland problems. When a dog can't expel the fluid with poop, it can easily build up and lead to anal gland disease.

Additionally, a dog's stool contains bacteria that is normally flushed out with faeces.

When the fluid's secretion thickens, it causes a swelling that blocks the canal which allows the glands to empty.

As a result, the faeces can't be expelled. This leads to sacs infection. Eventually, the sacs might fill with puss that forms an abscess.

If it's left untreated, an abscess can rupture and cause serious damage to the rectum. This condition is painful but easy to spot.

Your dog might struggle with passing faeces and lick its butt all the time. Your dog might also drag its butt on the ground.

Other signs to look out for include swollen anus, puss secretion, or bleeding.

Causes of Anal Sac Disease

Brown and white Bull Terrier looking into the distance

One of the possible causes of this disease is regular unhealthy stools. This in turn is caused by food sensitivity.

If your dog experiences frequent diarrhea, the loose stool doesn't put enough pressure on the glands and prevents them from emptying properly.

Another reason your dog might struggle with emptying the glands is abnormal glands position.

It’s possible that your dog’s anatomy is at fault and its glands are positioned too far away from the anus.

Similarly, if your dog is obese, its rectum muscles might not be moving properly. Another common reason is allergies that might affect the rectum area.

For example, canine atopy predisposes a dog to experience allergic symptoms after exposure to an allergen.

Or, your dog might be just unlucky. Some small breeds such as chihuahuas seem to be at more risk than other breeds.

Does Your Dog Potentially Have Perianal Fistula?

Another anal gland problem that can affect dogs is called Perianal fistula. It is a condition that’s mostly found in German Shepherds, but it can affect other breeds as well.

Fistula refers to an abnormal connection that can form between two tissues. It first appears as a small lesion but if not treated on time, it can become much wider.

Apart from excessive licking, you might notice signs such as blood in the faeces, difficulty defecating, decreased appetite and avoiding sitting position.

Causes of Perianal Fistula

Although the exact cause is unknown, perianal fistula begins as an inflammation that turns into an infection.

It then causes lesions. Many cases have been associated with an underlying allergy and poor air circulation to the area, especially in dogs with long fur and broad tails.

Additionally, the condition is more common in middle-aged dogs.

2 - Canine Separation Anxiety

German Shepherd dog and puppy carrying a stick

Just like humans, dogs experience anxiety from time to time. If it’s left untreated, it can turn into an anxiety disorder that manifests itself as behavioral problems.

Separation anxiety might develop when a dog is denied access to a person it's attached to.

Previous studies show that up to 18.7% of dogs adopted from shelters experience anxiety symptoms

The distress can lead to destructive behaviors and excessive barking, and quite frequently excessive grooming.

Unfortunately, those signs are often overlooked because owners believe their dog is just being naughty.

If the symptoms are ignored, the bond with the owner is disrupted and might even lead to rehoming.

Before you consider giving your dog away, pay attention to what it’s trying to tell you.

Causes of Separation Anxiety

Separation anxiety is the most common in dogs who were previously abandoned and rehomed.

Your dog might also develop separation anxiety if you neglect its need for attention.

However, excessive attention might be harmful as well.

If your dog has never been left alone before and has to be separated from you for a long period, it might experience significant distress.

3 - Parasites

While looking at the question, why do dogs lick their butts, this article would not be complete if we didn’t mention parasites.

There are two types of parasites to look out for, intestinal parasites and external parasites.

Intestinal parasites might get into the dog’s faeces, while external parasites appear near the dog’s tail.

A dog might try to alleviate the discomfort and irritation by engaging in excessive butt licking.  

Intestinal Parasites

Black dog with its tongue out

Since intestinal parasites’ eggs are too small to spot, you have to rely on behavioral signs.

The only exceptions are tapeworms and roundworms, which can be easily seen with the naked eye.

Apart from licking, other symptoms include scooting, vomiting, diarrhea and weight loss. Dogs get the parasites by ingesting parasites’ eggs or eating an infected flea.

External Parasites

These types of parasites are transmitted through contact. External parasites are fleas, lice and mites that feed on a dog’s skin.

Dogs might frequently lick their anus to relieve intense itching. If the condition is left untreated, it can lead to fur loss and secondary skin infections.

In some cases, it can even lead to anemia. Luckily, external parasites are often easy to spot.

4 - Allergies

Your dog might be licking its butt due to food and environmental allergies.

While licking and scratching might seem innocent, it can lead to yeast and bacterial infections that require professional treatment.

Food Allergies

 Dog lying down next to his food bowl

Your dog might be allergic to something in its diet. Ingredients used in dog food are the most common reason your dog’s immune system overacts.

For example, a lot of dogs experience an allergic reaction to protein.

Apart from the obvious itchiness, symptoms of food allergies include sore skin, excessive farting, diarrhea, vomiting, and a sore tummy.

What Causes Food Sensitivity?

While proteins are the most common culprits, any kind of food can trigger an allergic reaction.

Another common cause is damage to the digestive system that leads to food intolerance.

Additionally, some breeds such as cocker spaniels are more likely to develop food allergies.

Environmental Allergies

Do you ever notice your dog licking its butt more than usual during certain seasons? Just like humans, dogs are susceptible to environmental allergies.

If the symptoms your dog’s experiencing get worse during spring or summer, you might be looking at a seasonal allergy.

The reaction of pets is slightly different from humans' reactions. Symptoms include watery eyes, itching, runny nose, sneezing, fur loss, patchy skin, and excessive licking.

What Causes Seasonal Allergies?

Environmental allergies are caused by allergens such as pollen and dust. When a dog comes in contact with an allergen, it can inhale it or absorb it through the skin.  

Other Acute Allergic Reactions

Dogs can go into anaphylactic shock if they have a severe reaction to a vaccine or a bee sting.

These reactions are rare but it’s worth monitoring your dog right after it’s been vaccinated.

The signs to watch out for include itching, red skin, swellings, excessive salivation, diarrhea, and vomiting.

5 - Skin Infections

Corgi running through leaves

Dog’s anus is a delicate area that can tear easily. When a dog’s poop comes in contact with the tear, it can cause bacterial or fungal infections.

Your dog might try to relieve the symptoms by licking its butt. Unfortunately, this can make the infection worse, so it’s important to look out for the signs of skin irritation.

If your dog has a bacterial infection, it might struggle with digestive problems such as diarrhea or vomiting.

Additionally, you might notice red bumps around its anus.

If your dog has a fungal infection, they might experience fur loss, flaky skin, brittle nails, and a red or black anus discoloration.

What Causes Skin Infections?

One of the causes is a compromised immune system. If your dog’s immune system isn’t balanced, it can make it prone to skin infections.

Such dogs are also at risk of developing many diseases, including diabetes and cancer.

Additionally, if the skin around your dog’s anus breaks, faeces might introduce bacteria to the wound.

What You Can Do to Prevent Your Dog From Licking Its Butt

Solving this issue will depend on the reason why your dog licks his butt in the first place. In most cases, there are measures you can take at home to improve your dog’s condition.

Review Your Dog’s Diet

Cocker Spaniel sitting next to his food bowl

If you suspect anal sac disease, take a closer look at your dog's diet. Chances are that a proper diet will help your dog expel the anal glands build up.

Make sure your dog eats fiber rich food that are easy to digest. For example, you could include vegetables like broccoli, sprouts, or carrots.

Alternatively, you can buy dry dog food that’s designed specifically for dogs with anal gland problems.

In addition, don’t forget to take your dog to a veterinarian. They might prescribe antibiotics and help empty your dog’s anal glands that way.

Since some dogs have recurring anal gland problems, the veterinarian will show you how to empty them so you can do it yourself next time.

It’s not a very nice thing to think about, but you'd do anything to keep your pup healthy!

Clip Your Dog’s Fur to Ventilate the Rectum Area

If you think your dog might be suffering from perianal fistula, the first measure you can take is to clip the fur around the anus to increase ventilation.

You can also try gently cleaning the area with an antiseptic to decrease inflammation.

Additionally, since perianal fistula is a serious condition, you should see a veterinarian. They’ll prescribe immune-modulating drugs that can help get it under control.

In rare cases, surgery might be needed to remove the affected tissue. Hopefully, you’ll notice something’s wrong before it’s too late.

Help Your Dog Get Used to Being Left on Its Own

Two dogs running through a field of wheat

If your dog becomes distressed as soon as you leave, it’s likely suffering from separation anxiety.

Before you see a veterinarian, there are some steps you can take to minimize the fear it’s experiencing. Firstly, make sure you interact with your dog only when it’s relaxed. 

Additionally, praise your dog when it doesn’t show signs of distress but don’t scold it for destructive behavior.  

Secondly, don’t interact with your dogs for at least 20 minutes before you’re about to go out.

The key is to make leaving the house much less of a big deal, so your dog doesn’t treat it like a major event.

To make this easier, you can leave a toy filled with food for your dog to play with. When you come back, only interact with your dog once it’s calmed down.

Thirdly, you can try counter-conditioning. It’s a technique that uses positive behavior as a distraction from fear.

For example, you can teach your dog to perform a trick and offer a reward. So when your dog is in a state of anxiety, you can order it to do the trick to redirect the attention.

In some cases, a dog might need antidepressants to help it calm down. However, the best outcome is achieved by combining both medication and behavior management techniques.

Bathe Your Dog and Comb Its Fur

When you suspect your dog might have external parasites, make sure you bathe it to remove the parasites from its fur.

Alternatively, you can comb your pet’s hair with a special flea comb that gets rid of all kinds of parasites.

If the condition persists, visit a veterinarian who will test a stool sample and prescribe oral medication and a special shampoo.

To prevent future infections, you can get your dog parasite preventatives. And don’t forget to thoroughly clean the house!

Find the Food That Causes Problems

Beagle eating from his dog bowl

If you suspect your dog suffers from food sensitivity, a veterinarian might order a food elimination trial.

This will require your dog to follow a special diet that doesn’t contain any ingredients it consumed in the past.

Research that looked at dogs with allergies found that it’s best if the elimination diet lasts for at least 10 weeks

While it’s a lengthy process, it’s worth trying to improve your dog’s quality of life. Once the source of allergy is identified, you can remove any type of food that contains that specific allergen.

If this test fails, a veterinarian might order serum IgE tests that detect an allergic reaction.

Since this blood test doesn’t pinpoint a specific ingredient your dog is allergic to, it’s still important to give food elimination a try.

Clean Your Dog After Walks During Hay Fever Season

If you feel your dog is licking its butt due to allergy symptoms, make sure you bathe it frequently and clean it with a wet towel after it’s been outside.

If the symptoms are severe, a veterinarian might prescribe oral medications such as antihistamines.

Another route to consider is skin testing. A veterinarian will administer micro doses of different allergens and measure your dog’s reaction.

In some cases, a specialist might advise injections that decrease the reaction to allergens. Immunotherapy is especially recommended for dogs that experience allergic reactions.

The good thing about this treatment is that a veterinarian can teach you how to perform them at home.

Alternatively, seasonal allergies can be treated with food specially designed to treat your dog’s skin conditions.

A lot of those options have side effects so make sure you discuss it with a veterinarian first.

Seek Medical Attention if Your Dog Experiences a Severe Allergic Reaction

When you notice the symptoms of anaphylactic shock due to an allergic reaction, go to the veterinarian immediately.

They will administer an emergency adrenalin shot to stop the reaction.

Boost Your Dog’s Immune System

Dog with a camera around its neck

Keeping your dog healthy is important as it can help prevent skin infections. Play with your dog and encourage it to run – being active is great for your pet’s immune system.

However, if your dog is experiencing a skin infection at the moment, a trip to a veterinarian is necessary.

They’ll prescribe tablets and topical treatment usually in the form of shampoo or wipes.

Final Thoughts

So, why do dogs lick their butts? It’s a way of grooming. A dog might even be trying to remove a piece of grass or poop stuck to the fur.

Although butt licking behavior is common amongst dogs, excessive butt licking might have an underlying cause.

Frequent butt licking is associated with a range of health issues, such as anal gland problems, allergies, parasites, skin infections, or anxiety.

We hope this article has given you an idea of what your dog might be struggling with.

It’s important to find a cause so your dog can receive treatment before the issue escalates and leads to more problems.

Don’t wait and help your dog as soon as you notice something’s wrong.