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Why Do Animals Lick Their Wounds?

[INTRO 🎵] If you’ve ever lost a fight, physical or verbal, once your opponent wasn’t looking, you might’ve retreated to your corner to lick your wounds. Not literally, of course. It’s just an expression. Unless, of course, you’re a dog, a cat, or a small
rodent, a horse, or a non-human primate. For all of these animals and a few others, literal wound licking is an instinctive response they’re born with. When they get hurt, they lick the injury. But vets put cones, sometimes called Elizabethan collars or The Cone of Shame, on dogs and cats to prevent them from doing exactly that. So, does that mean it’s bad for animals to lick their wounds? And if it was, why would they do it? Well, saliva isn’t the most sterile substance on the planet. But unless they have access to vet care, it’s not like they have a bunch of options. Those wild animals and stray cats and dogs are just making the best of a bad situation. Wound licking does have some benefits, though. It turns out that the oral mucosa, the mucous membrane that lines the inside of the mouth in humans and animals, typically heals faster than skin. The wound-healing properties of saliva have a lot to do with that. For example, spit has a protein called tissue factor, which helps with the blood clotting process. The blood turns from a liquid to a gel, forming a protective covering or scab over an injury, effectively stopping the bleeding. Saliva also has antibacterial properties—specifically, the enzyme lysozyme. Lysozyme attacks the cell membranes of certain kinds of bacteria, which kills them, helping to prevent infection. Also, licking a wound helps an animal to get rid of any extra dirt on it that might lead to an even worse infection. Great! So why is my vet not letting my dog do its job and lick its wounds? If an animal licks a wound a few times after an injury occurs, that’s fine. But if it keeps going, some pretty gross complications might follow. Tissue damage, inflammation, and infection are just a few of the not-so-pleasant things that could happen as a result of lots of licking. Inflammation comes in the form of something called a hot spot, which is a red, swollen lesion that might appear where an animal has been licking aggressively. Their tongue scrapes the spot again and again, until they end up with basically a scrape. And while the antibacterial agents found in saliva can be beneficial, animal saliva also contains plenty of bacteria that, while harmless in their mouths, can cause tissue damage or a painful infection if they end up in an open wound. Worst case scenario? If a pet had surgery but didn’t have that cone we mentioned to stop them from licking so much, they could end up with dehiscence, where the wound splits open. So if you see a wild animal licking its wounds, well, you probably shouldn’t interfere with any wild animal doing anything. But if your pet dog or cat’s doing it, tell
them to put their tongue away. It’s time to pay the vet a visit. Thanks to Patreon patron Jessica from West Virginia for asking this question, and thank you to all our patrons, who keep these answers coming and keep SciShow alive. If you’d like to submit a question to be answered, you can go to patreon.com/scishow. And if you just want to keep getting smarter with us, go to youtube.com/scishow and subscribe! [OUTRO 🎵]

100 thoughts on “Why Do Animals Lick Their Wounds?

  1. I lick my wounds for the reasons Hank mentions but also blood is full of nutrients and other good stuff (that's basically it's job), I'm not going to let that go to waste by letting it drip on the ground, I recycle it.

  2. Ideia for an episode, how clean can you get your pee by drinking a lot of water? Is it possible to start peeing pure water?

  3. I cut my finger earlier this morning and the first thing I did without thinking was put my finger in my mouth to stop the blood so I guess us humans do lick our wounds instinctually to some degree

  4. The "cone of shame" prevents dogs (or other pets) from scratching their head or chewing other parts, protecting stitching from surgery.

  5. I wonder how people/animals know they should look their wounds O.o

    It's like, when they cut themselves, their just like 'yeah, I should probably lick this now'.

  6. And here I was thinking the cone was only for when they get stitches so they don't pop them open, learn something new every day!

  7. I don't know why humans are being dropped from this list of animals that do it. Because we do it. I have done it, I have seen others do it. Including my younger siblings when I was a kid. And in retrospect they did it instinctively, without any prompting, or prior observance to inform them as to that being something they should do (as did I). It may be frowned upon sometimes. And we may abstain because we don't want to appear weak or base. But it is no less a part of us then it is any other animal that does it.

  8. I have two dogs, both from the same litter, one is really smart and brave and the other is stupid and cowardly. Dogs have personalities of their own, who knew… Anyway, the stupid and cowardly one is obsessive. Once he starts licking, he does not stop, we will lick and lick until some outside force stops him. I have a cone sitting right here for when I leave for work or go to sleep. He gives me no choice. He is a clean dog with no actual reason to lick like that, he just does. Like I said stupid and cowardly. I guess he likes the cone.

  9. Why do cans of compressed air get cold when you shake them? I know it has something to do with pressure….but thats all I really know…and they get REALLY cold….

  10. My cat scraped himself on something a few months back. Just a small scrape, but a couple days later we checked it, and he had licked the cut into a giant inch-long wound. Had to take him to the vet for stitches.

  11. Because the vaccine to "heal the wound" is in the wound. Just like your urine has the vaccine
    to what currently ails you. Lots of animals use urine to heal themselves. And for you ladies out
    there, what do you think you smear on your face from the comedic industries? Horse urine!

  12. Unfortunately when I watched this video, an advertisement for milk came up. Taking place during a spelling bee, the first poor young girl fails at spelling "lecithin". The narrator shames her, and then praises the next contestant/winner because she is able to spell "milk", suggesting that knowing how to spell ingredients makes them superior and healthier. I am not even mad, just disappointed. How dare they villainize lecithin! What did it ever do to anyone??

  13. When I was younger, I used my pre-scientific brain to deduce that saliva was good for cuts that drew blood (or ones that didn't) Also, I've always loved the irony-salty taste of my blood 🙂

  14. I would imagine that the licking is a behavioral response with dealing with pain much like how humans rub their wounds. For instance, when you hit your knee on the desk or hit your head while under a table, what do you do? You instantly rub the source of the pain. This behavior distracts your brain from the pain by sending sensations of touch that mostly overpower the pain.

  15. Saliva also contains an antibody called Immunoglobulin A (or IgA) which also has antibacterial properties. This plays a critical role in mucosal immunity.

  16. They tricked me. I thought it was going to ask why animals lick their penis, the answer being because they can't make a fist.

  17. I do it too, though. When I cut my hand or finger, I instinctively bring it to my mouth before I get to the first aid kit.

  18. My dog used to try to lick any wounds I got x.x. or if he was sitting next to me and grooming himself he'd try to slowly transition his way to my leg.

  19. I do lick my wounds too, when i dont have immediately something to sterilize them. The blood also doesnt go everywhere when you do it and personally I feel like my tongue is better at cleaning the wound than some water. But I do sterilize it afterwards as fast as i can of course.

  20. I only lick my wounds if I see considerable amounts of blood leaving, because I keep reassuring myself that this way, the blood will somehow return into ,y body, through swallowing it. Besides, it makes the wound look less bad than it did before.

    I'm of course talking about smaller wounds such as a simple scratch from the edge of a paper or something…

  21. Surely the main reason for the collar is to stop the animal from attacking the stitches holding the wound together

  22. I used to lick my finger and rub it on the sore or bruise when I was younger. Is that the same thing or am I just weird af?

  23. I thought the cone of shame was placed on them so they don't re-open the wound or remove their stitches to early. It has nothing to do if its clean or not for them.

  24. I had a freshly peeled off blister (yes it stung like hell, Ik its not good to peel but I absolutely love peeping it. It was a pretty big heel blister btw) and my dog tried kicking it. I knew best to not let him since I still didn't sterilize my blister (which is still healing?) I find it cute actually 🙂

  25. did you know that the plaque on your teeth is pretty much bacteria poop. And that's why your breath usually smells terrible if you haven't brushed recently. so that's why some people's breath smells literally like poop. : D and the bad breath is the smell released by the bacteria after it eats whatever is in your mouth. I think I just ruin someone's day.

  26. I actually slipped on ice and scraped up my knee today. My dog just barely came over and licked it for like 5 mins. Is it still an instinct to lick even human wounds?

  27. "non-human primate"? lol, They're still on the monkey-man religion? Humans are humans. Monkeys are monkeys. Apes are apes. and Primates are primates. Humans are not monkeys, apes, or primates. Humans are human. Distinct, separate, and with dominion over the earth. It's not hard. Don't complicate something that isn't complicated.

  28. well i guess when there is no other choice but to remove that goddam knife that someone stabbed you with just be prepared to lick like the dickens

  29. apparently you can still buy the gros michel but they are rare and can't be grown on traditional plantations so it's more of a hobby far thing? I was curious and now I'm researching it because I want to know what my family banana bread recipe is supposed to really taste like

  30. If you cut your mouth or bite your tongue it heals faster than an arm wound, probably cause evolutionarily, it's more important to have a working mouth that can, yknow, eat stuff and fuel the body

  31. గేదెలో పుండ్లుకి,గాయపడ్డావట్టికి చక్కని పరిష్కకారం(buffalo and cow wonds treatment charmil sprey )https://youtu.be/qS9pZ6O4RAI

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