Why Does My Dog Lick Human’s Wounds?
In the ancient world, wise folk and healers noticed that dogs licked their own wounds as well as humans. Wounds, both on the surface and beneath, seem to draw the attention of dog tongues. From the ancient civilizations of Egypt, Greece, and Rome all the way through to the Middle Ages in Europe, it might be surprising to learn that dogs were not only encouraged, but even trained to lick wounds as a mode of healing. So it seems that dogs do have an urge to help cure the wounds of their own, as well as their owners. And, apparently, their saliva does contain some antibacterial substances which helps heal wounds.
Why do Dogs Lick Human Wounds?
Your dog won’t just stop at his own wounds, however, and is likely to lick any grazes, cuts or injuries you may have sustained as well. Part of this is due to affection and their presumed duty of care towards you. Just like how your dog’s mother would have licked any wounds your dog sustained as a pup, your dog will try to care for you through licking if you have hurt yourself. It is an instinctive response in dogs, humans, and other animals to attend quickly to wounds, and dogs are just one species that will lick at them to cleanse the area – cats, rodents, and monkeys do the same.
Benefits of dog licking human wounds
Although there are a lot of risks associated with letting dogs lick wounds, canine saliva does contain a few compounds that may help to disinfect and clean wounds. Additionally, the mechanical action of licking helps remove debris from the wound area, while cleaning it.
The following compounds are present in canine saliva and are thought to have antimicrobial and healing properties:
Lysozyme and peroxidase enzymes help kill certain bacteria.
Lactoferrin, defensins and cystatins are antibacterial.
Opiorphin relieves pain.
Thrombospondin is antiviral.
Nitrate compounds inhibit bacterial growth.
Protease inhibitor and epidermal growth factor help speed healing.
Unfortunately, although dog saliva does have some healing properties, the risks carried by allowing dogs to lick wounds are simply too high to warrant licking as a healing tool. When it comes to dogs licking their own wounds, a heavy amount of licking is likely to break down stitches and suture and re-open any closed wounds, leaving them vulnerable to infection and the accumulation of dirt and debris. They can also damage their skin and develop hot spots from excessive licking, which will not do any favors in helping a wound to heal.