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Should I let my dog lick wounds?

Updated on June 3, 2015

There are approximately 70 to 80 million dogs and 74-96 million cats owned in the United States of America. That means that about 42% of Americans own a dog and 33.5% of Americans own a cat. That is a whole lot of pet owners. Inevitably these pets do end up injured from time to time just from their everyday activities. When this happens the big question on every pet owners mind after their pet is treated is: do I let my furry friend lick their wound?

Should I let my pet lick their own wounds?

As of yet there is not set answer to this question; some experts says yes and some say no. The most important thing when deciding if you are going to let your pet lick his or her wound is what you vet recommends. If your pet was seriously injured and had to go to the vet then that is a different scenario entirely. This Hub is only on minor wounds and scratches, the time of wound you treat yourself at home.

Dogs and cats lick their wounds because it is the only option they have when it comes to giving themselves medical care. They do not have thumbs to apply antibiotic cream and bandages, they only have their tongue. Unlike a human’s saliva an animal’s saliva is mostly clean; their saliva does not have the bacteria that a human’s saliva does. The first few licks clear away any debris that may be stuck in the wound, the next few licks clean away infectious matter from the outside world, and their continued licking can stimulate their blood flow. A dog’s saliva also possesses enzymes that help to destroy the cell walls of dangerous bacteria. In addition to helpful enzymes your dog’s saliva also has antibacterial and anti-viral compounds that assist them in the cleaning and healing of their wound through the delivery of protease inhibitors, opiorphin (pain reliever), and growth factors.

While your pet’s licking can assist in the cleaning and healing of their wound it can also be bad for the wound. Animals often don’t know when to stop licking their wound; this behavior can lead to them taking the scab off the wound, licking the area raw, and causing their fur to thin in the surrounding areas. Over-licking can be discouraged through bandaging the area, using the cone of shame, and if the wound is fully healed you can try spraying it with bitters to make it taste bad. Too much licking can cause the harmful pathogens in the animal’s saliva to colonize the animal’s wound.

While it is okay to let your pet lick at their wound it is very important that you do NOT trust them to be the sole administer of their medical treatment. Their licking needs to be monitored and if they prove to be obsessive then the area needs to be blocked. It is also very important to note that while the licking is okay for minor wounds it is not good for major wounds or surgical wound. Any wound that has been stitched needs to be blocked from your pet because they can and will pull their own stiches out in their efforts to heal their wound.


Should I let my pet lick my wounds?

History shows us that people used to see dogs as a part of heeling. For instance in ancient Egypt there was a city known as Cynopolis which means the city of dogs. This city was so named because of the many temples that were dedicated to Anubis, the dog-headed guide of the dead. These temples used dogs in their heeling methods because it was their belief that being licked by a dog could help heal wounds and cure diseases. In ancient Greece the temples of Asclepius (god of healing) trained dogs to lick wounds in order to help speed the healing of their patients. A popular phrase in France is "Langue de chien, langue de médecin" which means a dog's tongue is a doctor's tongue.

When a dog licks a person’s wound their tongue dislodges any debris stuck to the surface of the wound this can help prevent infection through contamination. A dog’s saliva contains simple proteins known as histatins which can prevent infection and can cause a wound to close faster. While a dog’s saliva can help clean the wound, prevent infection, and speed healing it can also cause infection. Dog saliva contains bad bacteria like Pasteurella; while Pasteurella does not harm oral wounds it can lead to infection when it is added to a deep open wound. A dog can help heal a human’s wound through licking, but so can a wound wash, antibiotic cream, and a bandage without the risk of infection from the bacteria in your dog’s mouth.

Do you let your pet lick your wounds?

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