As dog lovers we know one thing — dogs love to lick everything. But when it comes to wounds there seems to be a bit of confusion. Is letting your dog lick their wounds beneficial, or does it cause more harm than good?
While it is true that there are a few potential benefits to wound licking it’s important to keep in mind that the risks outweigh the benefits, especially when you’re talking about large wounds.
In this article we’ll look at why dogs lick their wounds, the risks associated with wound licking, and how to prevent your dog from licking their own wounds.
Why Do Dogs Lick Their Wounds?
Why do dogs lick their wounds? In short dogs lick their wounds because it can promote healing and relieve pain. And although licking can help the healing process in some wounds it can also cause more harm than good (more on that below).
Wound licking is an instinctive response in dogs, and it’s one that’s found in many other animals such as cats, primates and rodents. Their mouth is the only tool they have at their disposal to try to clean up wounds. They can’t go to the medicine cabinet and grab some disinfectant, so they use the only thing they’ve got — their mouth. It’s the only way they know how to help themselves heal.
Why licking? Well, saliva contains some beneficial materials that can help promote healing. It contains a protein called tissue factor (also called platelet tissue factor) that can help promote blood clotting. Dog saliva also contains Opiorphin (an endogenous chemical compound), which acts as a painkiller.
The History Behind Wound Licking
The belief that wound licking can have some curative effects has been around for ages, and in the past we utilized dogs to help heal some of our own wounds.
The belief that dog saliva can help heal wounds goes all the way back to ancient Egyptian times. The Egyptians believed that being licked by a dog, especially on an open wound, helped aid in recovery and cure illnesses.
In ancient Greece, dogs at the shrine of Aesculapius (a hero and god of medicine) were trained to lick patients. And in Armenian culture Aralezes (dog-like creatures or spirits) descended from the sky to lick the wounds of the fallen so they could resurrect.
We don’t use those methods anymore thanks to modern medicine, but our dogs still do. And while licking minor wounds may not cause much of a problem for your dog the big ones can.
The Dangers Of Letting Your Dog Lick Their Wounds
Although wound licking has a few potential benefits there are some major risks involved. Wound licking can slow down the healing process, and in some cases it can make things much worse by causing infections.
Dogs have billions of bacteria inside their mouth, and many of them have the potential to cause infections. Bacteria that’s harmless inside your dog’s mouth such as Pasteurella can cause serious infections if introduced into a wound.
The friction caused by licking can also reopen old wounds by breaking down tissue. That can leave them susceptible to infection and debris, and slow down the healing process altogether.
Surgery sites are especially dangerous when it comes to licking, since it can break down sutures and reopen the wound. Incisions can be itchy and irritating, and many dogs will respond by licking or chewing at the affected area. And since surgery wounds are often large and deep the chances of infection are pretty high if your dog is allowed to lick the area.
How to Prevent Your Dog From Licking Their Wounds
When it comes to preventing your dog from licking their wounds you can use an E-collar, a bandage, or distraction techniques in the case of minor wounds.
If your dog has had surgery your veterinarian probably already sent you home with an E-collar and instructions on how long to keep it on for. Although no one enjoys the cone of shame it’s important to remember that in the long run it’s for their own good. They’re designed to prevent your dog from licking their wounds, and to prevent them from inadvertently slowing down the healing process.
In some smaller wounds you can use a bandage to prevent your dog from licking the area, but it’s important to keep in mind some dogs will remove their bandage and get back to licking the moment you’re not looking.
If you’re concerned about any wounds on your dog consult with your veterinarian. They’ll be able to access your dog’s injury, give you treatment options if applicable, and let you know which method is appropriate for preventing wound licking.
And if you’re not a fan of E-collars (I don’t think anyone is) ask your veterinarian if any of the alternatives would be suitable. Depending on where your dog’s wound is they may be able to recommend an alternative to an E-collar that’s not quite as intrusive.
If you’re dealing with a minor wound you may be able to get away with using distraction techniques such as brain games or food puzzles to keep your dog busy. Just remember to keep an eye on your dog when they’re not actively engaged with something, since they might go right back to licking their wound.
Why do dogs lick their wounds? Because it can help promote healing and relive pain. And although dog saliva may have some healing properties when it comes to wound licking the risks outweigh the benefits. Wound licking can actually slow down the healing process, and in some instances it can cause serious infections.
If your dog has a new wound that you’re concerned about, or one that won’t heal please consult your veterinarian. There’s plenty of treatment options available, and they’ll be able to come up with the treatment that’s right for your dog.