Main banner image Why do dogs lick wounds?

Why do dogs lick wounds?

Sadly there are times when your dog may get injured or require an operation and, as a result, have a wound which needs to heal. It is a natural and instinctive behaviour of dogs to lick the wound in an attempt to clean any discharge and reduce pain and discomfort. The dog’s tongue does help in loosening any dirt in the wound. While minor licking may not be an issue extreme licking could make the situation worse. Their saliva does have some antibacterial properties but it will not heal the wound and there are disadvantages to allowing your dog to continually lick. 

They lick the wound because it soothes the pain and eases their discomfort. The same way we would hold or rub a wound when we injure ourselves. It is not however a good idea to let them continue this as it could lead to a number of additional complications and may become a habit. Your dog’s mouth has a number of bacteria present and continual licking can infect the wound. If your dog requires veterinary attention he or she will advise you on the best way to help your dog.  If the wound is serious or they have had an operation your vet will place an Elizabethan collar (E-Collar) or something similar around their necks to prevent them from reaching the wound. Having had a dog which was required to wear an E-Collar it can be quite an ordeal for the dog and the owner until they get used to wearing it. 

If they are not wearing an E-Collar and your dog will not stop licking, to prevent it from becoming a habit, which may in turn cause hot spots - where the skin becomes red and inflamed - there are a few things you can try:

Licking paws - try placing one of your socks wrapped with adhesive surgical tape, over the irritated paw.

Using a T-shirt to cover up a wound provides loose protection that also lets air reach the spot.

A pair of shorts could also be used if the wound is on the back end of the dog
Covering the wound will prevent your dog accessing it and will promote healing but it is important to remember that wounds require oxygen to heal, as well as a constant blood flow. Bandages, t-shirts or anything else used to cover an affected area should not be tight.  

You could also distract them with toys – chew toys in particular – or slow feeder bowls to keep them preoccupied.  If they are mobile take them for walks. The more you are able to distract them from licking the quicker they will heal.

Keep a close watch on the wound and if you suspect any infection we recommend speaking to your veterinarian who could perhaps suggest a suitable antiseptic spray.

Your dog considers you a part of the pack and will therefore have a natural desire to take care of your wound if you are injured.  It may be helpful in cleaning your wound but it is not a good idea as their mouths are full of bacteria and may lead to an infection.  

If you have a story to share with us we would love to hear them in the comments below.

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