How Do You Use A Shirt To Prevent Licking A Dog?

Dog licking is a natural behavior that serves several purposes for our canine companions. Dogs lick for grooming, to show affection, to investigate interesting smells or tastes, and to relieve stress or anxiety. However, excessive licking can become problematic and owners may want to curb the behavior.

Excessive licking causes issues like hot spots, hair loss, skin damage and infections. Dogs may even lick so much that they ingest harmful substances or make themselves sick. Preventing excessive licking protects the health of both dog and owner.

This article provides an overview of techniques to prevent excessive licking in dogs. We discuss potential problems with over-grooming, when licking prevention may be needed, and how to safely use a t-shirt or dog shirt to curb constant licking behavior.

Potential Problems with Excessive Licking

Excessive licking can lead to several health problems for dogs. One of the most common is skin irritation and infection.

A dog’s saliva contains bacteria and enzymes that can irritate the skin when licked excessively. This can cause redness, bumps, hair loss, and open sores or lesions on the skin (1). The irritation strips away protective oils and alters the pH balance of the skin, making it more prone to secondary infections from yeast and bacteria (2).

Common skin infections seen from excessive licking include bacterial infections like staph and strep, and yeast infections like Malassezia. These infections cause further inflammation, itching, pustules, and skin discoloration (1). Self-trauma from licking can also lead to acral lick dermatitis, causing hair loss, thickening, and darkening of the skin (3).

Left untreated, the infections and irritation can become quite severe. Medical treatment is often needed, including topical and/or oral antibiotics, antifungals, medicated shampoos, corticosteroids, and analgesic medications (1,3). Preventing excessive licking is important to avoid these painful and frustrating skin problems.

When to Consider Preventing Licking

Sometimes it’s necessary to prevent a dog from licking, especially in cases of wounds or post-surgery. Excessive licking can slow healing, cause infection, and lead to complications. You may want to take steps to curb licking if your dog has:

It’s generally recommended to prevent licking for at least 10-14 days after injuries, wounds, or surgery to allow proper healing. Consult your veterinarian for guidance in specific cases.

Using a T-Shirt or Dog Shirt

One of the simplest and most effective ways to prevent a dog from excessively licking is by putting a t-shirt or other shirt on them. The fabric acts as a physical barrier that blocks their access to the area they are trying to lick, such as a wound from surgery or hot spot.

T-shirts work well because they are inexpensive, easy to put on and take off, and comfortable for the dog to wear. An old t-shirt that is slightly oversized can be modified to fit the dog’s body. Make sure any shirt used is loose enough that it does not constrict the dog’s movement or breathing.

Shirts are especially helpful for preventing a pet from licking surgical incisions or irritated areas on their flank or chest [1]. The fabric acts as a gentle barrier between their mouth and the area that needs protection. It also absorbs any minor licking or chewing, while preventing them from causing damage or irritation.

Owners may want to try a t-shirt before resorting to an Elizabethan collar, as many dogs tolerate shirts better. However, shirts may not be as effective for dogs intent on licking, so an e-collar may still be needed in some cases.

Selecting the Right Shirt

When choosing a shirt to prevent your dog from licking, it’s important to select the proper size, material, and coverage area.


The shirt should be snug but not constricting. Measure your dog around the widest part of their chest and choose a size accordingly. Make sure to check sizing charts since they vary between brands. The shirt needs to fit securely so your dog cannot wiggle out of it.


Look for soft, breathable fabrics like cotton or cotton blends. Avoid materials like wool that may irritate the skin. The fabric should be durable enough that your dog cannot easily chew through it.


For incisions or hot spots on the belly or chest, a basic t-shirt is sufficient. For areas on the back or hind legs, look for shirts with extended coverage. Some options have sleeves to cover the legs and neck. Measure the area you need to cover to ensure the shirt is long enough.

The proper coverage ensures your dog cannot reach the area that needs protection. Avoid shirts that are too loose or short which could allow licking.

Putting On and Taking Off the Shirt

Putting a shirt on a dog for the first time can be challenging, so it’s important to ease them into wearing it. Start by showing your dog the shirt and letting them sniff it so they can get used to the new item. Give your dog treats as you show the shirt to create a positive association.

Once your dog seems comfortable with the shirt, place it near their head and carefully guide their front legs through the arm holes one at a time. Speak to your dog in a happy, encouraging tone throughout the process. Go slowly and don’t force it if they seem anxious or uncomfortable. Be patient as they get used to the feeling of wearing a shirt.

Check the fit once the shirt is on. It should be loose enough for your dog to move comfortably and breathe easily, but not so baggy that they can easily remove it. Adjust the shirt as needed for the right fit. Secure any fasteners or closures so the shirt stays in place.

When taking the shirt off, gently lift it over your dog’s head. Reward them with treats and praise afterwards so they continue to associate wearing the shirt with positive experiences. With practice and patience, your dog can get comfortable wearing a shirt to prevent licking.

See this helpful video on easing a dog into wearing a shirt: How to Put a Shirt on Your Dog | TikTok

Monitoring the Dog

It’s important to monitor your dog closely when they are wearing a shirt to prevent licking. Check on them frequently to make sure the shirt is staying in place and not riding up or twisting in a way that could be uncomfortable or restricting. Look for signs of irritation or agitation like biting, scratching, or rubbing at the shirt.

Dogs that are not used to wearing clothing may act unusually or seem distressed at first. Allow your dog time to adjust to the new sensation. Offer praise and treats for calm behavior. If signs of distress continue beyond the initial adjustment period, the shirt may not be suitable for your dog.

Make sure the shirt does not limit your dog’s movement or ability to go about their normal activities. Loose shirts made of soft, breathable material are less likely to cause irritation. Check for any chafing or skin irritation where the shirt touches your dog’s body, especially around sensitive areas like the armpits. Keep an eye on the neck opening so it does not constrict airflow or swallowing.

Take the shirt off periodically to give your dog’s skin a break. Look for signs of overheating like heavy panting or lethargy. Dogs with thick fur coats may only tolerate lightweight shirts for short time periods. Any signs of significant distress or injury warrant removing the shirt and discontinuing use.

With proper monitoring and gradual introduction, most dogs can adapt to wearing a shirt comfortably. Pay close attention in the beginning and adjust the shirt or schedule as needed to prevent licking without causing additional stress.

Alternatives to T-Shirts

While t-shirts can be an effective way to prevent excessive licking in dogs, there are some alternative options to consider as well:


Plastic cones (often called “Elizabethan collars”) are a common alternative to t-shirts for preventing licking. The cone fits around the dog’s neck and prevents them from being able to reach problem areas on their bodies. Cones are often used after surgeries or injuries to stop licking and interfere with healing. They can be purchased at most pet stores.


Donut collars are similar to cones but are circular in shape. They fit around the dog’s neck like a donut, allowing them to eat, drink and see, while preventing access to wounds. Donut collars are less intrusive than traditional cones but still limit licking access. They are also available at pet supply stores.


For dogs licking isolated areas like paws or legs, sleeves may be an option. These are similar to booties or bandages that wrap around the problem area, protecting it from licking while still allowing the dog to move around freely. Ask your vet for sleeve recommendations if licking is localized.

When to Call the Vet

While using a shirt can help prevent excessive licking in many cases, it’s important to be aware of when veterinary attention is needed. If excessive licking persists despite using the shirt method, it’s a good idea to schedule a veterinary visit.

Signs that warrant a call to the vet include licking that leads to sores or wounds, sudden increased licking behavior, licking that occurs along with changes in appetite or activity level, and licking that seems to indicate pain or discomfort. Dogs that persistently lick the same spot over and over may have an underlying medical issue that needs treatment.

Veterinarians can help determine if there is an allergy, infection, parasite, or other condition leading to obsessive licking. They can also suggest medications, therapeutic treatments, anxiety-reducing techniques or advanced methods beyond t-shirts to stop the behavior. Don’t hesitate to call the vet if the excessive licking continues despite your best efforts to curb it.


Dog licking can cause many issues from superficial wounds to serious infections. Continuous licking can become a difficult-to-break habit for dogs. Management techniques like using t-shirts can help prevent excessive licking and give any wounds time to heal. When choosing a t-shirt for a dog, consider fabric types, fit, and activity level. Gently put on and take off the shirt to prevent further irritation.

Regularly check on the dog while wearing the shirt. Reinforce not licking with positive training methods. T-shirts are just one option – try alternatives like bitter sprays and anxiety-relief techniques too. If licking persists or worsens, contact your veterinarian. Overall, using a t-shirt provides a simple, comfortable way to curb excessive licking and allow wounds to recover.

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