Does cat saliva help heal wounds?
Cat Health and Wellness

Should a Cat Lick Its Wounds?

Cats prefer not to reveal any sign of injury or sickness. A cat licking an open wound is a common sight, and many believe that that this is helpful to recovery. Licking wounds is a cat’s way of speeding up the healing process.

Cat saliva contains antibacterial properties and acts as a natural painkiller. Properties in the saliva of a cat can also promote the growth of healthy tissue. Unfortunately, a cat’s mouth contains more harmful bacteria than friendly bacteria. Wound licking can also burst stitches and become a compulsion, so it should be deterred.

Treat your cat’s open wounds at home – or, better yet, do your best to prevent them from occurring at all. Avoid encouraging a cat to lick a wound after spay surgery, or any similar procedure.

Do Cats Heal Themselves?

Cats have a reputation as self-healing animals. This is due to the power of a cat’s purr. Purring is not just a sound of pleasure from a feline. It also provides a cat’s body with the ability to heal damage.

As per The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, cats purr at a frequency of 25 or 50 Hz.  These frequencies are used in medical science to promote bone healing. This is referred to as vibrational therapy. The vibrations caused by a cat’s purr have a range of benefits to a feline. These include:

  • Repair of bone damage, including fractures
  • Promotion of strength in bones
  • Repair of torn tendons
  • Reduction of swelling
  • Healing of infection
  • Comfort from pain and discomfort

You may notice that would healing is not listed above. Most cats will lick at open wounds over purring. Cat saliva has a reputation as an antibacterial cure-all for feline injuries.

Why Do Cats Lick Wounds?

Cats lick open wounds for a wide range of reasons. One key explanation is the cat is attempting to mask its injury. Felines have a strong sense of smell. If the cat is bleeding, it will easily be tracked. In addition, this bleeding is considered a sign of weakness by a rival. There are also medical reasons for a cat to lick wounds. These include:

  • Killing bacteria within the wound
  • Promoting healing
  • Pain relief
  • Self-soothing

This suggests that a cat licking its wounds is advisable, but this is not necessarily the case. There are some advantages to a cat licking wounds, though, due to the properties of feline saliva.

What happens if a cat licks its wound?

Antibacterial Properties of Cat Salvia

It is true that feline saliva contains antibacterial properties. Some of the qualities found in cat spit include:

  • Lysozyme
  • Peroxidase
  • Lactoferrin
  • Defensins
  • Cystatins
  • Thrombospondin

Lysozyme and peroxidase regulate lymphocytes, or white blood cells, in a cat’s body. This ensures that feline saliva maintains a healthy immune system. Lysozyme and peroxidase encourage a steady destruction of bacterial invaders.

Lactoferrin, defensins, and cystatins are rich in protein, which is critical to a cat’s immune system. As explained by Matrix Biology, thrombospondin also kills bacteria. This peptide is particularly effective against escherichia coli, pseudomonas aeruginosa, and bacillus subtilis.

In addition, a cat’s saliva contains nitrate compounds. These are believed to create nitric oxide once contact is made with feline skin. As explained by Virulence, this briefly inspires the immune system to release antibacterial qualities.

Wound Healing Abilities of Cat Saliva

The antibacterial properties of cat saliva will, theoretically, kill bacteria that attempts to enter the wound. In addition, cat saliva has active wound healing properties.

Feline spit contains protease inhibitors. These are often used in drugs to treat viral infections, including hepatitis C and HIV/AIDS. Protease is an enzyme that encourages viral growth. This diminish the immune system and slow wound healing.

As the name suggests, the protease inhibitors found in cat saliva restrict the growth of these enzymes. In doing so, the wound has a greater chance to healing and closing up.

In addition, cat saliva contains an epidermal growth factor. This bonds to cells within the cat’s body, encouraging growth and healing. By licking an open wound, a cat can speed up the process of rebuilding damaged tissue.

Cat Saliva As a Painkiller

Opiorphin is a natural pain reliever, found in all saliva. If you cut your finger chopping vegetables, you may instinctively suck on the wound. The reason this offers comfort is the presence of opiorphin.

The same applies to feline saliva. PNAS favorably compares the painkilling properties of opiorphin to morphine. It is claimed that 1mg of opiorphin is as effective as 3mg of morphine.

A cat’s body creates enkephalins. These are natural peptides found in the base of a cat’s spine. When a cat is in pain, enkephalins are destroyed. This sends a message to the brain. This is a survival mechanism. The cat learns that painful experiences are not to be repeated.

Opiorphin prevents the destruction of enkephalins. Ergo, by licking an open wound, the cat is numbing itself against pain. This offers short-term relief but is not sustainable. Like morphine, opiorphin must be used sparingly. The body can develop immunity.

Should I Let My Cat Lick Its Wounds?

So, is a cat licking wounds good or bad? Based on the qualities above, cats should be permitted to lick open wounds. In theory, it is the fastest way for a cat to heal.

In practice, there are several reasons why cats should not lick wounds. Cats are fitted with Elizabethan collars after surgery for a reason. In the long run, licking wounds does more harm than good.

cat licking wound raw

Bursting Stitches

After surgery, a cat may keep licking wounds open after stitches have been applied. This will invariably result in the stitches being picked open. You’ll need to rush back to the vet to have the stitches reapplied.

This will not benefit the cat or owner. No cat enjoys having stitches. The need to repeat the process regularly will just cause more stress. It will also be inconvenient – and expensive – for you to keep making emergency appointments.

We also need to remember that stitches are applied for a reason. When stitches burst, they wound will reopen. It may even open wider than the initial injury. This will invite dirt, bacteria and foreign objects into the wound site.

Stitches itch and make a cat uncomfortable. Many felines will be determined to manage this discomfort though licking. Find a safer way to ease your cat’s physical distress.

Bacterial Infection

We have discussed how feline saliva contains antibacterial properties. Unfortunately, a cat’s mouth contains more harmful bacteria than good. By licking a wound, a cat is likelier to develop an infection than treat one. Think about the contents of a cat’s mouth. This can include:

  • Food remnants, which are possibly rotting 
  • Plaque from the teeth and gums
  • Dirt and mud the cat has explored with its mouth
  • Traces of feces and urine
  • Dust and grime picked up from inside and outside the home
  • Clumps of fur and litter from grooming

Brushing your cat’s teeth regularly will go some way to keep its mouth clean. Even this only goes so far, though. Some experts advise against kissing your cat on the lips due to feline mouth bacteria.

The same precautions apply to licking open wounds. The cat will potentially be burying problematic properties ever deeper into the body. This is the single biggest hazard of a cat licking wounds.

Compulsion

We have established that licking wounds provides comfort to a cat. It is calming, comforting and feels great. It’s possible to have too much of a good thing. Your cat may develop a compulsion to continue licking its wounds after healing.

Overgrooming is always a concern in felines. If your cat is licking beyond the point of cleanliness, it has a compulsion. The Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association confirms that cats can develop OCD. This will impact their quality of life.

Eventually, your cat is in danger of licking its skin to the point of soreness. It may start to tug out fur in clumps, causing a number of issues. Cat skin is already thin. Excessive and compulsive licking will damage it further, leading to more open wounds.

Masking of Further Issues

Consider the possibility of wound licking hiding deeper problems. If your cat licks its wounds, it will not be in pain. While that is a good thing, it can also be dangerous. You may not realize that your cat has a problem, and thus cannot take action.

What’s more, healing a wound swiftly is not necessarily positive. Open wounds need to heal at their own pace. This enables healthy tissue to grow, replacing that which is damaged. A hasty healing process can lead to necrotic patches of skin.

Dead skin cells are a breeding ground for bacteria. This means that your cat may end up with a more significant infection after the event. Patiently allowing the wound to heal naturally reduces the risk of follow-up problems.

How to Stop Cats from Licking Wounds

Keeping a cat from licking wounds can be important to the healing process. The easiest way to do this is affixing an Elizabethan collar. Any vet will be able to supply these. Alternatively, you can purchase them from most pet stores.

Elizabeth collars are not suitable for all cats. Smaller felines, for example, may struggle to move wearing a collar. Equally, some cats become increasingly distressed by these accessories. Consider inflatable collar if this is the case.

Stress will delay the process of wound healing. Talk to a vet about alternative methods to prevent the licking of wounds. Everyday techniques to keep a cat from licking wounds include:

  • Covering the wound in bandages or a feline onesie
  • Distracting your cat from licking with treats or play
  • Clicker training to make it clear that wound licking is inappropriate
  • Keeping your cat calm and comfortable

It is no secret that cats can be strong-willed. You’ll need to regularly monitor your cat to prevent wound licking. This is especially important at night. An opportunistic feline may seize the opportunity to lick wounds while you sleep.

One way to achieve this is applying an unappealing scent to the wound cover. A light covering of citrus aroma will work. Don’t use too much. The cat will be unable to escape the smell and grow distressed. Just apply enough to deter a cat from getting too close.

How to Heal an Open Wound on a Cat

There are universal treatments for feline wound healing. Whether a cat is licking an abscess wound or an injury caused by fighting, help with the healing process. Do not leave your cat to lick its wounds to recovery.

Start by feeding your cat plenty of protein. Protein provides the building blocks for cell development and healing. Cats are obligate carnivores so will not require much encouragement. Feed your cat more than usual if necessary. You can focus on weight loss once healing is complete.

You could also attempt to increase your cat’s Vitamin C intake. Do not go too far with this. Excessive Vitamin C will create problematic levels of calcium in the feline body. Vitamin C works in harmony with protein to promote healing, though.

What Can You Put on a Cat’s Wound?

In addition to amending diet and lifestyle, treat a feline wound with external remedies. The core treatments for an open wound on the body are:

  • Saltwater (or a professional saline solution) bathing and cleaning
  • Manuka honey
  • Antibacterial creams and ointments

Saltwater Cleaning

Saltwater is arguably the most important, and impactful, remedy for an open wound. Follow these steps to create a solution that will aid healing in your cat.

  1. Boil the kettle and pour the water into a jug or other vessel
  2. Leave the water to cool until it is safe to apply to a cat’s skin
  3. Mix one teaspoon of salt into the water
  4. Dip a cotton pad into the saltwater solution
  5. Dab at the cat’s wound, changing the pad whenever it grows dirty
  6. Repeat twice a day

Bring this regular cleaning and bathing into your cat’s routine. Make it part of your cat’s grooming and petting regime. It may sting initially, but your cat will soon start to accept the treatment. You will then start to see results.

Manuka Honey

Manuka honey is expensive but can be helpful, especially if your cat’s wound is bandaged. Manuka honey creates a healing protective barrier and prevents the wound from drying out. This prevents dead cells from forming and attracting inflammatory bacteria.

The International Wound Journal also explains how manuka honey can reduce wound size. This is because manuka honey improves a cat’s skin pH and oxygen flow. Honey is messy, and must be cleaned off with every saltwater bath, but will help.

cat licking wound good or bad

Creams and Ointments

Creams and ointments may also be beneficial. These must be designed exclusively for cats, though. Felines have different skin pH to humans and may ingest the ointment. You must ensure this is not toxic to a cat.

Do not head straight to topical treatments for a cat wound. Saltwater, possibly combined with manuka honey, will always be most impactful. If the wound is not healing though, speak to a vet. A prescription may be necessary.

How Long Does a Cat Wound Take to Heal?

A typical open wound in a cat will heal in around two weeks. The process may take longer, or it could complete sooner. It depends on the cause of the wound, where it is located, and how it is treated.

If your cat licks a wound, it may close up faster than expected. This can lead to further complications. If bacteria make their way into a closed wound, your cat will experience further complications.

Feline wound healing is a marathon, not a spring. Allow the injury to repair itself at natural speed. While this can be frustrating for both cat and owner, it is the safest approach.

Preventing Open Wounds in Cats

Prevention is always better than cure. You cannot wrap your cat in cotton wool and prevent any risk of wound or injury. You can minimize the chances of your cat breaking its skin, though.

Keeping the Cat Indoors

Some cats are born fighters. If your cat ventures outside, it may often come into contact with other felines. This can lead to territorial disputes. Even if your cat has a calm and gentle demeanor, the same may not apply to neighborhood pets.

Catfights are a common cause of wounds. When cats do battle, they fight to win. Claws and teeth will be used to break skin and end a fight ASAP.  Alternatively, your cat may walk on broken glass and hurt itself this way. A cat that is often wounded should be kept home. 

These mishaps will lead to puncture wounds that can rapidly grow infected. Keeping your cat home minimizes such risks. If you have a multi-pet home, conflict may still arise. It is easier to break up and manage these fights, though.

Managing Cat Skin Conditions

Keep an eye on your cat’s skin. If the cat has spots, scabs or scars on its head or back, it will scratch them. This can lead to open wounds on the cat’s skin. Common reasons for a cat to develop these issues include:

  • Genetic skin issues (i.e. eczema or psoriasis)
  • Allergic reactions to food or an environmental element
  • Fungal infection, such as ringworm
  • Parasitic infestations (fleas or mites)

If your cat is scratching more often, watch it carefully and learn why. The more a cat scratches, the likelier it is to draw blood. This will then lead to an open wound that must be managed.

Keeping Cat Claws Trim

As an extension to this concern, work on keeping your cat’s claws trim. A scratching post is the best way to achieve this. Scratching is both practical and recreational for felines. A post will satisfy a cat’s natural instinct to scratch and save your leather furniture and stairs.

Even if your cat uses a scratching post, you may need to trim its claws occasionally. This requires patience, as many cats loathe the experience. You will also need to purchase specialist nail trimmers. The tough keratin in feline claws will snap the blades of scissors.

If you are struggling to achieve this, consult a professional groomer. Do not allow a cat’s claws to become overgrown for the sake of convenience. This will lead to a range of problems, including but not limited to open wounds.

The longer your cat goes without licking wounds, the likelier it is to fully heal. You’ll need to be constantly vigilant. Your cat will be instinctively driven to lick wounds. Find other ways to keep your pet comfortable while recovering from injury or surgery.