My dog is a serial licker. Sadly, Shelby suffers from skin allergies that we’ll fight for the entirety of her life. So the first time we noticed her aggressively licking at the base of her tail, our assumption was allergies — but the cause was actually impacted anal glands.
In fact, the need for anal gland expression is the most common reason a dog keeps licking back near the tail, but far from the only one. There are several reasons for your dog licking back there, such as:
When our dogs are uncomfortable, irritated, or in pain, they know to do two things: Lick and bite. After noticing excessive licking, monitor your dog closely. A trip to the veterinarian might be necessary when licking becomes excessive or doesn’t stop for days.
This article walks you through the common causes of a dog licking the base of the tail, signs to look for to identify the cause, and when it’s time to visit your vet.
My dog keeps licking back near tail area
Licking can be behavioral — caused by anxiety or boredom — but the base of the tail and rear end is challenging to reach, and paws are always conveniently available.
Assume your dog is suffering from pain, itching, or discomfort when excessively licking the base of the tail. Closely monitoring your dog’s activity is essential for determining a potential cause and the next steps.
Here are the usual causes for a dog licking the base of the tail:
Anal glands are oval sacs that sit on each side of the anus. They excrete a strong-smelling fluid that identifies them to other dogs by sex, age, and even health.
Since anal gland fluids should express from a normal bowel movement, many dogs never suffer from anal gland issues or need manual expression.
But not all dogs are that lucky. Some dogs don’t fully express with bowel movements, requiring manual expression when the glands fill. It’s very common for veterinarians and groomers to express anal glands.
If your dog is older and experiencing impacted anal glands for the first time, check to see if their stool is soft. A soft stool won’t trigger the anal gland to excrete fluid normally. Any recent changes in diet or new snack additions can cause soft stools.
Licking shouldn’t be the only symptom of impacted anal glands, but it may be the first. Additional signs of impacted or infected anal glands include:
- Scooting the rear end
- Smelly discharge
- Swollen anal area
- Straining while defecating
- Bloody stools
Skin allergies can be environmental or dietary and typically develop as puppies and into adulthood. It’s uncommon for dogs over the age of 7 to develop sudden skin allergies.
If your dog suffers from skin allergies, licking shouldn’t be centralized to the base of the tail. Look for signs of your dog scratching, rubbing against the sofa or carpet, and licking other areas like feet, stomach, and limbs.
As a doggy parent fighting skin allergies for years, be cautious about the sneakiness of your dog. Our pup is known to quietly sneak out of a room to lick.
Environmental allergies are often seasonal. Typical allergens include:
- Skin dander
To identify skin allergies on your dog, look for irritated red skin, scabbing, or darkening of the skin.
The most effective and costly treatment path is an allergy test followed by injections. Once the allergy is identified, an injectable serum containing the allergen is designed to build tolerance.
Topical creams, Apoquel, or Benadryl, can alleviate minor discomfort — but we’ve had minimal success with these for our dog’s allergies.
Skin allergies often develop into bacterial infections. Bacterial dermatitis is common in dogs, especially those prone to yeast infections, such as:
- Cocker Spaniel
- Basset Hound
- Shih Tzu
- Australian Terrier
- Lhasa Apso
- Shetland Sheepdog
I can confidently add Petite Basset Griffon Vendeen to the list since my allergic pup suffers considerably from yeast dermatitis.
Other causes of bacterial infections include external parasites and endocrine diseases like Cushing’s disease and hypothyroidism.
Bacterial dermatitis symptoms may look similar to allergies at the onset but should develop into a rashy, more disturbed skin. To identify a bacterial infection, look for the following symptoms:
- Hair loss
- Licking and scratching
- Thickened “elephant skin”
- Red irritated bumps
- Puss-like discharge
- Flaking skin
To diagnose a bacterial infection, veterinarians can perform a cytology test that identifies common bacteria under a microscope. A culture sample may follow to have the samples pinpointed by a lab to confirm the exact bacteria and the right medicines to fight it.
Topicals are common to clean and sanitize the area. Extreme cases can warrant a steroid, although steroids risk suppressing a dog’s natural immunity.
We’ve had great success with a diluted bleach mixture of 1 tsp bleach and 8 ounces of warm water. After making the mixture, you can use a damp paper towel to gently wipe your dog’s infected skin.
Bleach sounds harsh, but when heavily diluted, it sanitizes without causing pain or irritation. In fact, this diluted bleach mixture is commonly used to clean the skin of burn victims.
Catching fleas is a guaranteed way to get a case of itching and scratching. But your dog licking the base of the tail shouldn’t be the only symptom.
When checking for fleas, look for tiny red flea bites. These painful flea bites leave saliva that irritates the skin, causing your dog to attack the area and scratch aggressively.
To remove fleas at home, start with a lukewarm bath. Fleas can also be removed by comb or an apple cider vinegar solution.
The cause of your dog licking the base of its tail may be uncomfortable swelling caused by intestinal parasites. As parasites travel through the intestines, they pass in a dog’s feces, often attaching to the hairs and skin around the dog’s anus.
Scooting, vomiting, diarrhea, and licking are common symptoms of intestinal parasites. Watch for any loss of appetite and white specs in the feces.
Common intestinal parasites are:
Intestinal parasites are most severe in puppies since hookworms can cause anemia — a loss of red blood cells — and roundworms stunt growth.
When should you visit your vet due to licking?
After closely monitoring your dog, when do you decide it’s time to visit the vet? If your dog won’t drink water or eat, you should contact your veterinarian immediately.
In fact, when any of the above symptoms besides fleas are present, it’s best to seek the advice of your vet.
If you haven’t noticed further symptoms, but your dog keeps licking back near the tail area, continue to watch your dog closely for 24 to 48 hours. The aggressive nature of the licking or biting is a determining factor for how long to wait.
Since our pups can’t communicate with words, reading their behaviors is vital for maintaining their health and wellness, including licking.
A dog licking its private area is normal behavior, so long as it doesn’t become persistent. After first noticing your dog licking the base of its tail excessively, look for signs of:
- Oozing puss
- Skin discoloration
Your dog might be suffering from a more serious issue when noticing any of these symptoms:
- Lack of appetite
- Refusing water
- Bloody stool
Our dogs do need to clean themselves, making licking unavoidable. Once licking becomes excessive, do your best to stop your dog from overlicking and further aggravating the base of the tail.
Petting and loving on your dog is an excellent time to casually examine them. The more you look at your dog’s stomach and private areas, the easier it is to note changes.
When a minor bacterial infection starts, every lick and scratch risk spread.
Did you discover why your dog keeps licking back near the tail? Share this story with others to help spread awareness.