There are many reasons why your dog might be licking the base of its tail. While some are cause for concern, many are harmless or easily treatable.
Some reasons can be as simple as your dog being bored, while the behavior might also indicate serious hormonal imbalances. So, why is your dog licking the base of its tail?
Sometimes a dog licking the base of its tail can be a sign of an underlying condition. Equally, it might be a case of your dog practicing basic hygiene.
It may shock owners whose dogs, like ours, enjoy rolling in everything from rotten leaves to dead fish. But for dogs, grooming is about more than an impromptu bath.
Incredibly, there are pheromones in your dog’s saliva. These act as scent markers and give your dog their distinctive doggy smell. When your dog licks the base of their tail, those pheromones transfer onto their coat, enabling them to announce themselves to other dogs when they enter a room.
When Grooming Is a Problem
Of course, even something like grooming can be a problem for your dog. If your dog licks the base of its tail too often, it may start to suffer from overgrooming.
This behavior can be the result of anxiety. Dogs get anxious about all sorts of things, like:
- Moving house
- New family members
- Family death (human or animal)
The most obvious sign of overgrooming from licking the base of the tail is alopecia or hair loss in the groomed area. If left untreated, these bald patches can develop into hot spots, so it’s important to talk to your vet about treating overgrooming if you think your dog suffers from it.
Another reason your dog is licking the base of their tail is that they are bored. A dog without enough entertainment will create its own, such as licking the base of its tail.
If you want to stop a bored dog from licking the base of its tail, the best thing you can do is give them more to do. If you’re out all day, long walks with a dog walker can make a difference.
Another excellent way to break up your dog’s day is with puzzle toys for canine enrichment. These are especially helpful for highly food-motivated dogs.
For the best results, you should bring out the puzzle toy whenever you notice your dog licking the base of its tail. Fill it with food and immediately draw your dog’s attention away from its tail. An engaged dog should spend the next several minutes attempting to hunt for dinner.
Although there are innocuous reasons why your dog might be licking the base of its tail, sometimes there’s an underlying medical condition.
Common signs of flea infestation include your dog licking or scratching:
- Base of tail
- Middle of back
Signs may also include rolling on their backs. If you suspect fleas, take extra care to inspect:
- Scruff of neck
- Under their arms
These areas are popular flea hiding spots.
Flea Allergies Without Infestation?
It’s unlikely, but if fleas have your dog licking the base of their tail and you haven’t seen (or caught!) fleas, it may be that your dog picked up a single bite on their walk.
Since most dogs react allergenically to fleas, one bite is enough to set them licking scratching compulsively. It’s crucial that if you suspect fleas, you act on it since, left untreated, your dog risks more severe health problems than a bit of itching. These include:
If you suspect either of the above, get in touch with your vet.
4. Anal Sac Impaction
No one wants to think about the back end of their dog more than they have to. Another reason your dog might be licking the base of its tail is because of anal sac impaction.
Typically, the anal glands get expressed when your dog poos. As your dog defecates, the movement squeezes the anal sacs they release a fluid that allows your dog to mark their territory.
But sometimes, this doesn’t happen. Unexpressed anal glands can result from soft stool or because the dog is overweight. It typically occurs when the sacs receive inadequate pressure and remain full after your dog finishes their business.
If the anal sacs don’t get expressed regularly, they accrue fluid. Not only is this uncomfortable and likely to cause your dog to lick their tail, but in extreme cases, it can cause an abscess. If the abscess bursts, your dog faces infection and may need minor surgery.
In addition to your dog licking the base of their tail, other signs of anal gland impaction include:
- Scooting/dragging bottom along the floor
- Sitting down suddenly
- Change in stool quality
While it’s possible to express a dog’s anal sacs manually, it’s better to call a vet. The procedure can be painful and uncomfortable for dogs, and if incorrectly done, you may make the problem worse.
5. Food and Environmental Allergies
If you have ruled out fleas as the cause of your dog’s licking the base of their tail, it could still be allergies. These can be induced either by food or environmental factors, like dust.
But, if you notice that your dog’s licking the base of their tail coincides with a sudden loss of appetite, chances are your dog has a food allergy. Scientists are unclear why this happens, but sometimes prolonged exposure to the same protein triggers an immune response.
These allergies come with a variety of symptoms, many of them skin-related. These include:
- Red, itchy skin
- Hair loss
All of these will make your dog uncomfortable and explain why your dog starts licking the base of its tail.
As the name suggests, vaginitis is a problem specific to female dogs. Vaginitis occurs when the vagina becomes infected. It will be evident to you as the area will appear red and swollen.
There may even be mucous discharge, explaining why your dog is licking the base of its tail.
Untreated, this can develop into a cycle. Your dog keeps licking the base of its tail, and the vaginitis worsens. Vaginitis has various causes, ranging from UTIs to bacterial infections. So, if you notice any change in the appearance of your dog’s bottom, call the vet immediately.
7. Hormonal Imbalances
Finally, a dog may lick the base of its tail because of a hormonal imbalance. Your dog may have too little or too much of a particular hormone, depending on the condition.
Various conditions can cause these imbalances, including:
- Cushing’s syndrome
All of these have slightly different symptoms. But they share symptoms like:
- Loss of appetite
Hair loss and poor coat condition may also present as symptoms, especially if your dog licks the base of its tail to self-soothe.
Sometimes a dog licks the base of its tail for ordinary reasons, and you have no cause for concern. But other times, it can point to an underlying condition. So, when to call the vet?
You know your dog best. If the behavior seems out of character, or if there are other symptoms present, give the vet a call. In the meantime, to help manage the behavior, consider using a cone or e-collar to stop your dog from licking the base of its tail until you can get to the root of the problem.