Dogs do many gross things daily – from rolling through dead stuff and eating poop to licking other dogs’ urine. Being a responsible and loving dog parent means dealing with those gross situations and accepting behaviors that seem rather unacceptable. However, being a responsible dog parent also means understanding before judging.
So, why do dogs lick other dogs’ pee? Dogs lick other dogs’ pee to learn basic information about them. Yes, as weird as it may sound to you, the dog’s pee holds valuable information. Dogs have Jacobson organs, or vomeronasal organs, that can decipher that cryptic information and turn them into actionable intel. Simply put, licking other dogs’ urine is completely normal canine activity.
The important thing, therefore, is to never scold your dog for licking another dogs’ pee. This behavior shows how true to its ancestral heritage your dog is.
Why dogs lick?
Dogs keep themselves clean and well-groomed through licking. When it comes to cleaning, licking has a dual purpose.
First of all, the mechanical movements of the tongue help remove the debris. Secondly, the dog’s saliva has antimicrobial and antibacterial properties.
Dogs can pick up a lot of information by licking their surroundings. This is due to the dog’s highly evolved and remarkable senses.
The dog’s habit of licking other dog’s urine falls into this category. As gross as it sounds and looks to you, your dog can learn many things from the other dogs’ pee – sex, heat period, neutering status, and even emotional state.
Licking is an essential part of the dog’s greeting protocol. Dogs, especially young puppies, tend to lick people and other dogs. This activity is very friendly and accompanied by enthusiastic body wiggling and tail wagging.
Dogs know we usually respond to their licking with excitement and pet them back in return, so the licking can very well be a form of attention-seeking behavior.
Dogs often lick parts of their bodies that feel sore or painful. Dogs can also lick themselves if they feel stressed and anxious.
Obsessive licking is a red flag and warrants immediate veterinary attention. Sometimes the problem is physical, and other times behavioral.
Dogs love us and seek interaction. However, if your dog seems more affectionate and lick-prone after you return from the gym, it is because it likes the taste of salt on your skin.
Why do dogs lick other dogs pee?
To better understand why dogs lick other dogs’ pee, how they decipher the hidden messages, and what those messages mean, we need to explain how the Jacobson organ works.
The Jacobson’s organ
The Jacobson’s organ is also known as the vomeronasal organ because it is located in the vomer bone – just between the dog’s nose and mouth. Its main job is to transfer information from the environment to the brain.
The Jacobson’s organ has another important job – analyzing large molecules like pheromones. Pheromones are specific chemicals that act similarly to hormones but outside of the body.
Pheromones are essential for every aspect of the dog’s life, from hunting through reproduction to environmental perception and social relationships.
After a dog licks another dogs’ pee, it usually tilts its snout up and presses its tongue to its mouth’s roof. Other dogs prefer the Flehmen reaction – they freeze and unusually curl their tongues.
Both alternatives have the same goal – savoring the pee’s flavor and transferring as much pee as possible to the Jacobson’s organ for future processing and analysis.
The urine’s hidden messages
From a chemical composition perspective, the dog’s pee consists of:
- Uric acid
- Sugar (in dogs with diabetes)
When it comes to providing information, ammonia and uric acid are not very interesting. However, the bacteria and hormones offer an insight into the other dog’s status. The bacteria found in a healthy dog’s pee are nothing to be worried about – they are normal residents and do no harm. As for the sugar, it can make the urine pleasant (from a dog’s perspective).
The three most valuable information dogs get by tasting other dogs’ urine are:
- Gender (male or female)
- Heat availability (spayed, neutered, or in heat)
- Presence of infection or illness
Are some dogs more likely to lick other dogs’ urine?
Yes, in general, unneutered male dogs are more likely to engage in urine licking quests than neutered males and females. This is simply because unneutered male dogs are always searching for mating partners.
Female dogs can also become preoccupied with licking other dogs’ urine but only when in heat. Spayed females rarely exhibit this behavior.
Is licking other dogs’ urine unhealthy?
Generally speaking, dogs have strong immunities and strong stomach acids that protect them from potential dangers lurking in other dogs’ pee. Therefore, healthy dogs are very unlikely to get sick by licking urine.
However, if your dog’s immunity is significantly weakened by other diseases or medication, it can get sick by licking other dogs’ urine. Young puppies with underdeveloped immune systems and senior dogs with less efficient immune systems are also at risk of contracting an illness by licking other dog’s pee.
The biggest concern is an infectious disease called Leptospirosis. Leptospirosis can be caused by drinking contaminated water or licking pee from infected dogs. The condition is caused by bacteria – Spirochetes. If left untreated, this disease can progress and cause irreversible kidney damage. In some cases, kidney failure can be accompanied by liver failure and lung disease.
A dog showing these clinical signs and symptoms may have Leptospirosis and needs immediate veterinary attention:
- Intense redness of mucous membranes
- Fever (increased body temperature)
- Changes in the urination pattern (frequency and amount)
- Reluctance to move and be physically active
- Extreme tiredness
- Muscle tenderness
- Painful inflammation of the eyes
- Jaundice (the skin and mucous membranes turn yellow)
- Leg swelling
- Bleeding disorders
- Behavior changes
Should I let my dog smell other dogs’ pee?
We already explained that licking other dog’s pee is normal behavior for dogs. We also mentioned that there are some associated risks. So, this triggers an important question – to let your dog lick or not?
Canine behaviorists say you should let your dog express its natural inclinations. However, veterinarians prefer to stay on the safe side and suggest these tips for your pee-licking dog:
- Keep your dog’s vaccines and de-worming pills up to date
- Make sure your dog has plenty of fresh drinkable water (since moving water is cleaner, consider buying a fountain instead of regular water bowls)
- See your vet immediately if you notice signs of Leptospirosis
- If you do not like your dog licking other dogs’ urine, seek professional help – a canine trainer or behaviorist
- After your dog licked another dog’s urine and before letting it lick you, rinse its mouth with a canine-friendly mouthwash and preferably brush its teeth.
These were the “do’s” of pee licking. Veterinarians also provide the “do not’s” which include:
- Never let your dog kiss or lick you after it licked someone else’s urine
- Do not scold your dog for licking pee, as this is natural canine behavior.
Considering how sensitive the dog’s nose is and how strong urine smells, it is peculiar that dogs would resort to licking urine as a social activity and communication.
However, as weird and disgusting it seems, licking other dogs’ pee is entirely normal for dogs. Because it makes dogs learn new things about other dogs, urine licking is the canine equivalent of human gossiping or running a background check.
Finally, since licking another dog’s pee is very unlikely to harm your dog (as long as you keep your dog adequately protected), there is no reason to stop your dog from this behavior. The only downside is you being grossed out.
Why do male dogs lick the urine of female dogs?
A male dog can determine whether a female is in heat just by licking her pee. If your male dog licks a female dog’s pee and acts all excited afterward, chances are the female is in heat.
Why does my dog lick its own pee?
A dog licking or drinking its own pee is always a red flag – your dog is either dehydrated (and drinking urine to survive) or has a urinary tract infection that makes it extra thirsty.
Why does my dog lick its pee inside the house?
If your dog is licking its own pee but only inside the house after an accident, it is because it is trying to cover up the accident and avoid punishment. In this case, you will need to invest some more time and patience in your dog’s housetraining.