Licking an open wound: beneficial or dangerous? The straightforward response to this question is “both,” due to the fact that both interpretations are correct.
Licking an injury is a natural, reflexive defence mechanism that is present in both humans and animals. It’s possible that your initial reaction will be disgust. Or even the possibility that this is not the case. Take a moment to think about it: how often have you accidentally banged your finger and then immediately put it in your mouth?
The usage of dogs in ancient Egyptian healing rituals, in which the dogs were required to lick the wounds of those who were harmed, is thought to have been the origin of the concept that licking a wound might cause it to heal more quickly. Even if we don’t lick one other’s wounds anymore in more modern times, the practise is still practised in the form of adults kissing the pain of young children in order to make them feel better.
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Moderate licking can indeed have healing powers. Studies have shown that saliva has ingredients that are helpful to make healing faster. These helpful ingredients are called antimicrobial properties and four of these have been found in dog saliva linked to healing powers:
- Lysozyme — this is an enzyme that attacks and kills certain bacteria and it also prevents the overgrowth of bacteria; it is especially effective in protecting against the streptococcus infection but unfortunately not against the staphylococcus bacteria which causes infection of various tissues of the body. (This is also the bacteria that cause the stubborn MRSA.)
- Histatins — this is a simple protein whose active presence helps to ward off infections and also help skin cells to scab and close over a wound faster.
- Tissue factor – this factor promotes the blood clotting mechanism which makes bleeding stops and helps scabs form.
- Nerve growth factor — a protein that can cut the healing time in half.
A last positive thing that can come from a dog’s lick is that by licking any dirty and loose debris gets removed hence wound cleaning takes place.
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Too much licking is harmful. It causes what is called a lick granuloma. This is when your dog licks so much that he or she licks all the skin and hair off and this creates open wounds that becomes infected. This excessive licking is done in such a manner that there is no opportunity for new skin cells to form.
The reason for excessive licking can be contributed to quite a few different reasons. One of the reasons can be being overly itchy because of an atopic skin condition or allergy. Another reason for a lick granuloma to form may be because of licking out of boredom. Stress or separation anxieties are also two evil knievils that is to blame for excessive licking with bad results. Interestingly, it is said that the rabies virus was spread by wound licking
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Risks Associated With Your Dog’s Licking
If the above facts sound good enough to make you think that dog licks are okay, you should be aware that it does not come without risks. When we said that the answer is it is both healing and a hazard, the following is most definitely the hazard part.
Numerous parasites and bacteria is present in your dog’s mouth. Your dog does not have hands to pick things up or to wash themselves. Everything they do from eating to cleaning to scratching an itchy posterior gets done with their mouths.
A dog’s mouth and therefore saliva contains billions of bacteria made up from different bacteria species. If it is transmitted from canine to human, it can cause humans severe illness. These diseases are referred to as zoonotic diseases. Apart from zoonotic bacterial diseases, parasites can also be transferred. Let’s have a quick look at both bacteria and parasite transmissions that are possible to get from a dog’s lick.
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Pastuerella is a normal resident of the mouth found in both cats and dogs. Pasteurella can cause skin and lymph node infections.
Pasteurella multocida is a bacterium that normally lives in the mouths of most pets, cats and about two-thirds of dogs and it lives there benignly.
- Bartonella henselae
This bacterium is transmitted to pets from fleas. It is the cause of a severe skin and lymph node infection. Humans can be infected by these bacteria by coming in contact with the saliva from a cat or dogs lick.
- Salmonellla, E. coli, Clostridia and Campylobacter
These bacteria are intestinal bacteria of pets that can cause severe intestinal disease to us humans. The pets can be free of symptoms and look to have nothing wrong with them but they can still pass the bacteria on to humans through their poop. This is why pregnant woman are cautioned not to empty any cat litter trays during pregnancy.
Most human infection is picked up by contaminated hands touching their mouths. The faecal residue containing the salmonella bacteria is also transferred by your pet when licking your face and lips after licking their bums. And it is a fact…all pets lick their bums!
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Our pets are hosts to a large variety of parasites. These include ticks, fleas, worms and other single celled parasites. If members of your family get licked and get infected with these parasites it can result in intestinal disease, skin infections and other problems, blindness, and at worst it can cause even brain disorders. Pets may live with these parasites in their intestines and may look healthy and have no signs of illness.
But eggs passed in the pet’s poo when they go toilet can infect humans whilst leaving pets unaffected. Like bacteria, the major road of infection to humans is bum to face. Pets that have licked their bums have the opportunity to pass the parasite eggs to humans during face or mouth licking.
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Make Sure Your Pet’s Licks Is As Safe As Possible
Healthy individuals with a good immune system are very unlikely to pick up infections from being licked by a dog. Those who are aged or immune suppressed must take extra special care as they will be more prone to picking up infections from dog licks.
Also HIV positive people, babies and young children should not be unnecessarily exposed to dog licks. These infections can include parasite infections and bacterial infections.
We recommend that either way, you take special care as a sensible responsible dog owner by taking the following precautions:
- deworming your dog every three months with a good quality worm treatment
- regular flea and tick treatment as these parasites carry diseases
- pick up your dog’s poop every day and dispose of it in a safe way
- wash your hands thoroughly with a good soap after handling your dog’s poop
- don’t allow your dogs and cats to use your veg and herb garden for a toilet
- make sure to wash any fresh fruit and veg thoroughly before use
- Cover your children’s sandboxes after every play and keep them covered when they are not in use