Why do Dogs Lick Their Wounds, and is it Safe?

a brown dog with a long coat licking its face

It is common for dogs to lick a wound that they get, which can become a problem after they have done so for an extended period of time, or they get carried away doing so. In this article, we will discuss why dogs lick their wounds, and how to prevent it if it gets to the point where it is harming them rather than helping them. Read on if you are curious about the antibacterial nature of dog saliva, and how to best help your dog when they are in need. This article will cover the following:

  • Why do dogs lick their wounds?
  • Is it safe?
  • How to prevent too much licking of the wounds
Small dog running through a field of pine trees
A dog’s usual activities of playing in the woods may lead to getting injured by a stick. This can lead to a wound and the possibility of overlicking the wound.

Why do dogs lick their wounds?

While some licking is normal and even helpful, too much can turn into harmful territory

A dog’s only real form of helping a wound heal or to provide some comfort to the area is to lick it. Compared to human saliva, which is full of bacteria, dog saliva is relatively clean and full of helpful enzymes that promote healing. While the first few licks of a wound help clean out any unwanted debris, additional licking can continue to clean and prevent any additional infectious matter from the outside world from entering the wound. This is usually the case for small wounds, such as cuts or scrapes. If a wound seems to be getting worse from the licking, seek attention from a veterinarian.

The dog’s licking of its wound can be helpful if it is in small amounts and seems to be helping with the progression of the healing process. Otherwise, it may get to the point where the licking is causing more harm than good. This can be spotted if the skin is raw and is not healing after a few days. If you can see the skin through the fur, that is another sign that it is not healing properly.

English foxhound sitting and licking its nose
While licking of a wound may be safe and even helpful at first, it is common for the licking to become too much. If that is the case, it is best to prevent your dog from licking in a number of ways.

Is licking a wound safe for the dog to do?

It may be safe at first, even helpful in the healing process, but then may digress into unhelpful patterns

At first, licking can not only be safe, but it can be helpful in the healing process. The enzymes in the dog saliva actually help destroy the cell walls of harmful bacteria. The saliva also contains lactoferrin and other antibacterial and antiviral compounds. To promote healing of the wound, the saliva adds protease inhibitors and growth factors. Opiorphin is one substance that is a pain reliever. In addition, it stimulates blood flow and other healing properties. When nitrate compounds in the saliva meet the skin, they break down into nitric oxide, which inhibits bacterial growth and promotes healing. All in all, this initial licking is safe if done in moderate amounts.

Once your dog has been licking the wound for a substantial amount of time, that is when you should start to get wary and possibly think about trying to get it to stop. This may be if the wound doesn't seem to be healing and the licking has become excessive. The licking can lead to additional problems, like a lick granuloma, which starts as a small problem but can become a major one. Another reason you should be wary of your dog licking its wound is if stitches are involved. If that is the case, you should help your dog to avoid licking the area altogether to make sure the stitches do not get pulled out.

If a closed wound reopens, or the area in question starts to have the fur thin out, then it gets to the point where the licking is not safe anymore. While much of the saliva is beneficial, not all of the bacteria is. So proceed with caution. That is to say, beware of harmful pathogens that colonize in a wound as a result of licking. It is best to be overly cautious when it is a surgical wound or a very large wound, or if it is a wound that hasn’t healed in a normal amount of time.

Two dogs curled up on top of a blanket
If you have let your dog lick its wound for an appropriate amount of time and it does not seem to be healing, then implement precautions to make sure the wound does not get any worse. You want to make sure your dog is healing rather than the other way around!

How to prevent your dog from licking its wound too much

This can include tending to the wounded area, or taking preventative measures

The main ways to prevent your dog from licking its wound too much, or at all for that matter, are to bandage the wound, spray bitters on the area to make it less appealing for your dog, or to use an e-collar (sometimes referred to as the cone of shame). On the other hand, it may be more beneficial to allow your dog some time to clean its wound and try to let it heal naturally. Then, when it seems as though the wound is not healing, you can implement these measures.

To restrict your dog’s access to its wound, you can use a variety of methods. This can include different types of collars that prevent the dog from licking its wound. Additionally, bandages, boots, and tapes can help your dog avoid licking its wound. A combination of the two often works out well, with the bandage or the like protecting the injured area and then the collar preventing the dog from messing with it.

In times of injury, a dog may want to lick its wound to help it heal. While this can be effective at first, too much licking can only lead to negatives, so make sure you take preventative steps to avoid these problems.

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