Licking Addictive Behavior

My sweet charlie boy

“It’s driving us all crazy,” I told the vet. She and I sat cross-legged on the exam room floor as my beagle paced, sniffing around for a way out.

“Charlie licks the floor constantly,” I said, “And it’s not just the floor either. He licks the carpet, his bed, everything. It’s . . . well. . . it’s gross.”

She got my point. “Any other symptoms?” she asked, holding out her hand to Charlie, enticing him to come close. She scratched his ears, cooing, “That’s a good boy, Charlie. Aren’t you a sweet boy?” He leaned into her so she could do a better job.

I told her what was going on with him, trying not to leave anything out.

“It sounds to me like he has some tummy trouble,” she said. “When dogs experience stomach pain, they try to find a way to get rid of that pain. So, they lick, trying to consume something that will make them throw up.”


“Yeah, I know. But when they can get rid of the contents of their stomach, they feel better. At least for awhile.”

Fascinating. What she was saying was that it is my beagle’s instinct, when his tummy hurts, to consume something even worse for him to make the pain go away. Even after Charlie and I left the vet that day, I kept thinking about this canine tendency. I thought about how many times I do this. How many times do I self-medicate, using a drug that’s far worse for me than the problem itself? My drug of choice is food. Yours might be sleep, anger, work, cigarettes. Whatever: we just keep licking the floor, trying to find something to make us feel better.

“And the problem is,” the vet said, “that the licking itself can become a habit. If an animal has had long-term chronic stomach pain, even if it is treated and the problem is resolved, sometimes he will keep licking out of habit.”

(Like self-medicating just because we can?)

“Then we have a psychological problem.”

(No kidding.)

“So what we try to do is treat the stomach ache early, before the licking has become a compulsive behavior all its own.”

(Now there’s an idea.)

She prescribed—yes it’s true—Pepcid®. In a few days Charlie was feeling much better and licking a lot less. Amazing. We treated the real problem, and the destructive behavior went away.

Wonder if that would work in humans?

By Aileen MItchell Lawrimore

Aileen Mitchell Lawrimore is a mother x 3, wife x 35 (years not men), minister, speaker, writer, retreat leader, and lover of beagles and books. She has a lot to say.