Why Do Dogs Lick Wounds: Understanding the Instinct, Science, and Risks


Dogs have been known to display an odd behavior by licking their wounds, or the wounds of their owners. This popular image of a dog licking itself or its owner’s injuries is widely known. Wound licking occurs instinctively for animals of all kinds, but there is still local controversy over whether dog saliva has healing properties. This article will explore why dogs lick wounds and the potential benefits and risks involved.

The Instinctual Reasons Behind Why Dogs Lick Wounds

Instinctual behavior of dogs as a species goes back to their wild ancestors, the wolves, who licked their wounds in order to clean them and to keep predators from detecting their wounds. Wound licking was also a stress reliever and a way to release endorphins, which made them feel better. The wounds also emit a scent that triggers the urge to lick. Dogs have evolved to become domesticated, but these instincts remain present.

The attraction of dogs toward licking wounds can be understood from an evolutionary point of view. Wounds are attractive to dogs from an olfactory and visual perspective. The scent of a wound may contain a volatile compound that attracts dogs to it, and the redness of the wound mimics the color of raw meat, which is something dogs are innately attracted to eat. Additionally, licking wounds may encourage the production of oxytocin, which promotes bonding between dogs and their owners.

Various types of wounds, for example, scratches, bites, and burns, attract dogs for different reasons. Licking wounds helps to clear out debris and irritants from wounds, and promote healing, which makes wounds appear less interesting to predators. Additionally, wound licking can increase circulation and decrease the amount of bacteria in the injured area, effectively treating infections.

The Scientific Explanation of the Healing Properties of a Dog’s Saliva

In the scientific community, the healing power of dog saliva in wound healing is the topic of much debate. It has been shown that dog saliva contains many beneficial substances that can speed up the wound healing process. One beneficial substance is the growth factor found in dog saliva. These cytokines can stimulate cell growth, which can encourage tissue regeneration and healing.

In addition, the chemical substances present in the dog’s saliva have antimicrobial effects, killing germs that can lead to infections. Antimicrobial agents ensure that wound infections are treated effectively and prevent further wound disturbance. They usually release enzymes which can break down bacterial cell walls and kill bacteria, making dog saliva more efficient at managing wound bacteria than human saliva.

Many studies have been done on dog saliva and wound healing. One study performed at the University of Florida discovered that dog saliva became an effective healing agent for different types of wounds, including ulcers and burns when cut-off from the source of the dog’s blood flow, which suggested that it contains beneficial growth factors.

The Potential Risks and Benefits of Allowing a Dog to Lick Human Wounds

While there are benefits associated with wound licking in dogs, there are also risks that should be considered before allowing your pet to continue this behavior. The biggest risk is that a dog’s saliva can consist of harmful bacteria, which can cause infection in humans. Nobody wants to get an infection after a dog licks their wound. It is important to remember that even seemingly healthy dogs can carry harmful bacteria, putting their owners at risk of infections.

Another risk of wound licking in dogs is the irritation and re-opening of the wound. While licking may stimulate the healing process, it can also irritate the wound and cause unnecessary inflammation, keeping the wound from healing correctly. Additionally, licking may re-open a closed wound, which can cause the wound to bleed and lead to more scarring.

Some benefits of wound licking in dogs include increased circulation, decreased bacterial levels, and reduced pain. Dog saliva can mitigate pain, which normally leads to the release of endorphins, which promotes a feeling of well-being and allows animals to handle pain better. Endorphins can also combat stress, which is perfect healing conditions for inflammation but may aggravate open areas.

It may be appropriate to allow a dog to lick a wound in certain circumstances, such as if it is just a minor wound and there is little risk of infection. Additionally, if the dog’s saliva is not harmful to humans and the wound is already healing, the wound can provide psychological and emotional comfort to the dog.

Exploring the Potential Emotional and Psychological Reasons Behind a Dog’s Inclination to Lick Wounds

As well as instinctual and behavioral reasons, there may also be emotional or psychological motivations behind a dog’s inclination to lick wounds. Dogs may lick their own wounds or the wounds of their owners in order to show affection, as well as to gain attention and comfort from their owners. Even in cases where the dog’s saliva is not harmful to humans, it’s important to address this behavior, because it may cause stress to the pet or create behavioral problems.

If wound licking is a persistent problem for your dog, then it may be necessary to consult with a veterinary behaviorist or trainer. A qualified professional can devise a customized behavior management program to help you understand and manage the underlying causes of wound licking and encourage positive behavior. Moreover, it is necessary to rehabilitate dogs by reducing stress levels.

How to Properly Clean and Care for Wounds to Prevent Dog Licking and Infection

To prevent dogs from licking wounds and causing infection, it’s important to take proper care of wounds by cleaning them correctly. First, it’s always important to clean wounds immediately after they occur to prevent bacteria buildup. Soap and water are the most effective methods for cleaning wounds, and wounds on the face, which is a highly sensitive area, can be cleaned using a saline solution like woundcare.

Additionally, it’s important to keep wounds covered to prevent contamination and to keep dogs from licking them. Pet owners can use Bitter Apple sprays, Elizabethan collars, or bandages to keep their dogs from licking their wounds and to promote faster wound healing. However, if the wound becomes too gnarly, seek veterinary attention right away.

Personal Stories and Anecdotes about Dogs Licking Wounds – Both Beneficial and Harmful

Personal stories shared by dog owners, veterinarians, and healthcare professionals highlight both the benefits and drawbacks of wound licking by dogs. It is essential to recognize the perspectival nature of the stories shared as the circumstances under which wound licking was beneficial or harmful may be different. The owner’s accountability for recognizing warning signs and addressing behavioral problems is crucial to a pet’s recovery.


The topic of dogs licking human wounds is a well-known issue that has been debated for years. While there are scientific studies that suggest dog saliva can have healing properties, the risks of infection and wound irritation are also present. Monitoring and proper care of wounds are the best methods to promote fast healing. Proper attention to the wound-cleaning as well as general pet health and behavior can ensure both pets and owners remain healthy and happy.

Actionable Key Takeaways

  • Understanding the reasons for a dog’s inclination toward wound licking is necessary to assess what type of behavioral aid is necessary.
  • Wound licking in dogs may cause infections or re-opening of a closed wound, so it’s essential to take proper care of wounds by cleaning them and keeping them covered.
  • Dogs can be trained to stop wound licking or to not pay attention to wounds through positive reinforcement.
  • The emotional and psychological impact of wound licking and appropriate behavioral intervention must not be ignored.
  • It is essential to take good care of the general health and well-being of pets, including avoiding excessive licking for peace of mind, to promote a healthy and happy life for both pet and owner.

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