We’ve all heard the expression “licking our wounds.” Wound licking is a common practice among animals, as well as humans. You may even have heard that dog saliva has healing properties.
The idea that dogs need to lick their wounds in order for them to heal is so pervasive that many people, including ancient societies, believe dog saliva can also heal human wounds. This belief has some basis in fact, but over time, has achieved mythic proportions.
Myth or Fact: Saliva Heals Wounds
Healing your wounds with spit? As unlikely as it sounds, scientific evidence suggests that dog and even human saliva has some antibacterial and antimicrobial properties. Dog saliva is even slightly bactericidal against E. coli and Streptococcus canis. However, the key word in this research is “slightly.” Modern medicine has far surpassed saliva in terms of effectiveness, with veterinary antiseptic products providing a better alternative.
Wound Licking Harms More Than It Helps
Licking might offer some protection against certain bacteria, but there are serious drawbacks to letting your dog lick his wounds. Excessive licking can lead to irritation, paving the way for hot spots, infections, and potential self-mutilation. Licking and chewing can also slow healing by reopening wounds. Surgery sites are especially dangerous for dogs to lick, as licking can break down sutures and reopen the site, necessitating a trip back to the veterinarian. Closure of reopened surgical wounds is often more intricate than initial clean wound closures. That is why surgeons send their canine patients home with Elizabethan collars to wear the entire time sutures are in place or until the wound is completely healed (i.e. 10-14 days).
Instead of letting your dog lick his own wounds, stock your canine first aid kit with wound care products. Any deep penetrating wound should be seen by a veterinarian ASAP, but smaller lacerations and abrasions should be washed with soapy water, thoroughly rinsed, then patted dry. Over-the-counter antiseptic sprays or washes can help treat small scrapes and cuts at home, or be used for follow-up care for larger wounds with your veterinarian’s approval.
Active dogs that regularly compete or engage in outdoor sports may be more prone to injuries than their more sedentary relatives. Antibacterial products are especially important for these dogs, so make sure you pack your first aid kit while you’re on the road.
Leave Wound Licking in the Past
Dog saliva might have some healing properties, and before the advent of modern medicine was your dog’s best defense against infection. In today’s world, however, we have better options. Avoid putting your dog at risk by keeping a wound care product on hand and by discouraging your dog from licking. For more information about wound care and wound care products, consult with your veterinarian.