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Why Do Dogs Lick Your Wounds? Top 3 Reasons

Written by: Beth Crane

Last Updated on May 30, 2024 by Dogster Team

Large white Shepherd licking a wound on the knee of a little girl

Why Do Dogs Lick Your Wounds? Top 3 Reasons

If you hurt yourself and your dog comes over with concern, you might notice that they try to lick your wound, especially if it’s bleeding. Why do dogs do this? Dogs will try to lick their owner’s wounds for various reasons.

They instinctively lick wounds out of concern for their owners, to clean the wound, and to bond. Read on below to find out more.

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The 3 Reasons Dogs Lick Your Wounds:

1. Concern

Dogs often seem concerned for their owners when they’re hurt or upset. They have been intertwined with humans and have lived beside them for thousands of years, becoming domesticated over this time period. Because of this, dogs are greatly attuned to their owner’s feelings and emotions and genuinely care about us.

MRIs have shown that the pleasure centers in their brains light up when our dogs smell us,1 but this only applies to dogs that specifically smell their owners. Dogs that see their owners hurt or bleeding will try to lick the wound to comfort them.

crying woman at home and dog licking her
Image Credit: leungchopan, Shutterstock

2. Cleaning

Dogs will also lick their owner’s wounds to clean them. Dogs (and many other animals) will clean their wounds and the wounds of others to clean them of dirt and debris, helping them to heal. There is some truth to the thought that dog tongues are antiseptic, as dog saliva contains some bactericidal properties.

However, these only apply to two specific types of bacteria (Streptococcus canis and Escherichia coli)2. A dog’s saliva and mouth also contain nasty bacteria that can cause severe infections in dogs and humans. A dog will lick a person’s wound to mechanically clean it, removing dirt and bacteria with their tongue in a manner many think is instinctual. This leads to our next point.


3. Instinct

Dogs, cats, and many other animals instinctively lick a wound to heal and clean it.3 This is thought to be due to the pain-relieving effect this can have, as licking the wound over-stimulates the area and relieves pain.

Humans have this instinct, such as sucking on a finger after a paper cut. The other instinctual reason dogs might lick our wounds is because of the cleansing properties of their saliva, but it’s not wise to allow your dog to lick your wounds (or their own) due to harmful bacteria also found in their mouths.

dog licks the owner’s face on the sofa
Image By: Tik.tak, Shutterstock

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Should I Let My Dog Lick My Wounds?

It’s a very bad idea to let your dog lick your wounds. While it’s very sweet that our pups want to clean us up, a dog’s mouth contains bacteria that can cause horrible infections in the skin. Dog’s mouths are dirty places, partly because of the food and other substances dogs like to eat. Dog’s mouths can contain many bacteria capable of causing infection, including:

  • Capnocytophaga canimorsus
  • Rabies
  • Pasturella dagmatis
  • Pasturella multocida

Pasturella and Rabies are the two pathogens most known, but it’s rare to become infected by the rabies virus from a dog licking your wounds. Pasturella, on the other hand, is well known to cause infection in humans. There have been several documented cases of bacteria causing necrosis and the loss of limbs in people.

One man is reported to have died from sepsis (blood infection) and necrotizing fasciitis, a skin-eating condition.

How Can I Stop My Dog From Licking My Wounds?

You can discourage your dog from licking your wounds by simply not allowing them the chance to do it. Cleaning the wound and covering it with a bandage will effectively stop your dog from being able to lick at your wound. If they bother the covering, distraction is the next step.

beagle dog and his owner in torn pants and bandaged feet
Image By: Igor Normann, Shutterstock

Can I Let My Dog Lick Its Own Wounds?

It’s not a good idea to let your dog lick their wounds, just as it isn’t a good idea to let them lick yours. Not only can your dog transfer bacteria into their own wounds and cause infection, but they can also over-lick.

Dogs often over-lick their wounds and cause a lick granuloma, which is an abundance of sore, scarred skin. Excessively licking a wound can also cause wound breakdown and significantly delay healing. In the most severe cases, dogs can tear up the wound and cause enough damage that they self-amputate.

How Can I Stop My Dog From Licking Its Wounds?

Many methods are used to stop a dog from licking its wounds, the most common being an Elizabethan (or ‘E’) collar. Vets often give Elizabethan collars after surgeries or procedures, and they are a simple but effective way of preventing dogs from reaching their wounds. Elizabethan collars are plastic cones that fit over a dog’s head and don’t allow them to reach around or down to their bodies.

Other collars are available, such as inflatable collars that fit around the neck, which act the same as Elizabethan collars but provide more freedom. Pet shirts, baby clothes, and t-shirts can also be used, which cover the dog’s body and prevent them from reaching wounds, but they can be less effective at stopping persistent lickers!

dog with cone collar
Image By: Iryna Kalamurza, Shutterstock

Are Dog Tongues Antiseptic?

Dog tongues are not antiseptic, and it’s a myth that they are, although they have certain antibacterial properties. As mentioned above, dog tongues have bacteria and other pathogens that do no harm when in the mouth but can cause serious infection if introduced to open wounds.

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Conclusion

Dogs are companions in every sense of the word and will try to soothe our pain and make us better by licking our wounds. This is half instinctual, as they will lick their wounds to heal and relieve pain, but it’s not a good idea to let your dog do the same for you.

Dog’s mouths are full of bacteria that can cause infection if they enter a wound, so it’s best to clean and cover the wound yourself. You can let your dog give you affection and love in a different way while keeping your wound clean and safe.

Sources
  • https://www.petmd.com/dog/general-health/how-keep-your-dog-licking-their-wounds
  • https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/does-my-dog-love-me
  • https://www.petmd.com/dog/general-health/dog-saliva-9-fast-facts-you-should-know
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wound_licking
  • https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5319273/
  • https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/7727837/
  • https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/health/should-dogs-lick-wounds/
  • https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6971363/
  • https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/elizabethan-collars-in-dogs

Featured Image Credit: Fiery Phoenix, Shutterstock

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