Some people believe an old wives tale that it’s okay for a dog to lick his wound because his saliva has antibacterial abilities. Because of this, they let their pet tend to their own cut or puncture and then wonder why the wound is getting worse instead of better. It is true that a canine’s saliva has trace amounts of antibacterial properties, but not enough to heal a wound. In fact, incessant licking will impede the natural healing process and even further damage a pet’s wound.
The reason a dog licks his wound in the first place is because it temporarily blocks the pain receptors. It’s like when you bonk your head and then rub it. At first the rubbing makes the localized pain—where you hit your head—feel better. That’s what licking does.
The act of licking wounds traces back to domesticated dog’s ancestors. Wild and feral dogs licked their wounds to clean out any debris. Additionally, as mentioned, dog saliva does have a slight antibacterial benefit. But wild dogs were so busy avoiding predators and feeding the pack that they weren’t able to lick their wound endlessly. Domesticated dogs, on the other hand, have plenty of time on their hands (paws?). If left to their own devices, they could spend all day licking and fussing over a wound. Thus starts a cycle; licking makes the wound worse so the dog licks more, which makes the wound worse, which prompts more licking. You get the point.
Many veterinarians still recommend the traditional Elizabethan collar, humorously referred to as the Cone of Shame. The downside of using this type of collar is that the big, bulky nature of it can scare your dog. When they are getting used to the cone they often crash the sides of it against walls and doorways. Furthermore, it limits a dog’s peripheral vision which can spook him. If you must go this route, look for an Elizabethan collar that is transparent. If a dog can at least see through it, he may get used to it more quickly.
Inflatable collars are an alternative to the stiff Elizabethan collar. The trick here is getting an inflatable collar that is large enough to keep the dog from being able to turn around and lick his wound. The collar has to inflate wide enough and fit close enough around the dog’s neck for it to be effective.
Sometimes boots, bandages or socks work. When our dog got a small puncture on his right front pad, after veterinarian treatment we bandaged the area and then put a sock over his paw and taped it to his leg with surgical tape. He fussed with it for a while, but when he realized it was secure he got used to it and left it alone.
If you can’t fashion a working solution at home, pet supply stores have all types of body tubes, leggings, t-shirts, boots, etc.
Find a way to take your pet’s mind off the wounded area. Maybe your dog enjoys a game of hide-and-seek? Hide some healthy dog treats, like CANIDAE Pure Heaven Biscuits with Duck & Chickpeas, and urge him to look for them. Or cut holes in a plastic bottle and stuff the treats inside so the dog has to knock around the bottle for the treats to fall out. Maybe use this time to review his basic commands or even teach him a few tricks. Use your imagination; anything that keeps your dog’s mind occupied will work.
In all cases, please seek proper medical treatment any time your dog gets hurt. Closely follow your veterinarian’s advice and change the bandage regularly. Contact the vet if you notice the wound swelling, getting infected, smelling differently or seemingly changing for the worse. And good luck!
Top photo by Ewen Roberts
Middle photo by Sonny Abesamis
Bottom photo by Lulu Hoeller
Read more articles by Langley Cornwell