Why do dogs lick our wounds? It’s such a weird thing to do, right? There are many behaviors our beloved pets have that are mildly (or completely) gross. While we know there is a reason for each behavior, it doesn’t make it any less embarrassing when your dog greets a guest by sniffing her in rather inappropriate places! One of those behaviors that turns my stomach is when my dog has a wound and refuses to stop licking it. Even worse is when I have a wound and my dog won’t leave me alone. Although it is not a behavior you should condone, it is helpful to realize that when your dog tries to lick your wound, he is not being disgusting – he truly is trying to help.
Why do dogs lick our wounds?
Some people think that their dog is drawn to the blood, and that may be true – but in a different way than you may expect. Your dog loves you and wants to protect you. If you’re bleeding, predators in the wild are attracted to the smell of the blood. Your dog’s licking may partly be a deeply-rooted instinct to stop the bleeding and keep predators from smelling your blood.
I think that is a bit of a reach, though. My domestic dogs show very few of their wild instincts; one of them won’t even go outside if it’s raining. A much more plausible explanation for wound-licking is that dogs instinctually lick wounds to clean them. By licking a minor wound, a dog is able to remove any dirt which may cause infection. Plus, there is some evidence that dogs’ saliva has antiseptic properties which aid in healing the wound. Now, don’t misunderstand – just because your dog’s saliva may aid in healing her wound, it does not translate to yours. If your dog does lick an open wound, wash it carefully and cover it to deter future licking.
When too much licking is a bad thing
Even for a dog’s own wound, too much licking is not a good thing. After surgery or another significant wound, your dog will likely be graced with the shameful Elizabethan collar. While cumbersome, it serves a purpose. Your dog’s incessant licking of stitches or a large wound may cause infection and could even tear the stitches.
Case in point – when my dog, Gracie, was young, she managed to cut herself on a bone. We didn’t think much of it until we noticed the wound did not look good. After a trip to the vet, we learned she had localized mange at the site of her injury. Fortunately, a prescribed antiseptic ointment quickly fixed the problem, and we learned the importance of now allowing her to lick her wounds.
Whether your dog is trying to lick his wounds or yours, it is a behavior that ought to be stopped. Just because he is trying to make it better doesn’t mean he actually is.