Dogs that lick the floor a lot often have a stomach problem

Q: Sheba, my 7-year-old spayed female mixed-breed dog, has been licking the floors constantly for the past month. What do you think is happening?

A: Research in dogs shows that stomach and intestinal problems can trigger excessive licking of surfaces, known as ELS, including floors, carpeting, walls, doors and furniture.

In one study, researchers evaluated 19 dogs with this condition and 10 healthy dogs, doing blood work, neurologic examinations, oral exams under anesthesia, abdominal ultrasounds, endoscopies and biopsies of stomach and intestines.

Fourteen of the 19 dogs (74%) with excessive licking were diagnosed with specific gastrointestinal diseases, whereas only three of the 10 healthy dogs (30%) were similarly affected. After treatment of the gastrointestinal diseases, nine of the 10 dogs stopped licking and the 10th dog licked significantly less often.

I suggest you make an appointment for Sheba with her veterinarian and take along a fresh fecal sample for testing. If her veterinarian doesn't find a gastrointestinal disorder, Sheba could be experiencing a nutrient deficiency, an anxiety-related compulsive behavior or some other problem. Her vet can help address that, too.

Q: I have two indoor cats, 3-year-old Belle and 17-year-old Beast, both of whom are neutered. It appears that Belle still comes into heat, and when she does, she allows Beast to mount her. Why is this happening?

A: For a variety of behavioral reasons, neutered male cats sometimes mount spayed female cats. But if Belle is allowing this, it's possible she is in heat, as you surmise.

If she is, she's probably exhibiting the typical heat behavior of lowering her front legs, raising her hips and holding her tail to the side to allow Beast to mount her. She may also rub against you or Beast, roll on the ground, tread her back legs, call to Beast and outdoor males, spray urine and have a swollen vulva.

Female cats begin their heat cycles as day length increases in January, and they continue until daylight decreases later in the summer. So seasonality is another clue to whether Belle is in heat.

The two most common reasons that spayed female cats display heat behaviors are exposure to estrogen from an external source and a condition called ovarian remnant syndrome.

If you apply estrogen cream or spray to your skin, it can spread to Belle's fur when you pet or cuddle her, or be ingested if she licks your skin. If you don't use topical hormone products, ask any frequent visitors to your home if they do.

Hormone creams and sprays also can be deposited on your clothing and bed linens and subsequently transferred to Belle. Once the estrogen is on her fur, it will be ingested during grooming or absorbed through her skin, producing high enough levels in her body to stimulate heat behaviors.

Another cause of persistent heat behavior after spay surgery is ovarian remnant syndrome. If a tiny piece of ovarian tissue remains in the abdomen after surgery, it can secrete sufficient quantities of reproductive hormones to cause heat behavior.

Ovarian remnants occur in cats with ectopic ovarian tissue, which is ovarian tissue outside the ovary that's invisible to the surgeon. Ovarian remnants are also found in cats after spay surgery if some ovarian tissue was left in place, for example, if cells escaped from the ovary during surgery and implanted in the abdomen.

If you can identify no exposure to estrogen creams or sprays, ask your veterinarian to determine whether Belle has an ovarian remnant. If so, a second surgery can remove it — and return your home life to normal.

Lee Pickett, VMD, practices companion animal medicine in North Carolina. Contact her at