Quick, name three things that dogs love the smell of!
Their owners? Aww, of course!
Their own butts? Oh, you know it!
It’s this last point that’s most confusing to us. We humans aren’t flexible enough to smell our own butts, but even if we were, we wouldn’t want to.
And licking them? Forget about it!
Yet for some dogs, licking their own butts is an activity that takes up a not insignificant chunk of their day. It’s a behavior that most of us choose to ignore for the sake of our own well-being — after all, it’s pretty gross!
But is it, somehow, purely a hygiene thing… or is there more to it than that?
Sit back, relax and don’t eat while reading this article. We’re about to uncover the dirty truth behind (heh!) dog butt licking.
Cleanliness Is Next to Dog-liness
We lucked out in the saga of evolution. Nature has blessed us with opposable thumbs and long arms, which means that we can grip toilet paper and wipe ourselves after using the toilet.
Were it not for those two features, well, we’d be a lot like our dogs: licking our butts to stay clean.
Dogs, at least, seem built to lick their butts.
They’re flexible enough to reach back there, and their guts are hardy enough to tolerate the, er, byproducts that reenter their bodies.
Stomachs of Steel… and Acid
A dog’s stomach is extremely acidic — it’s typically between 1.5 and 2.1, but during digestion, it can drop below 1.0.
That’s as acidic as car battery acid, far beyond what most species of bacteria can tolerate.
Dogs need such acidic stomachs because they evolved to eat raw, sometimes rotting meat from hunted or scavenged prey. Such meat is usually teeming with bacteria, but it’s quickly killed by canine stomach acid.
Believe it or not, feces isn’t inherently toxic — it’s the bacteria in it that can do real damage.
And as gross as it is, ingesting your own poop isn’t likely to harm you, since the bacteria in it came directly from you.
So if a dog ingests a little of his poop when licking his butt clean, it’s no big deal. He won’t get sick and it’s a small price to pay for staying clean.
With a sense of smell that’s up to a million times stronger than ours, plus an extra smelling organ in his mouth, your dog may even enjoy the act of cleaning his butt!
He can pick up notes of different scents and flavors that we can’t perceive, and perhaps those are enough to turn poop from gross to gourmet.
Still not sold on the concept? Think of it this way — if your dog didn’t lick his butt clean, it’d be caked with old poop and susceptible to infection, rashes and other unpleasantries.
And, somewhat ironically, infection and rashes can result in excessive butt licking due to the itchiness and pain that they cause.
But by the time it gets that bad, it’s too late for your dog’s tongue to resolve the issues with his rear. You’ll need to take him to a vet for examination and antibiotics.
Suddenly, dog hygiene doesn’t seem so bad anymore, huh?
Express Yourself (and Your Anal Glands)
Those with weak stomachs may want to skip this section. It’s not pretty, but it’s a fact of life as a dog: without anal glands, everything would be a lot crappier — literally.
How Dog Anal Glands Work
A dog’s anal glands are located near its rectum.
They produce a stinky, oily substance when the dog poops, making bowel movements easier and imbuing the poop with the dog’s signature scent.
When another dog happens upon that poop and gives it a sniff, the oil from the anal glands will tell the sniffer who the poop came from. It’s loaded with information about the pooper’s health, sex, age and even breeding status.
With a proper diet and otherwise good health, your dog’s anal glands should simply work as intended. You won’t even know they’re there.
But malnutrition, illness and unlucky genes can all cause the anal glands to become impacted.
Impacted Anal Glands in Dogs
When the anal glands are impacted, the oily fluid isn’t expelled, resulting in difficult poops, swelling, fishy odors, carpet scooting and excessive butt licking.
The scooting and licking are attempting to express the glands and get them functioning normally again. However, impacted anal glands need to be expressed manually by a vet, a groomer, or (if you’re up for the task) you.
Anal gland expression is quick, painless and typically inexpensive.
But it’s extremely smelly and, of course, requires you to spend some time near your dog’s butt.
Our recommendation: if it’s your first time dealing with impacted anal glands, have a vet perform the procedure and watch as it’s done.
It’ll give you a good idea of what it entails — and whether you’re better off paying someone to do it in the future.
Whatever you do, act quickly once you suspect impacted anal glands. It’s not a serious condition at first, but if it’s left untreated, the glands can become abscessed or infected, requiring more intensive treatment.
Poopy Puppy Parasites
Dogs are susceptible to many different parasites, and just about any of them could cause excessive butt licking.
Fleas live all over your dog, but they favor warm areas that aren’t fully exposed.
That makes the groin and butt area a preferred breeding ground for fleas. And their itchy bites could cause your dog to lick excessively.
It’s the same story with mites, which have the same living preferences as fleas but are tinier and often more insidious. Sarcoptes, or scabies mites, burrow under the skin where they cause extreme itching without being visible.
Mites and fleas both cause itching, hair loss and redness.
Thankfully, many common flea and tick preventatives also kill mites. Ask a vet which medication is best for your dog and your location.
Worms that live in the digestive tract are also common culprits for anal irritation in dogs. These include hookworms, tapeworms, roundworms and whipworms, among others.
Like surface pests, intestinal worms can cause your dog a lot of distress. They sap nutrients from any food your dog eats, which can result in weakness, lethargy, anemia, and malnutrition.
Unpleasant substances may come out both ends of your dog — vomit and diarrhea are common symptoms of worms.
You may even be able to see the worms in your dog’s stool if you look carefully. They usually resemble rice or noodles and range from white to beige to tan in color.
And, of course, worms make your dog’s butt itchy. Scooting, biting and licking of the anus are all frequently seen in dogs with worms.
If you suspect that your dog’s excessive butt licking is due to worms, see a vet as soon as possible. The vet may request a stool sample to determine the type(s) of worms and prescribe the appropriate treatment.
If illness, infestation and injury have been ruled out, your dog’s excessive butt licking could be due to anxiety.
Licking lets your dog convert his emotional distress into a physical action in an attempt to alleviate it.
This is the likely cause of the licking if the behavior occurs around a specific time or event.
For instance, if the licking starts up around the time you leave for work, your dog could be suffering from separation anxiety.
As in humans, anxiety in dogs can be difficult to pinpoint and even tougher to treat. Careful observation is required to determine the cause of the anxiety, which could be a person, an animal, a situation, an object, a noise or even a smell.
If the source of the anxiety can’t be identified, or if it can but you’re not able to make adjustments to it, consult a vet as your dog may need medication. Pheromone-based sprays can also help to reduce your dog’s anxiety.