Why Do Dogs Lick Their Own Wounds?
It’s instinct for a dog to lick its own wounds but why do they do it and is it actually helpful?
When a human bumps his head the first thing they do is give it a good old rub. When dogs lick their own wounds it’s very similar, it’s a comfort thing! The pain is reduced and the release of serotonin makes the dog feel better.
Also, the dog’s saliva contains antibacterial and blood clotting properties which may help the wound to heal.
Bad bacteria is also present in the dogs mouth, so the effect is minimal and can cause further infection.
The act of licking will also remove fur and skin leaving the wound more open to infection.
The licking promotes a warm, wet atmosphere which is the ideal environment for bacteria to grow.
If the wound is infected, the dog is ingesting the bacteria by licking and could become unwell.
In the case of postoperative wounds, the saliva might break down the sutures and licking could open a wound.
Older dogs have reduced immune systems and can become extremely unwell after licking an infected wound.
So although wound licking is instinctive (bitches lick their puppies) it should never be encouraged.
In the wild a dog would lick its wounds because that is the only option, however, for domestic dogs, veterinary care will speed up the healing significantly.
The idea that a wound will heal quicker after being licked by a dog goes right back to Ancient Times.
Here is what Wikipedia has to say
Dog saliva has been said by many cultures to have curative powers in people. “Langue de chien, langue de médecin” is a French saying meaning “A dog’s tongue is a doctor’s tongue“, and a Latin quote that “Lingua canis dum lingit vulnus curat” or “A dog’s saliva can heal your wound” appears in a thirteenth-century manuscript. In Ancient Greece, dogs at the shrine of Aesculapius were trained to lick patients, and snake saliva was also applied to wounds. Saint Roch in the Middle Ages was said to have been cured of a plague of sores by licking from his dog. The Assyrian Queen Semiramis is supposed to have attempted to resurrect the slain Armenian king Ara the Beautiful by having the dog god Aralez lick his wounds. In the Scottish Highlands in the nineteenth century, dog lick was believed to be effective for treating wounds and sores. In the Gospel of Luke (16:19-31), Lazarus the Beggar‘s sores are licked by dogs, although no curative effects are reported by the Evangelist
How to Stop a Dog From Licking His Wounds
1 Bandages or a sock will keep the wound clean. A jumper or child’s babygrow can be helpful to keep the wound concealed.
2 A collar can be helpful. The plastic conical ones are supplied by the vet but more comfortable ones are available to purchase.
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3 Distraction techniques like brain games or stuffed Kongs. However, the dog will return to licking as soon as your back is turned!
Excessive licking of paws or other body parts may become an Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and is different from wound licking. This is a habit which can have many causes. It can be purely because the dog enjoys it, to a host of medical causes, so speak to a vet if you are worried.
Why Do Dogs Lick Human Wounds?
A dog will also try to lick its owner’s wounds because he has a natural instinct to take care. He believes that licking will clean the wound but as explained above, the natural bacteria in a dog’s mouth can cause infection.