It’s no secret that dogs, and to some degree cats, love to lick. Pets explore the world with their noses and mouths, and spend plenty of time each day grooming their fur and paws with their tongues.
Licking is a natural behavior, but it can cause problems for a pet after surgery. While a wound is healing, skin can feel itchy or uncomfortable, prompting an irresistible urge to lick. Surgery site licking can severely impair healing, however, and may even lead to infection. Not only is this hard on the pet, it’s hard on the owner too.
Your team at Leon Valley Veterinary Hospital has a variety of ways to prevent this type of licking, all of which are relatively inexpensive and simple to use.
Putting an End to Surgery Site Licking
Unfortunately, the only way to prevent surgery site licking is to physically block a pet’s mouth from its wound. This can be accomplished using one of the following:
Elizabethan collar – Everyone has seen an Elizabethan collar (also called an E-collar or “cone of shame”) strapped to the head of an unfortunate pooch. These large, rigid, lampshade-shaped devices attach around a pet’s neck and prevent them from accessing the wound.
Neck brace – Neck braces are an alternative to E-collars that prevent surgery site licking by blocking a pet’s access to the wound. Neck braces can be stiff or flexible, and work by restricting movement of the neck while still allowing movement of the head and rest of the body.
Wound coverings – In cases where bandages aren’t practical, or a dog is able to work the bandages off, a wound covering may be an effective deterrent. A plastic bag secured to the site with nonirritating medical tape works well for leg wounds. Wounds on the torso can be covered with a loose-fitting dog t-shirt or sweater, or a child’s t-shirt if necessary. Keep in mind that a truly determined dog will find a way to get past this barrier, too!
Topical deterrents – For dogs with a below-average compulsion to lick, a topical deterrent applied to the bandages that makes the area taste bad may be all it takes. There are a variety of specially formulated topical deterrents on the market (ask us for recommendations). Once again, a truly motivated pet will lick despite a yucky taste.
Healing after surgery is a tough time for both pets and their families, but providing a relaxing and supportive environment, making sure they take all prescribed medications, and of course preventing surgery site licking are all key to your pet’s full recovery. Please let us know if you have any questions or if there’s anything we can do to help, we’re here for you!