Will A Wound Heal If A Dog Keeps Licking It?

It’s a common sight – a dog obsessively licking a wound on their leg or paw. While it may seem like a harmless, instinctive behavior, excessive licking can actually delay healing and cause further harm. Dog saliva contains enzymes and antibacterial properties that can help clean wounds, but it can also introduce infection. Determining when to intervene and when to let your dog’s natural healing take its course can be confusing. This article explores the risks and benefits of letting dogs lick their wounds and provides tips on caring for injuries to help them heal.

Reasons Dogs Lick Wounds

It’s instinctual for dogs to lick open wounds as a form of self-care. Mother dogs will lick their puppies to clean them and care for minor injuries. This instinct carries into adulthood. Licking wounds serves multiple purposes for dogs:

  • Licking provides pain relief by releasing endorphins. The light stimulation of the wound area with their tongues triggers the release of endorphins, which are the body’s natural pain killers.
  • Licking serves to clean away dirt, debris, and bacteria from the wound site. The saliva contains enzymes that aid this process.

So at a basic instinctual level, licking is a form of first aid and self-care for dogs with injuries. It’s an innate behavior passed down from their wolf ancestors. While licking offers some benefits, excessive licking can also hinder healing, so it’s important to monitor your dog’s wound licking.

Risks of Licking

While a dog’s instinct is to lick wounds, excessive licking can cause more harm than good. Licking can delay the healing process and lead to infection in several ways:

Spreading infection – A dog’s mouth contains bacteria, and licking can introduce germs into the wound, leading to infection. Studies show pathogenic bacteria are frequently isolated from dog saliva. According to one report, licking wounds more than doubles the risk of infection (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3181501/).

Delaying healing process – Constant licking and irritation of the wound can delay healing. The abrasive nature of a dog’s tongue can reopen wounds and remove newly formed scabs before the skin underneath has fully healed. Excessive licking and chewing can also cause more inflammation and fluid buildup.

Causing more irritation – Licking can cause the wound area to become red, sore and itchy. The extra moisture from saliva can lead to maceration of the skin. All this irritation can tempt the dog to lick more, creating a vicious cycle.

When Licking is Beneficial

Light licking can initially be beneficial for cleaning a wound and removing debris and dirt. A dog’s saliva contains substances that provide antibacterial benefits and promote healing. According to research from NYU, the protein histatin in saliva aids wound healing [1].

However, the benefits only occur if the wound is kept clean. Excessive licking can introduce new bacteria and cause further irritation. Light licking when a wound is first acquired can help clean it, but only if the dog is prevented from licking excessively which would recontaminate the area. The key is moderation.

When to Stop the Licking

While some licking can be beneficial, excessive licking should be stopped. As per AKC, licking and chewing can reopen wounds and slow the healing process. Surgery sites in particular are dangerous for dogs to lick as it can break down sutures.

Signs that licking has become excessive include the wound getting more inflamed or infected. Symptoms of infection include pus, redness, swelling, odor, and tenderness around the wound. At this point, the dog needs to stop licking so proper medical treatment can be administered. An infected wound will not heal if the dog continues licking and irritating it.

Excess moisture from licking can also cause a wound to macerate or soften too much. This environment promotes bacterial overgrowth and prevents proper healing. Again, it’s important to stop the licking cycle to enable the wound to heal.

If a wound worsens or shows signs of infection, take the dog to a veterinarian. They can provide antibiotics, medicated ointments, or other treatments to resolve infection and inflammation. Proper wound care under a vet’s supervision can get the healing process back on track.

Preventing Excessive Licking

While some licking can help clean a wound, excessive licking can delay healing and cause further damage. There are several methods to prevent over-licking:

Elizabethan Collars

“The cone of shame” – Elizabethan collars physically prevent your dog from accessing the wound to lick it. They are available in different sizes from your veterinarian to ensure a proper fit (Manuka Vet).

Bitter Sprays

Applying a bitter taste deterrent spray to bandages or directly on the wound can discourage licking. These are safe for pets and can be purchased at pet supply stores (LickSleeve).


Keep your dog distracted with toys, play time, or tasty treats to take their mind off the wound. Providing mental stimulation can also curb obsessive licking.

Veterinary Wound Care

Your veterinarian may apply antibiotic ointments, protective bandages, or recommend medication if excessive licking persists. This can promote healing and reduce complications (PetMD).

Seeking Veterinary Care

There are certain signs that indicate a wound requires medical treatment from a veterinarian:

  • The wound is deep or gaping
  • There is a foreign object stuck in the wound
  • The wound shows signs of infection like redness, swelling, heat, discharge or a foul odor (PetMD)
  • Your dog is in pain or the wound seems tender
  • The wound won’t stop bleeding
  • Your dog seems lethargic or ill

If any of these signs are present, contact your vet right away. Treatment may involve:

  • Cleaning and flushing the wound
  • Removing damaged tissue or foreign objects
  • Closing the wound with sutures, staples or tissue glue
  • Applying medication directly to the wound
  • Prescribing oral antibiotics or pain medication
  • Recommending an Elizabethan collar to prevent licking
  • Providing follow-up care instructions

Veterinary care can help properly clean, close and protect wounds so they can heal effectively.

Caring for Wounds

Properly caring for a dog’s wounds is essential for healing. There are a few key steps dog owners can take at home to care for minor wounds:

Keeping the wound clean is crucial. Gently flush the wound with warm tap water or a saline solution to remove dirt and debris. Pat dry with a clean towel. Avoid using hydrogen peroxide or alcohol, which can damage healthy tissue. According to veterinarians at VCA Hospitals, “Warm tap water is recommended for cleaning most wounds.” https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/care-of-open-wounds-in-dogs

Applying topical antibiotic ointment can help prevent infection and promote healing. There are ointments formulated specifically for dog wounds. Consult your veterinarian for recommendations. Lightly cover the wound with a sterile bandage to keep it clean.

Providing pain relief medication, if prescribed by your vet, can help keep the dog comfortable. It will also discourage excessive licking of the wound.

When Wounds Won’t Heal

Sometimes wounds can take longer to heal or fail to heal properly. There are several signs that may indicate problem healing:

  • The wound edges are not joining together or closing.
  • There is a bad odor coming from the wound.
  • The wound looks worse instead of better over time.
  • There is increased redness, swelling, or discharge.
  • Bleeding resumes from the wound.
  • The wound develops thick yellow/green pus.

Underlying health conditions can also affect wound healing in dogs. Diabetes, Cushing’s disease, hypothyroidism, malnutrition, cancer, and other problems can impair the body’s ability to heal wounds properly. Elderly dogs or dogs with weakened immune systems may also struggle to heal wounds. In some cases, external factors like licking, scratching, dirt, or irritants can prevent healing too.

If a wound is not healing well or seems to be getting worse, it’s important to have your vet examine it. They can diagnose and treat any underlying conditions, provide advanced wound care, and prescribe medications to improve healing. According to veterinarians, signs a wound is not healing properly warrants a trip to the vet (source). With professional veterinary care, most wounds can fully heal.


In summary, dogs may naturally lick wounds, but this does not necessarily help healing. Licking can actually introduce infection and slow healing in many cases. Gentle licking can help clean some wounds, but excessive licking will usually impede healing. The risks include infection, reopening of wounds, and damage to stitches. To stop excessive licking, use cones, distract your dog, or apply bitter sprays. Seek veterinary care for deep, infected, or poorly healing wounds. Overall, it is best to prevent your dog from licking most wounds, and allow licking only for mild surface wounds where the benefits may outweigh the risks.

To answer the central question – will a wound heal if a dog keeps licking it – in most cases, excessive licking will actually prevent or slow healing rather than help a wound heal. Vet care and preventing licking are key for proper healing.

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