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What Happens if my Dog Licks its Incision Site?

by Justin Girdler |

Did you know that dogs lick themselves as part of their grooming habits? Cats and dogs tend to lick themselves to groom and clean their fur and coat.

Dog saliva contains bacteria-killing enzymes that get rid of dead tissue. However, overlicking or chewing can reopen closed wounds and do more harm than good. Incisions from TPLO surgery, spaying, and other procedures can get infected and take longer to heal if you let your dog lick and chew at them.

This blog discusses why dogs lick their wounds and what you can do to prevent it. We also have some post-surgery care tips to help your dog recover better and faster.

Why Does My Dog Keep Licking Its Wound?

After your pet comes home from an operation and its anesthesia has worn off, your dog will eventually check out the incision site. Most dogs will try and lick the wound out of curiosity and to see if it’s painful. However, this can worsen the condition of the incision site as it might reopen the wound and delay its healing.

Here are common reasons why dogs lick their wounds:

The incision site is itchy.

Fresh stitches and wounds can get extremely itchy and irritating. The urge to scratch might be hard to resist, especially for your dog. If your dog does manage to avoid nibbling on its wound, you might instead find your pet in an uncomfortable position just to get near the incision site. 

Pet owners must keep their dog from licking, scratching, or nibbling on fresh wounds as it can reopen the stitches, irritate the injury, and scrape any scabs.

It helps dogs cope with the pain.

Apart from wound licking as an instinctive response in dogs and other animals, it is also a common coping mechanism for pain. It helps alleviate any discomfort and wound swelling. In fact, licking and nibbling on their wounds is their only way of relieving the pain themselves.

Your dog has an obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Stress, separation, and boredom are vital indicators of a psychological disorder in dogs that can lead to excessive licking. For example, anxious post-surgery dogs tend to lick their wounds more frequently as it is relaxing and gives them a sense of gratification.

Identifying the cause of your dog’s wound licking based on abrupt behavioral changes can be challenging, so it’s best to consult with your veterinarian.

Is it Safe for my Dog to Lick Its Surgical Incision?

The Good

Dog saliva has antibacterial and antimicrobial properties. It is full of enzymes that promote healing and contains histatins, a special kind of protein that can defend against infection. Canine saliva can also slightly defend against E. coli and Streptococcus canis. The first few licks can help clean away debris present in the wound. 

The Bad

Excessive wound licking can be dangerous as it can lead to irritation and further infection. It can also damage the healing tissues, resulting in delayed recovery and increased size of the wound. 

If a dog licked its wound excessively, it could reopen it when the sutures get pulled, exposing the wound. If the incision reopens or the incision site becomes infected, you will have to revisit to your vet to have it properly restitched.

Moreover, reopened wounds are much more difficult to treat and close compared to cleaning them.

How Can I Prevent my Dog From Licking its Stitches?

Keeping the wounds of your dog clean and out of reach is vital to keep your pet on the right track to recovery. Here are some tips to help you stop your pup from licking, chewing, and biting its incision wound from a procedure:

Use a cone or E-collar

After surgery, most vets will place a cone or an E-collar on your dog to prevent it from licking the incision. Most E-collars are made from durable plastic, ensuring they can withstand any biting and licking from your dog or exposure to the elements. 

Sometimes humorously called the cone of shame, the E-collar has a wide coverage that prevents your dog from turning its head to lick its wound. These collars are often kept on during the first two weeks after the procedure or depending on your veterinarian’s recommendation.

Size is an essential factor to consider when buying an E-collar. Ideally, you should get cones with ends extending at least two inches beyond your dog’s muzzle. A shorter end doesn’t effectively prevent your pet from licking its incision site.

However, an E-collar comes with its disadvantages. It is generally uncomfortable for your dog to wear and can greatly hinder its hearing and vision. The collar can alter your pet’s behavior, eating and drinking habits, and overall disposition. 

While the cone of shame might seem like the go-to protective device, it can do more harm than good. You can opt for different alternatives to prevent your dog from touching its incision site without burdening it.

Buy an inflatable collar

This alternative to the “cone of shame” is an inflatable collar resembling a neck pillow. This collar is baggy and padded, making them perfect if your canine wants a break from an E-collar.

Inflatable collars help your pet see where they’re going, leading to fewer broken objects, collisions, and injuries to people. But wearing these collars often isn’t advisable, as they don’t successfully prevent dogs from licking their wounds. An inflatable collar is better for canines with an upper-body injury.

Consider bandages & sleeves

One of the best alternatives to the e-collar is a leg sleeve. Unlike the cone of shame, it is less intrusive, giving your dog a natural range of motion. Most sleeves also offer excellent coverage from the ankles to the hip of your pup. Other than restricting access to the wound, these sleeves also protect it from dirt and moisture. 

Get canine clothes & apparel

Another less intrusive option for preventing your dog from licking or biting its incision site is using a specialized shirt, recovery suit, compression onesie, or similar clothes. Like sleeves and bandages, these clothes cover up the incision site adequately so your dog won’t be tempted to lick, scratch, or bite it. They are made of breathable fabric that allows natural movement and reduces stress.

An important tip for using dog leg wraps

According to the American Kennel Club (AKC)’s chief veterinary officer, Dr. Jerry Klein, wounds need oxygen to heal, and blood must flow to the site. Hence, wraps like bandages and recovery suits shouldn’t be excessively tight. 

Ask your vet for medications

If clothes, cones, and sleeves don’t do the trick, your vet can recommend anti-inflammatory medication to help your dog manage the pain from its wounds. Since licking and scratching can also be a response to the pain, these medications can significantly prevent your dog from getting its wound infected.

There are also some unique strips you can apply around the incision site. These strips have an off-putting behavior that would lessen the likelihood of your pup licking its wound. 

Signs of Wound Healing in Dogs and Aftercare

Within a few days after surgery, your dog should regain some of its energy and start moving around normally. Different wound healing stages indicate the incision site is getting better. Here are some signs of a recovering wound in dogs:

  • Redness fades
  • Swelling gradually flattens
  • Edges begin to close together
  • The wound color lightens up

Contact your veterinarian immediately if you notice any discharge at the incision site, such as blood or pus-like fluid.

Post-Surgery Incision Aftercare for Canines

Ensure your pup is on the right track to recovery by monitoring its incision site daily. Follow your veterinarian’s instructions on proper wound care to prevent infections and speed up healing. You should also limit strenuous activity, such as running, jumping, or playing with other dogs. 

Visit the Lick Sleeve blog to learn more about dog care and proper treatment for your pup’s conditions and injuries.

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