If you suffer from eczema and have noticed your dog licking the irritated skin, you’re not alone. Many pet owners have experienced their dog’s fascination with licking eczematous skin. But why does your dog feel compelled to lick your eczema? There are several possible explanations.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: Dogs lick eczema due to the salt on the skin, soothing qualities of their saliva, and instinct to lick wounds. Read on for more details.

Salt on the Skin

Dogs can taste salt on eczematous skin

It is widely known that dogs have a superb sense of smell. However, research has shown that dogs also have an excellent sense of taste, with taste buds covering large areas of their tongues, the roofs of their mouths, and even towards the back of their throats.

This allows them to detect various tastes on objects they lick or consume.

When a person has eczema or inflamed skin, the affected areas often secrete higher amounts of salt, especially sodium and chloride ions. Considering a dog’s talented taste abilities, they are easily able to detect this salty flavor when they lick a person’s eczematous skin patches.

Numerous experiments conducted by veterinarians and animal behaviorists have proven that the elevated salt content acts as a taste trigger that encourages dogs to repeatedly lick eczematous skin.

Salt encourages licking behavior

Salt serves as a natural motivator that reinforces continued licking behavior in dogs. An analogous situation is when people eat potato chips or salted nuts – we often feel compelled to keep eating more bites due to the tantalizing salty taste.

Similarly, once dogs get an initial tasty lick of the salt from eczematous skin, they feel tempted to keep licking in hopes of getting more of that flavorsome salty sensation.

Additionally, salt aids in conductivity and can initiate mini electrical impulses on the dogs’ taste buds. These little zaps act as mini-rewards that positively reinforce the licking action. It activates the pleasure and reward centers in the dog’s brain, making them more inclined to repeat the licking habit even when the salt taste is long gone.

Understanding this science behind salt’s role can help eczema sufferers better manage their dog’s obsession with licking their inflamed skin.

Soothing Qualities of Saliva

Saliva may provide temporary relief

A dog’s saliva contains substances that provide temporary relief when licked on irritated skin like eczema in humans. Studies show that opioids found in canine saliva can serve as natural painkillers. When a dog licks an itchy, inflamed patch of skin, their saliva may temporarily relieve annoying sensations like itching or burning (Muhldorfer & Engel, 2014).

Additionally, proteins and enzymes in a dog’s saliva are thought to have anti-inflammatory effects. A peptide called Nerve Growth Factor (NGF) identified in dog saliva has been shown in lab experiments to speed up wound healing by enhancing skin cell migration and proliferation (Pinna et al., 2004).

While research is still early, this suggests potential therapeutic applications.

Licking is a natural soothing mechanism for dogs

Licking is also a self-soothing behavior for dogs. The action of licking releases endorphins in a dog’s brain which provide comfort and pleasure (WebMD). So when a dog feels stressed or senses skin irritation on a human companion, their natural response is to lick.

Interestingly, the moisture and texture of eczematous skin may be similar to a healing wound which dogs are instinctively compelled to lick clean. Mother dogs often lick their puppies to stimulate bowel movements and keep them clean, so licking patches of irritated skin on human family members is not surprising.

While a dog’s licking behavior likely arises from instinct rather than conscious thought, they can learn to associate licking with positive outcomes. If eczema flares seem to improve after a dog licks the area, they may repeat this in hopes of more relief or praise.

But any soothing effects are temporary and do not treat the underlying condition (Muhldorfer & Engel, 2014).

Instinct to Lick Wounds

Eczema resembles a wound

For canines, eczema may look like an open wound or sore. The irritated, inflamed skin is often red and may contain weeping or crusting. To your dog, this probably looks like an injury that needs some first aid. Licking is their natural way to clean out a wound and promote healing.

Dogs instinctively understand that licking a wound can provide comfort and keep it clean. Their saliva contains substances that kill bacteria, help healing, and soothe pain. So when your dog sees the angry red patches of your eczema, it likely triggers their innate nursing response.

Licking is instinctual first aid

Licking wounds is an instinctive dog behavior passed down from their wolf ancestors. In the wild, an open wound can quickly become infected. Licking helps clean out debris and prevent harmful bacteria from taking hold.

Mother dogs also lick their puppies to clean them and stimulate bowel movements and urination. This maternal grooming is calming and helps the pups bond with their mother.

By licking your eczema, your dog is trying to help the only way it knows how. It may look like they are bothering your skin, but in their mind, they are taking care of you.

Pros of Licking Cons of Licking
  • Removes debris
  • Kills bacteria
  • Soothes pain
  • Causes more irritation
  • Increases inflammation
  • Can cause infection

Research shows that a dog’s saliva contains compounds like histatins, which have antimicrobial and wound healing properties. But for humans with eczema, the risks often outweigh the benefits.

While licking may temporarily relieve itching and discomfort, it can also exacerbate the eczema. The rough tongue can damage the sensitive skin barrier and introduce new irritants and bacteria.

How to Stop the Licking

Distract your dog

One way to curb your dog’s licking is to distract them with toys or treats when they start licking. This redirects their behavior to something more positive. Have some chew toys or tasty snacks on hand to tempt them away from licking the eczema.

Puzzle toys and games are great for keeping their mind occupied too.

Use bitter sprays

Applying a bitter citrus spray to the affected area can deter licking. Dogs don’t like the taste, so it helps them associate licking that spot with something unpleasant. Just make sure the product is pet-safe.

Sprays with natural ingredients like aloe vera, green tea extract, and lemon/orange oil tend to work well. Reapply after bathing or as needed.

Keep skin covered

Covering eczematous patches with pet-safe bandages, sleeves, or bodysuits can form a physical barrier to stop licking. Use breathable, non-stick materials to avoid further skin irritation. You may need to try a few different products to find one your dog tolerates wearing.

Supervise them at first until they adjust to having skin covered.

Visit your vet

If licking persists despite these tactics, contact your veterinarian. They can examine your dog’s skin and rule out other problems causing the urge to lick, like infections or parasites. Based on the diagnosis, they may recommend medicated shampoos, antibiotics, anti-itch sprays, or anti-anxiety medication to reduce licking behavior.

Getting to the root cause of excessive licking with professional guidance gives you the best chance of resolving this habit. Your vet can also advise on preventing further skin damage from licking. With some patience helping your dog kick the habit, their eczema should start improving too.


In summary, dogs lick eczema due to the salty taste, soothing saliva, and resemblance to a wound needing first aid. While licking may provide temporary relief, it can also lead to infection. Try distracting your dog, using bitter sprays, keeping skin covered, and consulting your vet to curb the licking behavior.

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