Sometimes when you fall and scrape your knee, or cut your hand, your favourite furry friend, in an act of unhindered devotion, will do to you what they would do to their own cuts and scrapes – they will try to lick it clean. The story that is often cited is the one about dogs and cats having enzymes in their saliva that help clean the wound. While it can’t be denied that there are various enzymes in the slobber, when you consider what else is in your little friend’s mouth, you’d be better to pass on their touching offer to help you clean up your cuts.
First of all, think about where that mouth has been, and what’s been in it! Does your cat hunt mice and birds around your house? Does your dog have a habit of eating unidentifiable bits of garbage or poop when out on walks? Or maybe your dog, like so many, enjoys a snack from the cat’s litter box every once in a while. You probably want to keep things like garbage and poop out of your cuts, and if your pet’s mouth has been there, it shouldn’t be near your wounds either.
Even dogs and cats that don’t have any distasteful eating habits have millions of bacteria of many different kinds in their mouths. Most of the time the bacteria don’t cause a problem, and the “good” bacteria help to keep the “bad” bacteria in check. But if the “bad” bacteria are put somewhere the body’s defense systems have already been breached – like an area of broken skin – those same bacteria suddenly have a prime opportunity to move in and start multiplying in their new home. Some bacteria like Pasteurella multocida can cause very serious infections in situations like this. This species of bacteria is one of the primary culprits in bite wound infections, which are especially common with cat bites.
So why do animals lick their wounds in nature? Well, “dirty” is in fact a relative term. An animal can use its tongue to get the worst of the dirt and debris out of a wound, and the wound will be cleaner. But compared to how clean you can make a cut by even just washing it with a lot of water and some soap, and maybe a little disinfectant, a lick from a cat or a dog is counterproductive to say the least. So the next time you have a boo-boo that Fifi or Fido wants to kiss better, say thanks, but no thanks.