The saliva that cats leave in their wounds when they lick them does have healing properties, but it can also harbor harmful bacteria that can cause the wound to become infected and take longer to heal.
If your cat has just got stitches and is licking them, it is probably trying to relieve some of the itching. If it continues licking and maybe even biting on the stitches, they can become unraveled and the wound could reopen.
Overall, it is probably best to prevent your cat from licking its wounds and, in this article, we will discuss why that is and how to do it. So, if you are having problems keeping your cat away from its wounds and you want to learn more, just keep on reading.
Does a cat’s saliva have bacteria in it?
Cats’ saliva has healing properties, in that it can stimulate wound healing, help soothe the pain of the wound, and can even clear certain types of bacteria.
The antiseptic properties of cats’ saliva are due to enzymes and peptides such as lactoferrin, peroxidases, defensins, and lysozyme contained in the saliva. And, while these components can help somewhat, that does not mean a cat’s mouth is completely clean and pathogen-free.
Cats have bacteria in their mouths that they can transfer even to humans through a bite.
Some of these are so harmful that they are even resistant to certain antibiotics. There is a very high probability that cat bites on humans will become infected if they are not treated immediately.
The accumulation of harmful bacteria in cats’ mouths is due to their oral hygiene and the kind of food they eat. If a cat’s mouth is not cleaned by its owner, or if it likes to hunt prey that might also be harboring bacteria, the bacteria will thrive in its mouth.
Is it okay for cats to lick their wounds?
The answer to that question is not a straightforward yes or no because it will also depend on the kind of wound your cat has sustained.
If it is an open wound, your cat will start licking it as first aid, and the antibacterial properties in its saliva can help with pain relief and remove any blood and dirt from the wound. The saliva acts like an initial salve, or ointment, on the wound. Furthermore, a cat’s tongue has small barbs on it that facilitate wound cleaning by picking up the debris in the wound.
Of course, it is still advisable to treat the wound yourself and to bind or cover it if you can, but it is fine if the cat licks the wound before you can treat it. Thereafter, keep the wound clean at all times and check it every day for signs of infection.
If the cat’s wound has become an abscess, which is a pus-filled pocket under the skin, do not let the cat lick it because the abscess might open up and become more infected. An abscess should always receive veterinary attention.
Seeing scabs over the wound might give you a false sense of security that you can let the cat lick it, but this is not advisable either, because the scab can get dislodged and, instead of the wound healing, it can get re-exposed.
What is a lick granuloma?
If you keep letting your cat lick its wound – and it will, because it makes the cat feel better – this can lead to constant aggravation of the wound and the skin around it. A lick granuloma can develop, which is a condition in which the wound becomes inflamed from excessive licking and forms a raised border, or plaque.
The granuloma can become further infected and irritated, making the healing time even longer.
If you do not correct the wound-licking behavior it can become a habit that your cat perceives as soothing, and it will then be very difficult to overcome.
How do I keep my cat from licking its wounds?
If you notice that your cat is licking its wounds too often, you will need to take measures to stop this from happening. This will prevent infection or a lick granuloma from developing.
If your cat has an open wound, the healing time will depend on the severity of the injury.
Apply pressure on the wound with dry, sterile gauze until clots can form and any bleeding can stop.
Wash the wound with a saline solution, iodine, or any antiseptic that your veterinarian advises.
Do not apply any ointment that has not been approved by your veterinarian first. You can then place a bandage wrap over the wound or, if the wound is quite superficial, just leave it open. Just make sure you clean the wound every day and refresh the bandages.
If the cat’s wound is deep enough to need stitches, the cat will still try to lick at the stitched wound. Excessive licking and biting on the stitches can cause them to unravel and might reopen the wound.
You can place a cone on the cat’s neck to prevent it from licking the wound; the downside of this is that the cat will be happy or comfortable for a few weeks.
Fortunately, if you are patient, you can actually train the cat to stop licking its wound.
You can use clicker training for this.
Start by giving your cat a treat and then clicking after it takes the treat. Repeat this a few times a day, for as long as your cat is paying attention and accepting your treats.
Soon enough, your cat will associate the clicks with treats.
When you see the cat licking its wounds, discourage it from doing so and offer it a treat. When it accepts the treat, use the clicker.
Eventually, the cat will learn to stop licking every time you use the clicker.
It is not encouraged to let a cat lick a wound, whether it be a shallow wound or one that has stitches.
Even if cat saliva has healing properties, it still harbors harmful bacteria due to the cat’s poor oral hygiene and can cause the wound to become infected the more the cat is allowed to lick it.
Discourage wound licking by covering the wound with a bandage or by placing a cone on the cat’s neck.
You can also incorporate clicker training to teach the cat to stop this habit.
mage: istockphoto.com / Konstantin Aksenov