If you’ve ever had a dog that needed surgery, your vet probably provided you with an Elizabethan collar. Most people comedically refer to an Elizabethan collar as a “cone of shame.” Dogs get this collar because the one thing they know to do is lick a wound, but is this best? How do dogs heal themselves and what can we do to help them when they are injured?

How Do Dogs Heal Themselves?

A dog’s instinctive way of healing a wound is to either rub it or lick it. If your dog has an injury to their face, you’ll likely see them scratching at it. If their paw or side is hurt, they’ll probably be licking at it. Dogs lick their wounds so much that ancient societies actually thought there were curing properties in a dog’s saliva. Today, we realize that there are so many better options than saliva to cure wounds.

Even studies that have looked at a dog’s natural ability to heal wounds have found that saliva is slightly bactericidal. The important thing to remember though is that a dog’s saliva is only slightly bactericidal. More than anything, a dog licking at its wound will dislodge any dirt that may have gotten into their wound.

Should You Let a Dog Lick Their Wounds?

If your dog is licking their wound to get the dirt out of it, should you let them lick their wound? Well, if your dog was all by itself then that would be its only option. Because you love and take care of your dog, you shouldn’t let them keep licking a wound.

While their saliva may deter some bacterial growth, licking a wound can often do more harm than good. If you let your dog continue to lick their wound, they can develop hot spots or an infection. Worse yet, they may end up mutilating themself if they keep scratching and licking their wounds.

Licking wounds can also reopen them. This is bad in all cases but is even worse if your dog is licking a surgery site. Licking can irritate the surgical site or even break down the sutures. If you’re worried about your dog properly healing, there are a lot better choices for how to treat your dog’s wound rather than letting them lick it.

What to Do If Your Dog Won’t Stop Licking?

While you might try your best to stop your dog from licking their wounds, sometimes they just won’t stop. There are some things you can try to help them kick the habit:

  • For paws, use a surgical bandage meant for paws or even a surgical bandage with a sock over it.
  • Consider putting a T-shirt over your dog to restrict their access to their wound. A loose shirt also allows air to get to the wound.
  • If these fail, the best method to stop a dog from getting to their wound is with an Elizabethan collar.

Remember that even if your dog is making the wound worse by licking it, completely covering the wound is not the right answer. Any wound needs air and blood supply to heal. If you tightly wrap a dog’s wound, it will take longer for it to heal.

How to Care for a Dog’s Wound?

While you are giving your dog’s wound time to heal, be sure to properly treat it. Keeping your dog away from the wound is one of the most important steps you can take. You should also tend to the wound and keep it clean.

To wash your dog’s wound, you should use clean warm water to remove any debris. You should not use any soap, rubbing alcohol, or hydrogen peroxide on your dog’s wound unless specifically told to do so by your vet. What you can do is use an antibiotic cream on your dog’s wound to keep it clean. Just be sure you use it sparingly, and you must keep your dog from licking the wound. You may run into trouble if your dog swallows the antibiotic lotions.

If your dog is experiencing pain, you need to contact your vet. Many people think it’s acceptable to give their pets a small number of over-the-counter pain relievers. This is not the case. Even broken in half, most human pain relievers will be an overdose for your dog. Animals also are not meant to take these medications and can be negatively affected by them. Talking to your vet is the best idea as they will be able to prescribe you a pain medication that is meant for animals.

Taking care of a wounded dog isn’t difficult with the guidance of your vet. If you keep your dog from licking the wound and clean it regularly, your dog’s body will heal itself.