Cats have an instinctive urge to lick their cuts because it has a soothing effect. Yet, the main reason cats lick their open wounds is because the saliva can help to speed up the healing process.
Cat saliva has antiseptic, antibacterial, and healing properties. However, cats’ tongues are covered in harmful bacteria. If your cat licks its wound and leaves it alone, the saliva will have a healing effect. But if it keeps licking the wound, this could cause a bacterial infection.
A cat’s saliva can help to heal its own flesh wounds. However, it shouldn’t ‘clean’ or ‘sterilize’ a human’s cuts, grazes, and abrasions in any circumstances. A cat’s mouth isn’t clean and sterile.
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Are Cats’ Tongues Antibacterial?
The saliva of a cat contains some harmful bacteria. However, it also has antibacterial properties. Cat saliva contains the following:
- Lactoferrin – This protein is also an ‘antioxidant.’ It has powerful antibacterial and antifungal properties. It is found in the bodily secretions of many animals, such as tears and saliva.
- Defensins and Cystatins – These also have antibacterial properties.
- Lysozyme and Peroxidase – These enzymes break down harmful bacteria in the cell wall.
- Nitrate compounds – When saliva comes into contact with skin, the nitrate compounds break down into nitric oxide. This stops some types of bacteria from growing.
Healing Properties in Cat Saliva
It also has some other healing properties. These include:
- Opiorphin – This is a natural form of pain relief
- Epidermal Growth Factors – Promotes healing
- Thrombospondin – This can act as an antiviral agent
Given the antibacterial, antiviral, and healing properties of saliva, it’s no surprise that many animals feel compelled to lick their wounds. But saliva is not the perfect antidote for wound healing.
Are Cats Tongues Clean?
Although cat saliva has antibacterial and wound-healing properties, it is a bit of a stretch to say that “cats’ tongues are clean.”
Cat saliva may contain harmful bacteria. If these harmful bacteria enter the wound, this could do more bad than good.
According to Cats Protection, abscesses (deep skin infections) are one of the most common diseases in cats.
An abscess occurs when bacteria, perhaps from saliva, enter the wound and cause a painful infection.
If a cat briefly licks its wound, the anti-bacterial and healing properties in the saliva may be beneficial. Also, the barbs on the cat’s tongue will dislodge any dirt and debris from the wound quickly.
However, if the cat starts to overgroom the wound, this can lead to infection. It’s misleading to claim that saliva from a cat is clean and sterile.
Harmful Bacteria in Cat Saliva
According to the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery, cat saliva can contain the following harmful bacteria:
- Pasteurella multocida – This is part of the ‘normal oral flora of cats.’ So, even if your cat lives indoors and is very clean, its saliva will still contain Pasteurella multocida.
- Staphylococcus intermedius – It is normal to find this species of bacteria in cat saliva. However, it is one of the leading causes of Lick Granuloma in cats.
- Bartonella henselae – This bacteria is usually got from fleas, and it can pass between cats and humans.
Cats that live in groups, and cats who spend time outdoors, are more likely to have harmful bacteria on their tongues. Also, cats who hunt outdoors are more likely to have a multitude of harmful bacteria inside their mouths.
Although wound licking is a natural feline behavior, it should not usually be encouraged because the risk of infection is high.
Why Do Cats Lick Their Wounds?
Many animals clean their wounds using their tongues. This is an instinctive pattern of behavior that can be difficult to prevent. Research suggests that cats lick their wounds for the following reasons:
- To stay clean: The barbs on a cat’s tongue remove dirt from the wound. This can help to prevent bacterial infection.
- To feel safe: Washing the wound removes the smell of predators, if a fight has caused the wound. This makes the cat feel safe and secure.
- Self-soothing: Licking may promote relaxation in cats.
- Pain relief: Some components of cat saliva provide pain relief.
- Recovery: Saliva does have some antibacterial and healing properties. This is why many animals have a natural urge to lick their wounds.
Although there are benefits to wound cleaning, compulsive wound cleaning can be harmful. Unfortunately, excessive wound cleaning is common.
Do Cats Tongues Heal Wounds?
A cat licking its cuts and scrapes is both good and bad. Cat saliva can help a cat to recover because it has some antibacterial and healing properties.
Also, the act of licking can be self-soothing and pain-relieving. It’s perfectly normal for cats to lick their wounds to remove dirt, so this behavior isn’t usually a cause for concern when done in moderation. Unfortunately, excessive grooming can become a problem for some felines.
Cat saliva cannot fight all types of infections. Indeed, deep skin infections are very common in cats. This suggests that wound licking is not enough to keep germs away or bacterial infections at bay. Deeper wounds should be treated by a vet, and the cat should be prevented from licking the area.