Ask the Vet: Why Do Dogs Lick Their Wounds?

May 29, 2020 by

Dog Outside Near Fence

When a dog has some sort of wound or injury, it is simply an instinct for them to repeatedly lick the affected area. This action is similar to humans’ tendency to rub an injured area — our way to soothe ourselves at the moment — which is exactly what injured dogs are doing when they lick their wounds. The act of licking distracts the injured dog from the pain of the wound, but it is ultimately not productive for your furry friend’s healing process. Keep reading to learn more about the risks of allowing your dog to lick its wounds and how to avoid any negative consequences. 

The Myth About Dogs’ Saliva 

The belief that dogs’ saliva contains healing properties against cuts and sores has been pervasive for centuries. While it is true that dogs’ saliva has some antibacterial and antimicrobial properties that were helpful for healing their wounds before domestication, your beloved and cared-for dog is actually doing itself more harm than good when frequently licking its wounds.

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“The motion of licking may increase blood flow to help heal a wound yet at the same time keep the wound moist, open, non-healed and with continual introduction of potential harmful bacteria.” – Michelle Casey, DVM

Undomesticated dogs had to juggle finding food and staying safe, which meant they had less time to lick their injuries. Our modern-day pampered pups, however, often spend a lot of idle time indoors, where they can easily spend too much time over-grooming their injuries, which could lead to more issues. What is more, modern veterinary medicine has developed treatments for pet injuries that are much safer and far more beneficial to your pet’s health than leaving them to lick their wounds.

Reduce Your Dog’s Chance of Further Injury 

When your dog tries to ease the pain of its wound by incessantly licking, it can actually cause further irritation and reopen the skin. Overlicking potentially leads to sores, hot spots and infections. Surgery sites, in particular, should not be licked, as the friction can break down sutures, requiring another trip to the vet and additional stitches for your recovering dog. To eliminate the risk of your dog reopening its post-surgery wound, use Elizabethan collars (E-collars) for up to two weeks. You can also use a t-shirt or recovery shirt to protect a dog injury while allowing continued airflow to the affected area. An additional advantage of using a recovery shirt is that they can ease anxiety in dogs.

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“Early intervention is best as some dogs will develop a licking obsession that can be hard to break even after the wound has healed.” – Lucas White, DVM

Is Your Dog Injured?

To make sure your dog receives the appropriate care for any wound or injury, schedule an appointment at Sunset Veterinary Clinic today.

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