Why Do Dogs Lick Their Own Butts?

close up butt of purebred cute brown corgi dog
If a dog licks their butt excessively, it can be cause for concern.
credit: Robert Wei/iStock/GettyImages

What happens to us when we die? Does he really love me? Why does my dog keep licking their own butts so much? Surely, any of these questions have popped up in your head at some point in time, each one as significant and worthy of pondering as the next.

While the first two may not yield any definite answers, the puzzling query behind dogs licking their own rear ends can actually be explained. Usually, the occasional butt licking is no cause for concern, but if your dog keeps licking her butt excessively, it may be a sign of a more serious issue.

Reasons dogs lick

Dogs lick themselves for a number of reasons, most commonly, to groom. You've probably noticed your dog licking her fur, legs, paws and even those private areas, like her butt and genitals, from time to time. If your dog is licking her butt, she is most likely doing so just to keep the area clean, much in the same way that we shower regularly and wipe up after using the restroom. If your dog has fecal matter stuck to her butt or the fur surrounding it, it may call for a more lengthy in-depth grooming, but is generally no cause for concern in most cases.

While keeping fur clean is a harmless reason for licking, sometimes dogs will lick for reasons that may require a bit more care and concern. According to VCA Hospitals, impacted anal glands can cause a dog to lick excessively in an effort to soothe the irritation that's associated with such a condition. Anal glands are a regular part of dog anatomy, and when all is working correctly, these glands, which are situated near a dog's rectum, release an oily fluid which helps them easily pass bowel movements and emit scents for other dogs to take note of. When an anal gland becomes impacted, or, overly-filled with fluid, they can lead to swelling and irritation around a dog's butt and will often emit a foul odor.

A dog may also lick their butt if they have parasites living inside of them. Roundworms, tapeworms, hookworms and whipworms are some of the most common types of worms that affect dogs and puppies, states Banfield Pet Hospital. Because these worms pass through a dog's anus, they can seriously irritate your canine companion and may cause them to lick the area that has become the source of their discomfort.

If you notice your dog licking their own butt and also notice worms in their stool, which are often identified as off-white or tan items that resemble things like spaghetti or rice, depending on the type of worm, a visit to your veterinarian is in order so that they can be dewormed with medication immediately.

My dog smells fishy

If your dog smells fishy, particularly around his anus, you likely have some impacted anal glands to deal with. Anal glands always carry a bit of a fishy odor, but the amount of oil they release when assisting a dog with a bathroom break or when sharing information through marking a territory is so minor that most people don't notice it.

When the glands become impacted, however, the oil builds up and that stinky smell becomes a little more evident, especially if the condition has been untreated for a little while. This condition is often referred to as anal sac disease, which is usually treated by having the excess fluid in these glands expressed by a medical professional (don't worry, it's a quick and usually painless process for most dogs.)

Sometimes, getting a whiff of something fishy from your dog's hind end can signify a more serious problem involving her anal glands. The American Kennel Club explains that abscessed or infected anal glands can emit a foul odor and must be addressed by a veterinarian immediately to relieve your dog of pain, and to avoid a possible rupture later on. In some cases, anal sac tumors an also develop on dogs, and may require a biopsy if they can't be properly expressed. Another indicator that an issue with her anal glands is causing her discomfort is if your dog keeps licking the base of the tail.

Other hind end behaviors

Sometimes, it's not just butt licking that can indicate that your dog is feeling irritated back there. One thing dogs may do if they're having issues with their anus is looking back at their own butt. If you notice that your dog keeps looking at the back end of his body, it is most likely because he is irritated for some reason. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, more often that not, this discomfort can be attributed to impacted or irritated anal glands, although sometimes it could be an external irritant like matted fur on his rear that has him looking back there.

If your dog is chewing at the skin around her butt, it could be due to fleas or other parasites, a skin condition like dermatitis, or even an environmental allergy, according to Merck Veterinary Manual.

Another behavior you may have seen your dog exhibit is scooting, or dragging his butt across a flat surface, like on the grass, or less conveniently, on your living room carpet. Nearly every time, this is done due to impacted anal glands, and often in tandem with licking the area. While certainly amusing in its own way, scooting usually indicates that a dog is uncomfortable. Fortunately, a quick trip to a veterinarian will often remedy the situation by extracting the full glands.

When to be concerned

Butt licking is not always a serious cause for concern, but taking note of what is and isn't normal may save your dog from discomfort and disease. A dog who gives herself a generous tongue bath at the end of the day is probably not cause for concern, so long as the licking isn't gratuitous or compulsive, as that may indicate an anxiety or other psychological or neurological disorder, says South Boston Animal Hospital. If your dog is whimpering or showing other signs of distress while licking her butt, a visit to the doctor is recommended, as her pain can likely be alleviated in little time.

Additionally, a dog who is frequently straining to use the restroom should be taken to a veterinarian, as this behavior is not normal. Sometimes, a routine expression of the anal glands will do the trick, but if your dog has a more serious medical issue it should be addressed immediately. To keep your dog's anal glands healthy, be sure to offer him plenty of fresh water at all times, and consider a high-fiber diet if he generally struggles to use the restroom.