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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
If you’re not a fan of Ecollars, 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.
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 your dog has a new wound that you’re concerned about, or one that won’t heal, please consult your veterinarian. There are plenty of treatment options available, and they’ll be able to come up with the treatment that’s right for your dog.
Reprinted with permission from www.puppyleaks.com.