You have a cut, and your dog is determined to lick it. You may be flattered, or even disgusted by the prospect. Regardless of how you feel about your pooch’s advances, you are bound to wonder why your dog wants to lick your wounds.
Why do dogs want to lick your cuts, scabs, or wounds?
Your dog licks their own wounds, and they will also happily lick yours. To put it simply, it’s a way they show they love you. They are concerned about you, and giving you their own form of first aid.
Nearly all mammals, including humans, will instinctively lick their wounds. Have you ever cut your finger and placed it in your mouth? You probably did so before you even realized what you were doing. It was instinctual.
Dogs have the same instinct. When something hurts, they lick it. This includes wounds, lesions, and even broken bones.
We have band aids and antibiotic creams. Dogs only have their tongues to care for their wounds, so it’s natural for them to lick them.
One purpose for licking a wound is cleaning it. When a dog licks a wound, it removes any dirt and debris from it. Their tongue is designed for grooming, and will pick up dirt easily.
Humans have soap and water to remove debris. Dogs, on the other hand, have no alternative to licking the wound to clean it.
Of course, some dogs are over enthusiastic. When a dog licks a wound too much, it can cause damage.
Folk medicine has long asserted that dog saliva has healing properties. Before modern medicine, it was common practice to allow dogs to lick wounds to speed healing.
It turns out, there’s some truth to this. Saliva contains histatins, which protect the wound from infection. It also encourages the surface level skin cells to close around the wound, which helps promote healing.
Saliva also contains nitrite, which breaks down to nitric oxide in the wound. Nitric oxide has antibacterial properties which help prevent infection.
Part of the Pack
Another reason your dog will lick your wounds is because they consider you part of their pack. A dog will naturally lick another dog’s wounds. It’s their responsibility to help care for other members of the pack.
Just as they will lick another dog’s wounds, they will lick yours as well. You are an important member of their pack, and they feel responsible for your health and well being.
Enjoys the Taste
As gross as it sounds to us, some dogs enjoy the taste of your wound. Dogs are predators, and enjoy the taste of raw meat and blood. When you have a cut, they will taste blood, which they enjoy.
They may also like the trace minerals they find on the wound and your skin, like salt.
Myths used to state that once a dog tasted human blood, they would become wild with bloodlust.
There may be some truth to this when a dog attacks a human. They may be more likely to attack again in the future. However, licking human blood will not cause your dog to turn into Cujo.
They may annoy you with their attempts to lick your yummy blood, however.
Dogs seem to have a sixth sense when it comes to their owners moods and feelings. They know when you are happy, sad, and when you are experiencing pain.
If your dog notices that you are in pain, they may want ot lick your wound to make you feel better. Dogs use wound licking as a way to comfort themselves and relieve pain. It’s natural for them to want to provide the same service to you when you are hurting.
What happens if my dog licks my cuts?
Your dog just licked your cut. Should you be worried? Will it help it heal, or cause serious problems? There’s no simple answer to this question.
We have discussed the healing properties of dog saliva. These properties are also present in your own saliva. If you truly feel the need to apply saliva to a wound, it may be better to use your own saliva. Dog’s mouths can harbor some nasty bacteria.
Yes, dog saliva has healing properties. However, most experts say that it’s not worth the risk when it comes to allowing your dog to lick your own wounds.
Why is a dog licking your cuts problematic? Their mouth and saliva can contain some bacteria that are very harmful to humans. One of these is Pasteurella. This bacteria lives in areas without air, like a deep cut or puncture wound.
When the bacteria enters a cut or wound, it can lead to serious complications. There are many cases of amputations due to Pasteurella infection. In some cases, it is even life-threatening.
One case of infection from dog saliva is a woman with a small burn. Her dog licked the burn. She ultimately lost all her fingers, toes, and one leg to the secondary infection from the dog.
Another case involves a man who developed a kidney infection from a dog licking a wound on his hand. Another man developed meningitis after his dog licked his perforated eardrum.
Risks to the Dog
Most people only consider the risks to themselves when it comes to a dog licking their wounds, but should you be concerned about your pooch’s safety as well?
It’s common to use neosporin or another antibiotic cream on a wound. If your dog licks your wound, they may also ingest some of the cream. Neosporin is considered safe in small amounts. One of the antibiotics, neomycin, can cause hearing loss in dogs. However, this typically occurs with intravenous use, and not topical.
Ingesting antibiotic cream can upset your dog’s digestive tract. Oral antibiotics can cause stomach issues in humans, because they kill the good bacteria in the digestive tract. The same is true for your dog. If they lick antibiotic cream, it can upset the delicate balance of bacteria in their digestive system.
This isn’t likely to cause your dog any serious injury, but it can lead to minor stomach upset. Your pooch may experience gas, diarrhea, and nausea after licking the cream.
Should Your Dog Lick Your Wounds?
It’s unclear what the risk benefit ratio is when it comes to your dog licking your wounds. Dog saliva can certainly speed healing time. However, you are trading a relatively minor benefit for a slight risk of a serious complication from a secondary infection.
These infections are rare, but as noted above, they do occur. You shouldn’t rush to the doctor if your dog sneaks a lick at your wound, but allowing them to lick your cuts isn’t a great idea.
In times past, humans had little in the way of first aid. Before we had antibiotic creams and other antiseptics, using dog saliva made sense. Its antibiotic properties outweigh the risk of infection from the dog itself. Today, it’s unnecessary to allow your dog to lick your wounds.
How to get my dog to stop licking my cuts?
Now that we know it’s not a great idea to allow your dog to lick your cuts, how do you get them to stop? Some dogs show little interest in cuts, while others can be obsessed with licking your wounds.
The good news is there are steps you can take to prevent your pooch from licking your cuts.
First, keep the wound clean. Dogs are most attracted to cuts when they are fresh. Essentially, if you don’t tend to the wound, you can expect your dog to do so for you.
If you clean it yourself, your pooch is much less likely to be interested in it. It’s believed that a wound smells different when it is fresh. The scent of blood will be stronger.
If you put antibiotic cream on the wound, this can also deter your dog, because it changes the smell of the cut.
It can also be helpful to cover the wound, particularly if your dog still insists on licking it after you’ve cleaned it.
Covering it can also help it heal faster. Small cuts can be covered with a band aid. For larger wounds, you may need gauze or a large bandage.
Covering the wound is the fool-proof way to keep your dog from licking your wound. However, some dogs may still show interest in it, and even try to pull your bandage off.
If you have the sort of dog that is obsessed with your wound, it can be quite frustrating. Remember that they are doing it because they care, and not to annoy you.
Once you’ve cleaned and covered your wound, you can use distraction. Play with your dog or give them a treat. However, you must do this carefully.
If you offer your dog a treat after he attempts to lick your wound, he will think he is being rewarded for that behavior. You’ll inadvertently encourage him to keep licking your cut.
To avoid this, give them a treat before they try to lick the wound. If their attention goes to your cut, use the treat to divert their attention. Praise them when they move their attention from the cut to the treat. This will reinforce the behavior that you want, instead of the behavior you don’t.