Dogs smack their lips when they anticipate food, are anxious, dehydrated, ill, suffering from acid reflux, poisoning, or a seizure.
Does your dog lick its lips a lot and is it worrying you?
Most dogs will lick their lips if they see something delicious. This is typical behavior when anticipating a meal, but what does lip-smacking mean when there is no food in sight?
In this article, we look at reasons why dogs smack their lips, when you need to be concerned, and what you can do about it.
Why is My Dog Smacking Lips?
A dog can smack its lips in anticipation of food or after eating. When food is removed from the equation, lip-smacking can be a sign of dehydration, illness, anxiety, gastrointestinal disorders, or acid reflux. It can also be a sign of a seizure and poisoning.
While a dog’s lip-smacking before or after a meal is not surprising, unusual and excessive lick-smacking needs to be monitored as it can be a sign of health problems.
Why is My Dog Smacking Its Lips All The Time?
Excessive lip smacking can be a sign that something is physically or emotionally wrong.
Why is My Dog Smacking Lips in the Middle of Night?
When dogs lick their lips in the middle of the night, it’s usually due to dreaming. If a dog is awake, lip-smacking at night could be a sign of anxiety, dehydration, nausea, or acid reflux.
Make sure your dog has easy access to clean water to prevent dehydration. If thirst is not the cause of late-night lip-smacking, consult a vet.
A vet will be able to diagnose and treat the cause of lip-smacking so that you and your dog do not miss out on valuable sleep.
7 Reasons Why Your Dog Is Smacking Lips
A dog can smack its lips when anticipating food, when thirsty or dehydrated, anxious, suffering from acid reflux, nausea, a type of seizure, or after ingesting poison.
1. Anticipation of Food
When dogs see and smell food, they start salivating and licking their lips. It’s common behavior when dogs anticipate food.
Dogs experience a dry nose and sticky gums when they are dehydrated. This can cause them to lick their lips and nose.
You can prevent your dog from becoming dehydrated by always making sure it has access to clean water.
Dogs can become dehydrated after a bout of diarrhea or vomiting. Dehydration can also be a sign of a gastrointestinal (GI) disorder.
GI disorders affect the digestive tract and can impair the digestion or absorption of food. This can cause nutritional deficiencies, dehydration, electrolyte imbalances, and more:
If you notice any of these symptoms, consult a vet. A vet can diagnose the condition, recommend dietary changes, and prescribe medication if required. 
Lip smacking and nose-licking can be signs that a dog feels anxious.  If you have ever been angry with your dog, you may have noticed this behavior.
A 2017 study of dogs’ response to human emotions found dogs licked their lips more often when shown a picture of an angry face than a happy face.
Lip-smacking due to anxiety is believed to be a sign of submission, but, there’s a fine line between anxiety and aggression. Lip-smacking can also be a warning sign of a potential attack when dogs feel threatened.
Dogs unaccustomed to children often lick their lips when kids get too close. This is a sign of stress.
If a dog continues to feel threatened by a child, its submissive behavior can quickly turn to aggression.
4. Acid Reflux and Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease
Lip smacking can be a symptom of acid reflux. When it’s excessive, it can be a symptom of a chronic form of acid reflux known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
GERD occurs when stomach acid rises, passing the sphincter valve (which is supposed to prevent reflux) to the esophagus. The result is heartburn pain.
When dogs feel nauseous, they may smack their lips, salivate and repeatedly swallow. The dog may also appear restless. 
Several illnesses and conditions can cause nausea, including acid reflux, eating spoiled food, and poisoning.
A dog that has ingested poison can be nauseous. Since lip smacking can be a sign of nausea in a dog, it can point to poisoning as a possible cause.
Other symptoms of poisoning include
- Blood in the stool or black stools
- Blood in urination
- Bruising or bleeding gums
- Lethargy or hyperactivity
- Nose bleeding
- Sudden loss of appetite.
- Struggling to balance when walking or standing
- Vomiting 
If your dog’s sudden lip smacking is accompanied by any of the symptoms list above, get your dog to the vet immediately.
Not all seizures are the same. One type of seizure known as a complex partial seizure can cause repetitive behaviors. This can include a dog lip-smacking, chewing, barking, or growling.
A dog having a complex partial seizure does not lose consciousness, but is unaware of its behavior. The repetitive behavior can last only a few minutes or hours.
Is Lip Smacking Normal for Dogs?
It is normal for a dog to lip-smack briefly when anticipating food, after eating, or when anxious. However, it is not normal for a dog to lip-smack excessively.
Occasional smacking of the lips is common. Dogs do this when they smell or see food. They also smack their lips and lick their nosed when feeling anxious.
On the other hand, excessive lip smacking is not normal. It can be a sign of dehydration, nausea, anxiety, acid reflux, seizure, or poisoning.
Related: Dog Making Weird Mouth Movements
When to Worry About a Dog That Is Lip-Smacking
You need to worry about excessive lip-smacking or sudden licking of the lips and nose when introduced to a new person, child, or dog.
Excessively lip-smacking can be a sign of dehydration, poisoning, acid reflux, or seizure.
If you give your dog water and it continues to lip-smack, it’s advisable to take your dog to the vet for diagnosis and treatment.
When Anxiety Leads to Aggression
Be on guard if your dog suddenly starts lip-smacking, nose-licking, and yawning when introduced to a new person, child, or another animal.
These are signs that a dog is stressed or anxious. A nervous dog is defensive and can attack if they feel threatened.
Here are other signs that a dog is anxious and can become aggressive:
- Lower ears, head, and neck
- Twist neck to look away from the stressor (a new adult or child)
- Avoiding eye contact
- Smacking lips
- Raising front paw
- Lowers tail
- Tail between legs
- Freezes movement when touched 
When the cause of the anxiety is a child, it is best to move the dog and child away from one another. 
How to Prevent Your Dog From Smacking Its Lips
You can help prevent your dog from lip-smacking by ensuring they never become dehydrated and reducing the sourcing of anxiety for your dog.
If your dog is thirsty or anxious, they are prone to lip-smacking. These are two causes of lip-smacking that you can control.
Prevent Dehydration in Your Dog
Dehydration is an easily preventable cause of lip-smacking in dogs.
Here are ways to prevent dehydration in your dog:
- Create an indoor and outdoor water station for your dog.
- Change water in water bowls daily.
- Wash dogs water bowls regularly.
- Place outdoor dog water bowls in the shade.
- Take a portable dog water bowl and a bottle of water with you when taking your dog for a walk.
- Keep a portable water bowl and water in the trunk of your car when traveling.
- Never leave your dog in a car for a few minutes without opening the windows.
Reduce Your Dog’s Anxiety
Lip smacking can be an indication of anxiety. While you can’t change your dog’s personality, you can use the following three ways to help reduce your dog’s anxiety:
- Take your dog for daily walks
- Reduce your dog’s stress
1. Take Your Dog For Daily Walks
A daily walk helps your dog burn off anxious energy, boosts their level of feel-good endorphins, and provides opportunities to meet other people and dogs.
A Finnish study of fearless in dogs found links between anxiety, socialization, and exercise.
Researchers found puppies that had less chance to socialize than other dogs grew up to be more fearful.
Dogs with separation anxiety have been found not to get as much daily exercise as dogs that do not suffer from anxiety.
2. Reduce Your Dog’s Stress
If you have an anxious dog, move your dog away from a stressful situation.
It seems counterproductive as it stops a dog from learning to manage stress, but it can prevent an attack. This applies to a dog unaccustomed to children that starts lip-smacking around a child.
If your dog’s anxiety is impinging on its quality of life or is disruptive to your household, seek expert help.
An animal behaviorist can help you and your dog conquer their anxiety with counterconditioning and desensitization training.
When to See A Vet For a Dog That Is Smacking Its Lips
You should take your dog to a vet if it is smacking its lips excessively or has symptoms indicating illness, like restlessness or vomiting.
If your dog licks its lips once in while, there is nothing to worry about. However, excessive lip-smacking needs to be investigated.
Provide your dog with fresh water to rule out thirst as a cause of lip-smacking. If this doesn’t work, and your dog is not anxious, call your local vet for advice.
A vet will examine your dog and be able to tell if it is anxious, ill, suffering from reflux, has consumed poison, or is having a form of a seizure. A vet can prescribe the best available treatment plan based on the diagnosis.
A dog smacking its lips is not unusual in anticipation of food or when thirsty. It can also be a sign that a dog feels anxious. However, be concerned when lip-smacking is excessive or when in response to the presence of a new person or child.
Excessive lip smacking can indicate a dog is ill, has acid reflux, is experiencing a seizure, or is poisoned. A vet can determine the cause and the best treatment.
Do not ignore a dog lip-smacking around a new person or child. It can indicate that the dog feels threatened and can attack.