Dog drooling.

Previous generations upheld the belief that dog mouths are cleaner than human mouths, but this myth has been debunked in recent years. In fact, it is well known that dogs carry loads of oral bacteria, none of which should be shared with people. It may seem harmless to allow your dog to lick your wounds, but experts recommend otherwise.

It’s Only Natural

If you have a cut, scrape, burn, or bite, your dog may try to offer a measure of comfort or relief by way of their tongue. Practitioners in ancient Egypt used to apply canine saliva to human wounds. While modern medicine has determined that there are powerful antimicrobial enzymes present in a dog’s mouth, the negative effects far surpass any positive ones. 

Instincts and Behaviors

The act of licking is not only supposed to soothe your wounds, but it releases serotonin in your dog’s brain that makes them feel good. When your dog is ill or injured, they lick themselves to feel better, something they learned from their mother or other members of their pack. In other words, they’re practicing something on you that they instinctively feel will help you improve.

One of the Pack

As the leader of your dog’s pack, they may show submission to you by licking. This is an act of affection and also gives them a feeling of security, but it may be worthwhile to try and distract them from the behavior by playing with them or taking them outside.

Oral Petri Dish

Dog saliva does have certain properties that may help wounds heal, but as a rule they shouldn’t be allowed to lick. Dogs can do more harm than good when licking at their own injuries. Dissolving stitches, reopening wounds, and exacerbating infections can be the result of over-licking.

Don’t Permit Your Dog to Lick Your Wounds

Unfortunately, allowing or encouraging your dog to lick your wounds could result in a dangerous infection. Among other potential risks, dogs can carry the bacteria capnocytophaga. In people with compromised immune systems, this bacteria can lead to terrible health consequences. Additionally, dogs with periodontal disease may transfer the oral bacteria from the disease directly into your bloodstream (depending on the state of the wound). 

The good news is that there is an easy and effective prevention strategy: don’t let your dog like your wounds. To go even further, train your dog not to lick you (and others) at all. That means that they should’t use their inherited behaviors to show affection, soothe any hurts, or taste your skin.

Doggy Likes to Taste

You can deter your dog from licking your wounds by replacing the action with something else they really like. Eventually, with consistency and patience, they’ll stop performing this unwanted behavior. 

If you have any questions about your dog’s health and behavior, please call us at (703) 920-5300. Our staff is always here for you at Arlington Animal Hospital.