How to Stop Your Pet from Licking Their Wounds
Owners are often frustrated when treating a wound on their dog or cat because pets are always wanting/trying to lick the wound, making it challenging to apply topical medications and prolonging the healing time. Read more to learn how to keep your pet from licking their wounds so that they can heal quickly and get back to chasing a ball, catching a frisbee, or taking a catnap.
Is it safe for my dog to lick his wound?
Many people perpetuate the rumor and myth that when a dog licks their wound it helps the wound to heal faster. Unfortunately, dogs have a lot of bacteria in their mouths. This can lead to infection and a longer healing time. Licking may also cause wounds to re-open, even when stitches are in place. This form of self-mutilation can lead to chewing out their sutures, wounds opening, and severe complications such as internal organs being exposed. This requires another visit to the vet, sometimes for an emergency, life-saving surgery.
Why do pets lick their wounds?
Pets instinctively lick their wounds. Why? Wounds feel strange, painful, often itchy, and warm due to infection or inflammation, as well as cause discomfort due to swelling. All our pets can do is lick their wounds. It’s up to us to keep them from licking excessively to prevent further irritation, complications from infection and self-mutilation, and delaying the healing process.
Since pain could be part of the reason your pet is licking, make sure you give all post-op medications as directed by your vet. Not sure that you got any post-op pain medication for your pet? Contact your vet to discuss pain management options and recommendations.
Keep a Pet First Aid Kit on Hand
Stock a container with basic first aid items for your pet. Always have your pet examined by a vet right away for any deep penetrating wounds. Minor wounds need to be washed gently, rinsed thoroughly with lukewarm water, and patted dry using a clean cotton towel or cotton gauze.
Ways to Keep Your Pet from Licking Their Wound(s)
1. Putting a T-shirt on your pet to cover a wound provides loose protection and allows airflow to the wound. Gather the T-shirt over the back of your pet, just behind their rib cage to keep it from hanging, and wrap the gathered bunch with tape or with a rubber band (be sure not to tape your pet and that the T-shirt is gathered with a loose fit around your pet).
Onesies size 12-24 months work well for small dogs and some cats. Unsnap and roll the onesie forward during potty breaks.
2. Special recovery suits can be purchased from your vet to prevent pets from licking their wounds.
3. Specially designed paw bandages can be purchased from your vet for wounds around the paws or between the toes.
4. Anti-lick strips or sprays can be purchased from pet stores or from your vet. Look for those with natural ingredients to limit any potential side effects. Apply these to unbroken skin AROUND the incision or wound using a cotton swab. When applying, give your pet a full-strength taste so they know how bad it tastes as you apply it around the incision/wound, to keep them from licking.
Sometimes a pet may LIKE the flavor, causing them to lick the area even more. In that case, you will have to pick up a different product. Always talk to your vet before applying any over-the-counter anti-lick strips or sprays around your pet’s wound(s).
5. Vets will often send pets home with an Elizabethan collar (E-collar) which provides a good barrier to keep pets from licking/chewing their wounds, especially overnight or when owners have to be away from their pets. There are hard plastic E-collars as well as softer or puffy E-collars. Talk to your vet for the best E-collar recommendation for your pet and their wound(s).
Note that E-collars are designed to extend just beyond the tip of your pet’s nose. Owners often think they are too long and will cut them, allowing their pet to reach the wound and making the E-collar ineffective. Our pets come in different shapes and sizes so bring them with you when purchasing an E-collar to get the correct size and fit.
As long as you keep a close eye on your pet, you can take their E-collar off for short periods such as for eating and drinking water or taking them out for a short leash walk to use the bathroom. Make sure to replace the E-collar when finished.
To be effective and keep your pet from licking, E-collars must stay on your pet until the incision/wound(s) has healed. You can talk to your vet during the follow-up exam(s) to find out when the wound has healed completely, and you can safely leave the E-collar off.
Remember that wounds need air, good circulation, and blood flow to heal. This means that it’s important for bandages, recovery suits, or any other type of wrap to not be too tight. Bandaging and covers should also be changed regularly.
Need to speak with a veterinarian regarding your pet’s wound, incision, or another condition?
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