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The Tongue Does Not Heal All Wounds

Posted Aug 01 2013 7:00am
Dr. Coates is a veterinarian based in the other “Sunshine State” – that's Colorado to the rest of you – where she lives and plays with a varied range of animals. She shares her professional and personal experiences, Monday through Friday, here on petMD's blog, the Fully Vetted. Log in for your daily dose of her insight and wisdom. < Previous Post Aug 01, 2013 The Tongue Does Not Heal All Wounds by Dr. Jennifer Coates, DVM     Share       Save to mypetMDHave you ever heard someone say that pets should be allowed to lick their wounds because saliva has healing properties? Veterinarians run into the notion all the time … typically after a dog or cat has been brought to the clinic with a wound that is getting worse rather than better after being licked.
Like many old wives tales, there is a modicum of truth behind the idea that licking can be beneficial. When an animal is wounded and does not have access to veterinary care, licking removes foreign material from the injured tissues. Also, there is some evidence that saliva does have antibacterial properties, so licking might help prevent or treat infections under these circumstances.
It makes sense for a wild animal to lick its wounds since no other options are available, but it does not follow that owners should therefore allow pets to do the same. This is particularly true in the case of surgical incisions.
Before, during, and after surgery, doctors go to great lengths to prevent wound contamination and infection including  

shaving the site to remove hair

scrubbing the area multiple times with two different types of antiseptics

covering the surrounding areas with sterile drapes

using sterile equipment

cleaning our hands and wearing sterile gloves and gowns

donning masks, booties and hair covers

keeping surgical suites impeccably clean

suturing the wound to keep it closed as it heals

prescribing antibiotics, pain relievers, and anti-lick devices as necessary

When a pet licks a surgical incision, he is introducing contamination, not removing it. In the case of non-surgical wounds, I don’t care if a pet licks a few times before treatment is initiated, but once the area has been thoroughly cleaned and medications started, the downsides of licking once again outweigh its benefits.
We now have lots of options available for keeping a pet’s mouth away from its wound or incision. Traditional Elizabethan collars work for some individuals, but others find them too annoying and clunky. See-through varieties are available, as are bulky collars that can prevent animals from turning their heads to reach many parts of their bodies. Body wraps and bandages (including some that emit a mild electric charge when licked) are widely available. Deterrent sprays can also help, but should never be applied directly to a wound. Spray the surrounding skin or use them lightly on an overlying bandage.
While we’re on the topic of bandages, a well-applied, appropriate covering that is checked regularly and replaced as needed can speed healing. But when used incorrectly, bandages do more harm than good. They can cut off circulation and lead to tissue death, become soiled and promote infection, and simply hide the fact that a pet’s wound needs attention. I generally do not recommend that owners apply bandages unless they have been taught the correct way to do so by a veterinarian who is familiar with the exact nature of an animal’s wound.
If one form of lick deterrence fails, try another. Keeping a pet’s sutures in place and preventing infection as a wound heals are well worth the effort.

Dr. Jennifer Coates
Image: Thinkstock
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Mahkidzrpupz Always Good Info 08/01/2013 12:51pm I always enjoy this posts on this site. They're informative and well-written and frequently bring a smile to my day.

As regards this one, it never ceases to amaze me that an old wives' tale such as this persists, even though it would seem common sense would dictate that there is no truth (or very little) in it. Certainly one would think that the advice given by a veterinarian would trump would think.

I owned a successful body piercing studio for several years, and put a great deal of effort into creating clear, concise aftercare instruction sheets for clients to take home. Additionally I always took the time to explain to each client appropriate care, doing my best to be certain that the person understood the importance of following my instructions. Nonetheless, inevitably a large number of clients would return within a week or two wondering why their piercings were not healing properly. Upon questioning them I would find that without exception they had entirely disregarded my instructions for the body-piercing equivalent of old wives' tales...information given by a "friend" or worse, something they had found on the Internet. (WHY do some people still believe that if they see something on the Internet, it MUST be true!!?) Often what they were doing was exactly the opposite of what I had instructed - at the least useless and at the worst, in some cases, actually harmful or dangerous.

*Sigh* and /head desk LOL...I guess no matter what the profession, if you have to deal with the public you're going to run into such things. Humans are funny animals indeed. For my part, I'm pretty certain that I wouldn't want our girls' vet piercing me - and by the same token, I would never presume that "something" I had heard "somewhere" or seen on the Internet would be superior to his knowledge as regards providing the best care for our beloved "kids." Have a great day all! 8) Reply to this comment Report abuse 1 TheOldBroad Elizabethan Collars 08/01/2013 06:18pm I've heard of a cloth post-surgical collar that looks like a large, puffy doughnut. It would seem this would be more comfortable for the critter and still keep the critter from being able to reach stitches.

I'll agree with the comment by Mahkidzrpupz that so many people ignore the advice from a professional and follow instructions from Old-Whats-Her-Name or something found on the web. I can see getting additional information from these sources, but it's never made sense to me to ignore professional advice and go with something else entirely. Reply to this comment Report abuse
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