General Question

jcs007's avatar

If a dog licks a wound, would it be more infected or less infected?

Asked by jcs007 (1773points) August 20th, 2008

Would the bacteria fighters kill the bacteria, or would the bacteria already present in a dog’s mouth make things worse?

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18 Answers

Snoopy's avatar

A dog’s mouth is filthy, bacteria-wise. It is instinctual for the animal to lick wounds, areas that are sore, etc. However, that doesn’t mean that it is in the best interest of the animal’s health.

The only way that I can see where this would be benefical to the animal, is if the wound is dirtier than the dog’s mouth….for example an open wound covered in feces—Ick!

This is why you will see animals w/ those funky looking cone shaped “Elizabethian collars”—-to prevent the animal from licking the wound…...

delirium's avatar

I thought it was to keep them from biting at their stitches?

I agree mostly, snoopy, with the exception of the statement that licking is unhelpful. It worked for them for a very very long time, evolutionarily, and i’m pretty sure its still quite successful.
That being said, however, they weren’t getting surgeries at that time.

wrestlemaniac's avatar

i heard stories but i doubt they’re true that a dogs saliva can heal wounds, and kill the bacteria, that’s why saint Lazarus the leper always had 2 dogs next to him but i doubt that this is true.

Snoopy's avatar

Delirium: I don’t disagree w/ you…..I think that there is some benefit (e.g. wound dirtier than the mouth, massage, etc.). But the benefits are outweighed by the potential for making the problem worse….

And also, I don’t think the average dog would have lived 10++ years like they typically do today. And yes, although I know that their typical early demise decades or centuries ago was mulitfactorial, this (topic at hand), most certainly was a factor.

Snoopy's avatar

….it really is no different that giving consideration to another mammal’s wound care issues (i.e humans)

Would I spit or lick a wound of my own? Unlikely unless the circumstances were extreme….

wrestlemaniac's avatar

like for instance a snake bite?

shilolo's avatar

@Snoopy. Dog’s mouths are not really “filthy”, as you said. In fact, if I had to choose whether to be bitten by a dog or a human, I would choose a dog. Human bites are far more serious (taking the rabies issue out of the equation, though humans can transmit rabies too, but I digress) than dog bites. As far as why they lick their wounds, it probably has more to do with keeping the wound clean from dirt and other bacterial/fungal contaminants (just like it is always recommended for you to wash a cut or scrape with soap and water). The bacteria in a dog’s mouth are relatively benign, and much less likely to cause a skin infection than the staphylococcus or streptococcus from the dog’s skin. So, it makes a lot of sense for the dog to lick its wounds. Not having the dexterity to scrub the wound or access to soap limits their options…

So, to answer the question at hand, licking the wound prevents rather than encourages infection (assuming the dog doesn’t have a conscientious owner who cleans the wound for them, which would be best).

Snoopy's avatar

@shilolo: You are correct. Human mouths are dirtier. But it is relative. The dog’s mouth isn’t sterile.

And a wild dog would be better off to lick its wound than do nothing. I (maybe incorrectly) presumed we were considering a wounded dog who is under the care of a human and therefore has the potential for it being kept cleaner than it could on its own…..

wrestlemaniac's avatar

what about cats, would it be no different then a dog?

marinelife's avatar

Cats are completely different from dogs.

Here is an interesting article that shows it is probably much better than nothing for a dog to lick its wounds in the wild.

wrestlemaniac's avatar

interesting i never new that.

Snoopy's avatar

@wrestle. I am not sure exactly what the survivors manuals say about the snack bite question….that might be a topic for another Q.

the same question that would ask “would you drink your own urine if you were stranded in a dingy in the ocean for several days?”

wrestlemaniac's avatar

well what i mean to say is that, your mouth isn’t clean but it is clean enough, and what you said about extreme circumstances, if your to far from help, then you would have to suck the poison out with your mouth.

shilolo's avatar

@Snoopy. To answer your question, you should never drink your own urine if stranded in a dingy, or for that matter, drink sea water. Whatever urine you make will be extremely concentrated (as your kidneys will already be trying to extract as much water as possible from your urine) and so you won’t absorb any water from the urine you drink, and will make yourself sicker.

Snoopy's avatar

@shiloh. I think that is an interesting point….and I agree, it would become more and more concentrated.
hopefully I will have a urine test kit in the dingy to see if my urine has become too concentrated to drink :)

@wrestle I think that you are NOT supposed to suck the venom out. I think that it would make more sense to put a tourniquet on the appendage (so you would need to hope for an arm or leg bite) to isolate the venom from the rest of your body. A tourniquet itself would be quite painful and would need to be released after about two hours to avoid tissue death.

All-in-all it really is best to avoid snakes, ocean isolation and being reincarnated as a feral animal (to avoid the whole do I clean my own wound from the persepctive of a wild dog)

greylady's avatar

-for the snake bite question:

—for the animal saliva question:
The following answer has been selected and edited by New Scientist staff

Saliva contains a complex cocktail of enzymes, many of which have antibacterial properties. In addition, it contains epithelial growth factors that promote healing in the wound; and the act of licking will tend to debride and remove gross contamination from the affected area. At the same time, saliva contains huge numbers of various bacteria. Fortunately these are largely beneficial or have no effect, and there is no evidence to suggest they are detrimental to wound healing.
(google search) Interesting!

syz's avatar

There are a few instances in which it would actually be beneficial for an animal to lick a wound – keeping a puncture would open to allow drainage, removing fly strike to prevent maggots, etc.

While there may be enzymes in saliva that have a bacteristatic action, disinfectants and antibiotics are always going to be more effective.

In the case of a pet who’s wound is being medically treated, licking is bad. Licking keeps the area moist (and warm), and so can promote bacterial growth. Licking can also cause enough tissue damage to increase the area of tissue affected. And if there are staples or sutures present, you’d be amazed how quickly the animal can remove those.

sjr's avatar

My shitzu has been bitten by some large dog in our neighborhood. She was taken to the vet and the wounds were cleaned and antibiotics were given. After being on meds for 2 weeks I noticed one of the areas was still weeping. I took my dog back today and there is another one weeping. The vet feels the dogs skin has been ripped from the body and the skin is dying. His only suggestion is to get skin grafts or have these sections cut out. I am looking for any advice or another suggestion. My dog is very small only 7lbs. I feel there must be some other type of option.
Any suggestions???

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