Dogs will naturally lick any wound on their bodies they can reach with their tongues, as it’s just instinct for them to do so. Because this is such common behavior, many people believe that when a dog licks a wound, it will promote healing. There is some evidence that dog saliva has some antibacterial, plus the rough surface of a dog’s tongue can loosen dirt which may have gotten into the wound.
While licking may have some positive aspects to it, the harm it may cause outweighs the good. Licking can cause irritation and this can open the door for the development of a hot spot. Plus, constant licking of a wound can make the area more susceptible to infection.
Sometimes wound healing is slowed by repeated licking, as the wound can be continuously reopened. This is especially true for surgical wounds, where licking can actually cause suture breakdown and the wound may gape open. This can present a real problem as closure of a reopened wound is often problematic and infections are common.
Most dogs who have surgical procedures are sent home with some sort of barrier to wear for ten to fourteen days, such as an Elizabethan collar, so they cannot reach the area.
If a wound is really bothersome and your dog will just not stop licking the area, here are some things to try:
One – If the wound is on your dog’s body (as opposed to his legs or paws) putting a T-shirt on your dog so the wound is covered will provide protection and still allow necessary air flow.
Two – There are “recovery suits” that are specially made for dogs to wear post-surgery. Some have snaps with a flap that folds down so your dog can eliminate.
Three – For paw licking, you can try a paw bandage. Some people like to use a clean sock which is slipped over the paw and wrapped with adhesive surgical tape. Just be sure not to wrap the tape too tight.
Four – The Elizabethan collar is really the only guaranteed way to prevent your dog from licking a wound. Most dogs seem fairly miserable in them at first but also will get used to the device in a few days. These may be necessary if you are not right there to observe your dog closely at all times and in the case of surgical wounds.