Dogs have some strange behaviors that can baffle their owners. If you are wondering why your dog is licking its tail, you are probably also wondering if it’s something you should be concerned about. 

The good news is that sometimes tail licking is simply your dog’s way of grooming. Other causes can include allergies and fleas. Most of these issues are easily corrected, so your dog can get the relief they need. 

Why does my dog lick his tail?

There are several reasons why your dog might lick its tail. It can be amusing watching your dog bend to reach its tail, but also a bit concerning. 

Grooming

Dogs groom themselves with their tongue. It allows them to remove dirt from their fur. If your dog is licking its tail occasionally, it may simply be grooming itself. 

Allergies

Allergies can also cause your dog to lick its tail. Food allergies are fairly common in dogs. They can also have environmental allergies, including grass, dust, and pollen. 

Just like humans, dogs will itch when they have an allergic reaction. Licking for a dog is similar to a human scratching. It can further irritate the skin if your dog licks too much, but your dog simply wants a moment of relief from the itching. 

Injury

A dog’s tail contains vertebrae similar to a spine. These bones can break. These injuries often occur when a dog falls off the bed, gets hit by a car, or has their tail shut in a door. 

Licking can be a dog’s response to pain as well as itching. It’s basically the only tool they have to care for themselves. A dog will instinctively lick a wound to clean it. This same instinct leads them to lick an injury like a broken tail. If your dog has recently had a fall or tail injury, this could be the reason they are licking their tail. 

Behavioral Issues

Behavioral issues can also be the source of your dog’s tail licking. Dogs can lick out of boredom or anxiety. If your dog is experiencing severe anxiety, they may lick their tail excessively. 

Tail licking can become an obsessive compulsion which your dog has a difficult time controlling as well. If there’s been a change to your dog’s routine or environment, stress may be why they are licking their tail. 

A new member of the household, including a new pet, or a change in your schedule are common culprits. Excessive noise can also trigger anxiety for some dogs. 

Why does my dog lick the base of his tail?

Your dog frequently licks the base of its tail. It looks uncomfortable, and you can’t help but wonder why they feel the need to twist themselves into a pretzel to reach the area. In addition to the causes already listed, there are several reasons why your dog is licking the base of its tail. 

Anal Gland Disease

Your dog has anal glands on each side of its anus. It’s a common misconception that only males have anal glands, because both male and female dogs have them. 

The anal glands normally express when your dog poops, bathing the feces in your dog’s signature scent. This is part of a dog’s way of marking its territory and communicating with other dogs. 

The glands can become impacted. When this occurs, it’s uncomfortable for your dog. They may lick or bite the base of their tail due to discomfort. They may also scoot their butt on the ground in an attempt to express the glands. 

Your vet can express the glands. You can also do it yourself, but it’s not for the faint of heart. 

Poor Hygiene

Your dog’s poop can become caught in its fur. This causes irritation which will cause your dog to lick the area. If it persists, infection can occur. The feces can also attract flies, which may lay eggs in your dog’s anus. 

It’s not a pretty picture, but it does happen. This can be prevented by checking your dog’s anus and grooming if needed. 

Injured Tailbone

The tail isn’t the only injury that can cause your dog to lick their tail. An injured tailbone can cause it as well. Again, it’s due to the discomfort it causes. The tailbone can be bruised or broken. 

Internal Parasites

Internal parasites can also cause itching and irritation of your dog’s anus. Hookworms, roundworms, and tapeworms are intestinal parasites. When your dog poops, some of the worms come out as well. This results in itching, which can cause your dog to lick the area. 

External Parasites

External parasites can also cause itching and irritation at the base of the tail. Fleas, mites, and lice are all common dog parasites. They live in the dog’s fur and feed on blood by biting into the skin. 

The base of the tail, anus, and ears are areas that usually have the most parasites, so it’s no surprise this can cause your dog to lick its tail. Your dog may also bite the area in an attempt to rid itself of these parasites. 

Skin Infection

A skin infection can also occur at the base of the tail. You may notice a bald spot and red skin in the area. Blisters, pus, or blood may be present. However, infection isn’t always that obvious. It can simply appear to be a patch of dry or scaly skin. If you notice your dog is always licking the same spot, check their skin closely.  

Why does my dog lick above his tail?

Your dog may be licking above its tail for a few reasons, in addition to the potential causes listed earlier. 

Dry Skin

Dry skin is itchy skin, which can cause your dog to lick. You may also notice flaking or red irritated skin. Hair loss and scaling can also occur. It can be difficult to distinguish between dry skin irritation and irritation from frequent licking, however. 

Dry skin can be caused by cold dry weather, lack of fatty acids in their diet, or bathing too frequently. 

Hormonal Imbalance

A hormonal imbalance can trigger excessive tail licking. Cushings and thyroid problems are potential culprits. If your dog is entering adolescence, it could also be related to reaching sexual maturity. 

Why is my dog suddenly licking his tail?

If your dog has seemed fine and is suddenly licking their tail, you may be concerned. Any of the issues listed above are potential causes, but these are the most likely causes of sudden licking. 

Allergies

Allergies can seem to come out of nowhere. If you’ve ever experienced allergies, you know that you can feel fine, and then be miserable minutes after exposure. Food allergies can show symptoms within a few hours to a day. Environmental allergens cause a reaction very quickly. 

Fleas

Fleas are likely the most common cause of dogs licking and biting themselves. As discussed earlier, the base of the tail is a prime spot for fleas and other parasites. Once your dog has an infestation, they may seem to suddenly start licking their tail. 

Internal Parasites

Internal parasites can be in your dog’s system for awhile before any noticeable symptoms occur, so it can seem like they are suddenly licking their tail. You may spot worms in their feces, if you are brave enough to examine it. 

Anal Gland

If your dog’s anal gland is impacted, they will be very uncomfortable. They will lick around their tail because of the discomfort. If you spot your dog dragging their butt on the carpet, it’s a safe bet that’s what’s causing the licking. However, some dogs don’t show any symptoms other than licking. 

Injury

Injuries are by nature sudden. If your dog is experiencing pain in the area due to an injury to their tailbone or tail, they will lick their tail. This actually releases endorphins, which is why dog’s also lick as a comfort mechanism when they are stressed. 

Skin Infection 

A skin infection doesn’t develop overnight, but it’s certainly possible for the symptoms to arrive suddenly. Once the bacteria has an opportunity to grow, your dog will begin feeling the discomfort. 

What to do about my dog licking his tail?

What to do about your dog licking its tail will depend on why it’s licking it’s tail. The good news is that most of the potential causes are easily treatable. 

Observe and Examine Your Dog

Your first step is to observe and examine your dog. Are they licking excessively, or just grooming? Do they lick when they are bored, left alone, or when stressful situations occur. 

Do you give them preventatives for fleas and parasites? Has their diet or environment changed recently? Do you notice pus or scaly skin? Have their anal glands been checked or expressed recently? 

E Collar

The E collar is colloquially known as the cone of shame. It’s a cone-shaped device that goes around your dog’s head. It prevents them from licking or biting themselves. 

It’s not convenient or good for your dog to wear the collar indefinitely. However, it can be a stopgap measure while you find and treat the underlying cause of the tail licking. 

Fleas and Parasites

Fleas and parasites are easily treatable. A flea infestation may require a bath in flea shampoo, or applying flea medication. Flea medication will prevent your dog from getting fleas again as long as it’s applied at the right time. 

If you aren’t sure if your dog has fleas, look for brown spots that seem like dirt in their fur or skin. Pick them up with a wet napkin. As the napkin re-hydrates the flakes, flea waste, or “dirt”, will look red. This is because it includes blood that they’ve fed on. 

You can check for parasites by looking for white worms in your dog’s feces. Your vet can also check for parasites, if you want to avoid the search. Worming medication will get rid of parasites quickly. 

Allergies

Allergies can be tough to deal with. If it’s a food allergy, you can try different foods. Give it two weeks and see if symptoms improve. If they do, you’ve found the allergen. If they don’t, you’ll need to eliminate another. 

Environmental allergens can’t always be avoided. Your vet can prescribe antihistamines or steroids to minimize allergies. 

Anal Glands

If your dog’s anal glands are the source of the trouble, you’ll need to get them expressed. Your vet can perform this. If you are brave, you can give it a shot yourself. Just be prepared for a liquid with a strong odor. 

Behavioral Issues

Behavioral issues can also be hard to tackle. Try giving your dog more physical activity. Puzzle toys work well as boredom busters. If they are under too much stress, you’ll need to figure out the cause and attempt to minimize it. 

You can speak with your vet about anti anxiety medication for your dog if needed. Some pet owners have found success with behavioral training for calming anxiety as well. 

Injury and Infection

If you suspect your dog has an injury or infection, you’ll need to take them to the vet. Injuries need to be evaluated and treated promptly, because your dog may damage themselves further with normal activity. Infections can turn serious, so they should be evaluated quickly as well. 

Dry Skin

Dry skin can be treated in a few ways. You can get a fatty acid supplement for your dog. If it’s cold and dry, get a humidifier to moisturize the air. If you are bathing them frequently, cut back on baths and use a shampoo for sensitive skin. You can also apply coconut oil to moisturize their skin and soothe irritation. 

Author

I created and currently manage Pet Dog Owner, the website you can go to when you have questions about your dog's behavior. It is my hope that you find Pet Dog Owner to be a helpful resource. It is also my hope that it will help you to improve your relationship with your dog. You can read more about me and my website here.