If your dog has ever been around an open wound, either on themselves, another dog, or even on you, you may have noticed them trying to lick any pus around the wound.
This may seem a little gross or weird, but there is actually a purpose to that licking.
So why do dogs lick pus?
Dogs have an instinctual urge to lick open wounds, and even pus, to temporarily relieve pain, clean the wounds, and speed up healing.
Let’s take a look at what pus is, why dogs lick it, and how you can prevent it.
Why Do Dogs Lick Pus and Open Wounds?
When dogs lick pus, it is typically because pus is coming from an open wound or abscess that may be infected.
Some of those wounds may include:
- Puncture wounds
- Stings or bites
- Surgical incisions
Dogs may lick any of these kinds of open wounds for several reasons.
First, licking their wounds may actually produce temporary relief from pain by stimulating the nerve endings around the wound and is a way for them to self-soothe.
Second, dogs lick their wounds because it is their instinct to clean debris or bacteria out of the wound.
Dogs are natural groomers, and they see licking their wound as cleaning it.
Dogs have this instinct because in the wild, using their tongue to clean a wound is the best option they have.
With today’s modern veterinarian medicine and techniques, there are much better options to keep a wound clean instead of your dog’s tongue.
Finally, while a dog’s tongue may contain other bacteria, a dog’s saliva actually does have some healing properties, as it is antibacterial.
In a pinch, licking a wound could potentially help heal a wound.
Because licking pus or licking wounds is instinctual for dogs, your dog will be tempted to lick not only their own wounds but also open wounds on other dogs or even on you.
This may be especially true if your dog is bonded well with you or with another dog.
Dogs recognize that open wounds mean pain, and they believe that licking your wound or another dog’s wound will bring comfort to your pain.
If they see you or another dog as part of their “pack,” they will also see it as their duty to take care of their pack by licking the pus around wounds.
What Do I Need to Know about Pus?
Pus can sometimes have a foul odor, and it can vary in color:
While a small amount of pus may not be cause for concern, larger amounts of pus or pus that continue to leak for a long time may be a sign of a bigger health problem.
Always reach out to your veterinarian if you notice pus developing around an incision after surgery.
Dogs Can Smell Wounds
Dogs have great noses and can actually smell most pus from wounds, even if they are very tiny, such as a paper cut.
Your dog may even find an open scrape or cut on you before you do.
After dogs smell a wound, they will be drawn to it because they instinctively want to lick the wound to provide cleanliness, comfort, and pain relief.
Should I Let My Dog Lick Pus?
We do not advise letting your dog lick pus, especially if it is coming from an open wound.
- Dogs’ mouths contain other bacteria that could be harmful, and rather than helping to heal wounds, licking it may actually delay healing, leading to other infections or even tissue damage.
- Your dog’s saliva has some limited antibacterial properties, but not enough to counteract bad bacteria that might end up in the wound from your dog licking it.
- Licking may not be gentle and can further irritate a wound, especially if your dog wants to lick the wound excessively.
You are better off regularly cleaning your dog’s wound yourself and then keeping them from licking it.
Definitely DO NOT allow your dog to lick your wounds.
The bacteria in human bodies is very different from the bacteria in dogs, so even if your dog’s saliva isn’t harmful to him, it could be harmful to you.
How to Keep Your Dog from Licking a Wound
Somehow, you need to keep your dog’s mouth away from his wound.
Thankfully, you have a few options for keeping your dog from licking a wound.
The Elizabethan collar, or “E-collar,” is commonly recommended by vets after any kind of surgery or procedure. You may affectionately know it as the “cone of shame.”
Typically made of plastic, it fastens around your dog’s neck like a collar and extends out and around their head so they aren’t able to reach the wound with their tongue.
The cone needs to extend several inches past your dog’s nose to be effective.
These collars usually come in multiple sizes so you can find the best fit for your dog. If your dog is in between sizes, always go with the bigger size so that it fully protects the wound.
While the E-collar is one of the most effective ways to protect your dog’s wound, it is not the most comfortable cone for your dog to wear.
Additionally, since they are made of plastic, these cones tend to be very stiff and clumsy.
The wide cone on their head will cut off their peripheral vision, so your dog might end up running into some furniture or tripping on the cone while they wear it.
Where to Buy
You can buy one of these collars at the vet’s office, but they are usually less expensive elsewhere.
Here is one E-collar option we really like.
This collar is effective, easy to clean, light, and a little more flexible than other E-collars. It’s also easily adjustable and fastened on by velcro.
Not to mention, this cone is surprisingly tough and will hold up even if your dog bangs it around or scratches at it.
If that one’s not for you, we also tested the Best Dogs Cones available in this review and guide, so be sure to check it out!
Inflatable dog collars are a new type of collar that may be more comfortable for your dog than the traditional Elizabethan collar.
These collars are made of a softer material than tough plastic and can be inflated and latched around your dog’s neck to keep them from reaching their wound.
Not only is this collar more comfortable it also will not block any of your dog’s vision.
Because the collar is wider than a plastic E-collar, it doesn’t have to reach past your dog’s head in order to be effective.
Finally, you will be able to deflate this collar for easy storage, and you can even wash the collar to keep it clean.
While they are softer and less clumsy, these collars are not quite as effective.
Your dog may be able to reach wounds in some areas, and these types of collars are a little easier for a determined, annoyed dog to destroy.
Where to Buy
If you think an inflatable collar might work best for your pup, here is a great inflatable collar choice.
This one is easy to inflate and gives your dog a great range of motion while they are wearing it.
This collar is adjustable with velcro and comes in multiple sizes, so make sure you measure your dog’s neck carefully before ordering one.
Check out this video for more information on cones and collars that your dog can wear:
If your dog’s wound or injury is on their paw, you can buy special booties for your dog to wear that will cover up the wound, hiding it safely away from your dog’s tongue.
Unlike just a regular bandage, these boots are much more difficult to pull off or soak with saliva.
Sizing is very important with these boots and most manufacturers give specific instructions on how to measure your dog’s paw for a good fit.
These boots are also easy to clean, as most can be machine-washed.
Booties aren’t the ideal solution for all dogs and wounds.
Some wounds could be further irritated by booties, and depending on their personality, your dog could become panicked wearing these.
Where to Buy
Here’s a pair of dog booties that you can buy separately or in a pack.
They are easy to hook on and have special grips on the bottom so your dog will not slide all over the floors in your house as they are walking.
This boot also comes with gauze on the inside to help protect your wound and keep it from rubbing against the boot.
While these boots may not work for all dogs and definitely not for all wounds, they might be a great alternative to your dog having to wear a cone.
Distractions such as toys, walks, or safe playtime may temporarily keep your dog from licking its wound.
While a distraction may not be a permanent solution, it can give your dog a much-needed break from their cone or boot.
In order to keep your dog from licking its wound, the distraction needs to be effective and attention-getting for your dog.
Choose activities that will keep your dog occupied, such as walking, or invest in toys that take time and make your dog think, such as puppy puzzle toys or treat dispensing dog toys.
Always keep an eye on your dog while they have their cone or boot off so that they do not start licking their wound.
If the Wound is Infected
If your dog licks their wound too much, it may become infected.
Keep an eye out for redness, excessive swelling, too much pus, or an open wound that simply refuses to heal.
When in doubt, always contact a veterinarian to get a wound properly treated.
Where Else Might a Dog Lick Pus?
You also might notice your dog licking pus around his genitals.
Dogs may lick their genitals to keep them clean after going to the bathroom, but if you notice pus involved, there is probably a bigger issue going on.
- Pus around the genitals could be a sign of an infection or disease and can happen with both male and female dogs.
- In male dogs, licking the genitals could be a sign of prostate disease or balanoposthitis, which is inflammation of the dog’s glands or penis. This is more prevalent in dogs who are not neutered.
- In female dogs, licking the genitals could be a sign of pyometra, which is a buildup of pus in the uterus. Again, it is more prevalent in dogs who have not been spayed.
Whether male or female, we recommend taking your dog to the vet for a full checkup if you see your dog licking pus around their genitals.
Some of these infections could become serious if not treated properly.
It’s always recommended that you spay or neuter your dog to prevent not only unnecessary litters but also disease.
Why do dogs lick pus?
Dogs most commonly lick pus from wounds in order to keep them clean, self-soothe, and quicken healing.
However, licking wounds can cause problems with the healing process, so invest in a plastic cone, inflatable collar, or boot to keep your dog from licking the pus from an open wound.
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