All dogs come naturally equipped with a single tool when it comes to giving themselves medical care; aka, their long tongues. The doggie tongue isn’t only used for only medical purposes, but it also helps them in many other ways. The mouth of a dog houses a lot of clean elements, despite the presence of bacteria. When compared to the human mouth, that of a dog is relatively clean. Their saliva, especially, is filled with enzymes that promote healing.
For dogs, one instinctive behavior they have is to lick their wounds. Although it might look gross for a dog owner, it is a necessary action that curbs infection of the wound. What’s more, this behavior isn’t seen only with dogs but also with other animals such as primates, cats, horses, and even rodents. In this short piece, we delve into the history of wound licking for dogs, why it is done, its benefits and setbacks, as well as how best to deter your canine from constantly licking his wounds.
The History Behind Wound Licking
So, why do dogs lick cuts? In the past, the saliva of dogs, in general, were being used to heal human wounds. This started the myth that licking of the wounds might be curative. Nowadays, this belief has become a known fact after many studies and extensive research.
Scientists and historians discovered that the art of wound cleaning started back in ancient Egypt. All Egyptians believed that to help aid in the recovery of injury and the cure of illnesses, you needed to be licked by a dog. This was done for open wounds, mainly because they believed that this would quicken the healing process.
From Egypt, we move on to Armenia, where dog-like spirits or creatures, known as Arazele, were believed to descend from the sky to lick the wounds of hurt people, so help them resurrect. Also, Greece had a shrine for dogs known as the Aesculapius, where dogs were seen as heroes and gods of medicine. These dogs were thus trained to lick the wounds of all patients.
Does Dog Saliva Have Healing Properties?
Science has found many ways to explain why wound licking is very useful. The first is because their saliva is simply magical, as it contains some amount of antimicrobial and antibacterial properties. Their saliva has slight amounts of bacteria, making it ‘bactericidal’ which refers to any substance that kills bacteria. Despite the fact that a large amount of bacteria is present in a dog’s mouth, it isn’t as bad as that of humans. Many of these bacteria are very helpful, not only for wound cleaning but also for general oral health.
To further explain, the bactericidal nature of a dog’s saliva enables it to do away with Streptococcus canis and Escherichia coli which can be potentially life-threatening. But the liquid alone doesn’t ensure complete healing of the wound. Rather, it is the constant licking of the wound that will allow the saliva to clean all infectious matter from outside the world. All debris that might be in the wound is taken away after the first few licks.
Why Do Dogs Lick Their Wounds?
We all know that unlike humans, dogs cannot only reach into a medicine cabinet to find antiseptic, the minute they have an injury or wound. Their first instinct is to make use of their mouths; thus, the wound licking process. This process is automatic, and it is the only remedy available for cleaning their wounds.
Besides cleaning, the wound licking process is also known to quicken the healing process and relieve pain. The deeper the wound, the likely your dog is to lick it constantly.
The Dangers Of Dogs Licking Wounds
We have discussed the many benefits of dog saliva and the art of licking, but now, we need to look at some of the adverse effects of this activity. There are some risks involved with wound licking despite the many benefits, and we’ll be explaining them in the following paragraphs. The first one is that licking a wound might result in the wound healing slowly.
Like humans, dogs have many different bacteria in their mouths. However, not all of these are great for healing and cleaning; they can also cause infections. For example, if the bacteria known as Pasteurella is introduced to a wound from your dog’s mouth, an infection can occur. Inside the mouth, however, this bacterium is harmless.
Another danger occurs with the constant connection of tongue to wound. Continuous licking leads to a high amount of friction. Such a motion can breakdown tissues and cause old wounds to re-open. Once an old injury is opened, the healing process prolongs, and both wounds become susceptible to debris contact and infections.
If your dog has had surgery before, the licking motion can re-open the wound by breaking down the sutures, which can be very dangerous.
How to Stop a Dog Licking Wound?
So, what are the best ways to prevent your dog from licking its wound? There are many strategies one can use to ensure that your dog stays away from their injuries, allowing them to heal naturally.
The first way is to use a bandage on the wound or an e-collar for your dog. Although dog collars are not a favorite accessory for many dogs, especially after surgery; nonetheless, you need to remember the benefits it will offer not only for the fast healing of your dog’s wounds but also for more comfort and less pain. Bandages can be used for smaller injuries, but you have to be mindful of those dogs who attempt to lick the dressing off when you’re not looking.
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You can also use distraction techniques to keep your dog’s tongue away, especially when it is a small wound. Some of these techniques include food puzzles, brain games, and any other activity that will help distract your dog’s attention. Since it’s possible they will return to licking their wound, you need to remember to keep an eye on your dog and ensure that they’re well engaged.
Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.