Why do dogs and other animals lick their wounds?



The saying “to lick one’s wounds” is a metaphor that’s synonymous with retreating and recovering from an injury, and the behavior is observed in some pets and other animals. Dogs do it (opens in new tab); mice do it (opens in new tab); even ants do it. All sorts of critters apply their saliva to scratches and scrapes. But why do these animals lick their wounds?

The answer lies largely in the self-soothing actions of licking and the healing properties of spit. Wound licking is an instinctual response, honed by natural selection, that may assuage irritation and pain and might even help injuries recover faster, according to Dr. Benjamin Hart, a retired veterinarian and professor emeritus at the University of California, Davis. But in dogs and other pets, the instinct can easily become counterproductive, especially when there are far better wound treatments available.



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