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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Ask the Vet, with Dr. Mark:
My Dog Licks His Packmate's Eyes

by Mark Nunez, DVM 
© courtesy 1corey via Flickr
Eye Licking--
Grooming or Dominance?

Dear Ask the Vet:
Oreo has always licked Cocoa's eyes. I'd guess he does this about 5 times a week. The groomers have been saying Cocoa's eyes look great and she hasn't had any tears. Any suggestions as to what this could be. I keep thinking it is the salt from her tears or possibly a sign of dominance. She doesn't seem to mind it so I've never disciplined him for it. (OK I sound like I'm talking about toddlers).I'm just curious. 
Thanks, Lizzi
Hello Lizzi,

That's a great question and one that has a few potential answers.  While many people may think this is some kind of dominance related behavior (by the way, strict dominance theory is a bit outdated), dogs can also lick each other when they are trying to appease the other or show signs of submission.  In this case, however, it is more than likely just a friend helping out a friend.  In other words, mutual grooming.  Some dogs have more ocular discharge and/or tear production than others.  There can be many reason for this, but one thing is common to all of the causes and that is the fact that their little faces need to be cleaned.  If not, this discharge can lead to infection of the skin surrounding the eyes.  That's were the friend comes in to help with those hard to reach places :-).  According to your groomer, it sounds like Oreo is doing an outstanding job!  I also see this behavior with ears.  Thanks for the question!

Dr. Mark

© courtesy M. Nunez
Dr. Nunez is a practicing veterinarian while also assisting patients through The Balanced Canine blog and his own online veterinary pharmacy

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Read More By and About Dr. Mark:
Dog Care: Do's and Don'ts for First Time Dog Owners
A Changing of the Guard Dog: Meet Your New Ask the Vet Columnist

Dr. Mark's opinion or advice does not replace an actual exam with a veterinarian.


Elizabeth said...

Thank you, Dr. Mark! This is such a new habit for me-- we had never heard of this! I'm glad Cocoa and Oreo aren't the only dogs that do this!

Melissa T. said...

Our Cocker Spaniel used to lick our pit bull's ears & eyes every few days. The Cocker was the one who usually needed his eyes & ears cleaned while the pit bull didn't need that done. I always thought it was sweet.

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