Unvaccinated Dog Licked My Wound

I’ll never forget the moment it happened. I was playing fetch with my 5-month-old puppy Charlie in the backyard when he got a little too excited. As I bent down to pick up the tennis ball, Charlie jumped up and gave me a big sloppy lick right on the scrape on my arm. I didn’t think much of it at first, but then I remembered – Charlie hadn’t gotten all his shots yet, including the rabies vaccine. A cold panic set in as I wondered – could I get rabies from an unvaccinated puppy licking my open wound?

In this article, we’ll explore the risks and realities around an unvaccinated dog licking a wound. I’ll share what I learned after frantic googling and calls to my doctor after Charlie’s fateful lick. We’ll cover potential infections, symptoms to watch for, when to seek help, and how to care for the wound. My hope is to provide pet owners with straightforward facts so they know how to respond if it happens to them.

Background on Animal Saliva

Animal saliva is made up of a variety of components that serve important functions. According to research, dog saliva contains enzymes like lysozyme, lactoferrin, peroxidase, and lactic acid bacteria (PetMD, Pasha 2018). These enzymes help dogs digest their food and have antibacterial properties. However, dog saliva can still transmit bacteria to humans.

Additionally, dog saliva contains minerals such as calcium, magnesium, and potassium. It also contains electrolytes like chloride, bicarbonate, and phosphorous. The exact composition can vary between breeds. Cats and other animals have different enzymes and compounds in their saliva tailored to their dietary needs.

While animal saliva has some benefits for them, it does not provide the same benefits when transferred to human skin through licking. The foreign enzymes, bacteria, and viruses can pose risks of infection to humans.

Risks of Infection

Dog and cat mouths can contain a wide variety of bacteria that can potentially infect humans through a wound. The most concerning bacteria that can be transmitted through a dog lick are Capnocytophaga bacteria. There are over 15 different species of Capnocytophaga, with the most common ones being C. canimorsus and C. cynodegmi [1]. These bacteria live naturally in the mouths of dogs and cats and do not cause them harm. However, in humans, Capnocytophaga can lead to rare but potentially serious infections, especially in people with weakened immune systems [2].

According to the CDC, other bacteria that can be passed from dog and cat saliva to humans include Pasteurella, Streptococcus, Clostridium and Neisseria. Viruses such as rabies can also be transmitted through the saliva of infected animals [3]. However, infections beyond Capnocytophaga are less common from just a lick to an open wound.

Signs of Infection

If a dog lick leads to an infection, the most common symptoms to look out for include:

  • Redness, warmth, swelling, tenderness, or pus around the wound within 12-24 hours after the lick (1). This indicates the wound has become infected.
  • Fever, chills, fatigue, loss of appetite, headache, muscle or joint aches (2). These could signal the infection is spreading in the body.
  • Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea (2). Gastrointestinal issues may arise as the infection spreads.
  • Blisters, ulcers, blackening or necrosis around the wound (1). This tissue damage results from toxins released by the bacteria.

In severe cases, dangerously low blood pressure, organ failure, and septic shock can occur if the infection goes untreated and spreads rapidly through the bloodstream (1).

Seeking prompt medical care is crucial if any of these concerning symptoms develop after a dog lick that breaks the skin. The infection can progress quickly without antibiotic treatment.

When to Seek Medical Care

It’s important to monitor the wound site closely after a dog lick and seek medical care if any concerning symptoms develop. Signs that warrant seeing a doctor include:

  • The wound becomes red, swollen, warm, or tender
  • You develop a fever or chills
  • You see red streaks spreading from the wound
  • Pus or cloudy discharge comes from the wound
  • The wound is not healing or continues to bleed
  • You have pain that worsens or persists

According to the Arlington Animal Hospital, you should seek prompt medical attention if any of these concerning symptoms develop, as they may indicate infection.

First Aid Treatment

If a dog licks an open wound on a human, the first step is to clean and bandage the wound properly to avoid infection. According to the American Kennel Club (AKC), you should start by rinsing the wound with clean running water for 5-10 minutes to flush out any saliva or debris (Source). Avoid using hydrogen peroxide or iodine, as these can damage tissue.

Pat the area dry with a clean towel and apply an antibiotic ointment, like polysporin, to help prevent bacterial infection. Then cover the wound with a sterile bandage or gauze, securing it with medical tape or a wrap. The bandage should be changed daily, and whenever it gets wet or dirty. This helps keep the wound clean while protecting it from further contamination as it starts to heal. Monitoring for signs of infection, like redness, swelling, oozing, and fever, is also important over the next several days.

For deep puncture wounds, seek medical attention right away, as these have a higher risk of infection. Your doctor can properly clean the wound, assess if stitches are needed, and prescribe antibiotics if necessary (Source).

Medical Treatment

If a wound becomes infected after being licked by a dog, medical treatment will likely be necessary. The main medical treatment is antibiotics, which kill the bacteria causing the infection. The type of antibiotic prescribed will depend on the type of bacteria cultured from the infected wound.

Morandi 2017 reported a case where an asplenic patient developed severe sepsis after treating a wound with dog saliva. The patient required multiple antibiotics and an extended hospital stay to treat the infection.

In most cases, oral antibiotics taken for 7-14 days should clear up the infection. However, the doctor may prescribe intravenous antibiotics or debridement of the wound if the infection is severe. It’s important to complete the full antibiotic course as prescribed and follow up with the doctor to ensure the infection has resolved.

Preventing Future Infections

There are several steps you can take to prevent infections from happening if your pet licks your wound in the future:

Veterinary Care for Pets: Make sure your pets are up-to-date on all their vaccinations. Vaccines like rabies and distemper can help prevent the spread of dangerous diseases from pets to humans. Regular veterinary checkups allow early detection and treatment of any illnesses your pet may have that could be passed on through saliva.

According to the CDC, “Animals with Capnocytophaga germs rarely show any signs of illness.” Therefore, responsible pet ownership includes consistent wellness exams by a licensed veterinarian. 1

Wound Care after Licks: If your pet licks your open wound, immediately wash the area with soap and warm water. Apply antibiotic ointment and cover with a clean bandage. Keep the wound covered until fully healed to prevent further contamination. Monitor for any signs of infection like redness, swelling, pus, pain or fever.

PetMD recommends, “Gently discouraging licking by using an Elizabethan collar, bandages, recovery suit, or clothing can help prevent contamination in superficial wounds.” Keep wounds protected and see your doctor if you suspect an infection. 2

Alternate Viewpoints

Some believe the risks from dog saliva are overblown and infections are extremely rare. According to one report, the chances of getting a severe infection from a dog lick are around 1 in 1 million. The bacteria in dog saliva that can cause infections like Capnocytophaga live in the mouths of many dogs and are usually not harmful. Even when infections occur, most are mild and clear up on their own or with antibiotics. Cases like amputations or death are extremely rare. While taking precautions if you have an open wound is reasonable, the vast majority of dog licks do not result in any adverse health effects.


While interactions with animals can sometimes lead to concerning incidents like a dog licking an open wound, the risk of any serious complications is generally quite low if proper first aid is followed. Most minor infections can be treated at home by thoroughly cleaning the wound and monitoring for signs of worsening infection. Though rabies and other diseases can be transmitted through animal saliva, the likelihood is extremely small, especially if the animal is a family pet that stays up-to-date on vaccines and veterinary care. Still, it’s wise to remain vigilant about any concerning symptoms and seek medical treatment if the wound shows no sign of improvement within a couple of days. With proper care and precaution, minor wounds from an animal lick can usually heal on their own without issue. The takeaway is not to panic if such an event occurs, but rather follow sensible first aid and monitor the condition carefully. Most importantly, continue nurturing the special bond between pets and their human companions.

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