Picture of a dog licking a wound

Dog Licks Pus: Why & What to Do

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It’s not unusual to hear about a dog licking its wounds. There’s more than one well-known epithet for just that phenomenon. But why do dogs do it, and is it okay to let your dog lick their wounds when they have them?

Your dog shouldn’t be licking pus or licking their wounds if you can avoid it. There’s a purpose for this in the wild, but for a house dog, there is no need and it can be harmful to your furry friend’s health.

Why Do Dogs Lick Pus?

There are antibacterial properties to a dog’s saliva. In the wild, when a dog is injured, licking the wound can help keep it clean from the filthier surroundings threatening to infect and contaminate them.

Can Dogs Lick Their Wounds?

Dogs shouldn’t lick their wounds. When a wound has been treated properly by a vet, the antibacterial properties of its saliva will not be as strong as the disinfectants used at the vet’s office. Additionally, the bacteria in your dog’s mouth can infect the wound and make the sore worse.

Unfortunately, your dog’s instincts don’t know the difference and your dog will try to lick their wounds anyway.

Can Dogs Lick My Wounds?

While it’s comforting to see your dog try to clean your wound out of instinct and affection for you, you should not allow your dog to lick your wounds. The reason is that the bacteria in their mouth could cause your wound to become infected. 

What Happens If My Dog Licks Pus?

Likely, nothing will happen to your dog if they lick pus. However, dogs’ mouths are dirty and they can spread germs from their mouth to the wound. 

How To Keep Your Dog From Licking

We’ve all seen pictures of the cone of shame, and that is one way to stop your dog from licking and possibly infecting its wounds. There are a few other options to keep your dog’s wounds safe from the bacteria inside their mouth.

They make inflatable collars that serve the same purpose as the Elizabethan Cone, but are more comfortable for the dog and look a bit less silly. Of course, dogs have no need for dignity and sometimes the best thing to do is just put your dog in a shirt to cover up the wound so that the tongue can’t get to it.

Sometimes the wound needs to breathe, so covering it with a shirt (or with dog booties if the wound is on the leg or paw) isn’t always a good option. However, if you are a working dog owner and have to leave your dog alone for long periods it might be the best option for the time you can’t be there to monitor whether or not your dog is licking.

Tips from Our Vets

Dogs make excellent companions and bring so much joy to our lives. Unfortunately, however, they cannot speak to us.

If your pet exhibits odd behavior, it can be worrisome and difficult to know if the behavior is normal or a reason for concern.

Not sure why your dog is exhibiting a specific behavior?

  • Some behaviors can seem very odd but may be completely normal.
  • Others could signal illness or injury.
  • Due to the lack of ability for a dog to communicate with us verbally, it is imperative to pay close attention to what the dog is telling us through their behavioral changes.

The most important takeaway is that if you are ever concerned about a behavior that your dog is displaying, your best resource for information is your veterinarian.

In general, a new behavior that is not typical for your dog should be investigated. Examples would be:

  • Not eating
  • Suddenly sleeping more than usual
  • Being reluctant to go on walks or to play
  • Becoming aggressive or grumpy when interacting with other people or pets

These behavior changes most commonly indicate that something is wrong, and your pet needs to see their veterinarian as soon as possible. It is much easier and more likely to be successful, to treat an illness early in its course as opposed to waiting until the dog is very sick.

Other odd behaviors include:

  • Eating feces
  • Chasing their tail
  • Sudden bursts of activity (known as the “zoomies”)

These may be completely normal. However, if you notice a drastic change in your dog, for example, they never exhibited one of these behaviors, and now they suddenly are, it is prudent to have them examined by their veterinarian as soon as possible.

Even if the behavior is normal, it may lead to unintended issues.

For example, young dogs consuming their feces or the feces of other dogs can be a normal behavior but can lead to gastrointestinal upset as well as intestinal parasitism.

Parasites from your dog can cause serious health complications, not only for your dog, but also for you and your family, as many are transmissible to humans.

Licking of the feet or scratching may seem like normal dog behavior but typically indicates a health issue such as allergies, fleas, or skin infection.

Left untreated, these issues will worsen and cause additional discomfort for your dog.

Remember that your best source of reliable health information for your dog is your veterinarian. Because dogs cannot verbally communicate with us, it is essential to be proactive with any possible health concerns.

Working with a trusted veterinarian as your partner will ensure many happy and healthy years for both you and your dog.

Final Thoughts: Why Do Dogs Lick Pus?

Here is a brief overview of why dogs lick pus and how to stop it:

  • Your dog will still have the urge to lick its wounds because that is just instinct.
  • Dog saliva also has bacteria in it.
  • The antiseptic your veterinarian uses will kill the bacteria your dog’s saliva would have killed without introducing potentially harmful bacteria to the wound.
  • You can keep your dog from licking its wounds with an inflatable collar or by covering the wound with a dog garment.

If you’re looking for answers to explain your dog’s behaviors, you can check out our series of guides on why dogs do what they do:

Pet News Daily Staff
Pet News Daily writers are experts in pet care, health and behavior. We are members of Society for Professional Journalists and practice ethical journalism.