If your cat has fought with a rival feline or had a bad fall, he’ll likely have cuts and grazes. Outdoor cats often return home with wounds and scrapes on their skin, proceeding to lick at them to remove any dirt and heal the lesion. There are pros and cons to a cat licking his wounds, of course.
A cat’s tongue is covered with tiny barbs which will remove any dirt trapped in the cut. Also, feline saliva contains a protease inhibitor that heals wounds. However, cats’ mouths are also breeding grounds for bacteria. This could potentially lead to bacterial infection/sickness.
Your cat doesn’t want your help with cleaning up his wounds because he is a proud and independent animal. However, what a cat wants and what is good for a cat’s health are entirely different matters. We’ll explain why felines shouldn’t be permitted to lick wounds.
Why Do Cats Lick Their Wounds?
Cats are scrappy and hardy, but they are definitely not stupid. If your pet gets into a fight and is wounded, he’ll know that he needs treatment.
This poses a problem for a typical feline. His paws cannot operate a first aid kit, or bandage his injuries. All the same, he understands that open wounds must be addressed to prevent infection.
Cats like to remain undetected from anything around them. Bleeding will make this impossible. Not only will it leave a trail, but blood has a strong, distinctive scent.
Of course, there’s another issue that needs to be addressed. Open wounds are frequently sore and painful. Your cat will be in some discomfort. But your cat licking his wounds can ‘theoretically’ resolve all of these issues. Here’s why:
- By licking his wound, he also cleans himself up. This removes any lingering scents that could be detected by predators.
- Licking is self-soothing for cats. He’ll ease any pain by the wound by licking himself.
- Feline saliva can heal wounds.
All of this suggests that your cat should be left to his own devices. If he can heal his wounds and ease their pain, why shouldn’t he be allowed to do so?
Why Doesn’t My Cat Come to Me for Wound Care?
A cat doesn’t want to tell you that he’s in pain. As far as he’s concerned, you’re just another cat. As a result, you may steal his territory if he shows any signs of weakness.
Even worse, you may pack him up in a cat carrier and take him to the vet. Cats are so independent that they’ll always try to resolve a problem themselves.
If they have a good relationship with another cat in the home, he may ask them for help. This is rare, though. Implicit trust and observation of social hierarchy will need to be placed between the cats.
All the same, licking will quickly follow as your pet attempts to resolve his injury problems.
My Cat is Injured, and I Can’t Find Them
A cat will not want you to know that he’s injured. This means that he’ll hide.
If you believe that your cat is hurt, it’s essential to track him down. He may need first aid. What’s more, he may be hiding in an unsafe location.
Take your garage, for example. An injured cat may seek solitude in such a location. He’ll know that you don’t head out there much.
However, it will also be filled with dangerous chemicals. If your cat starts licking his wounds, he may accidentally ingest one or more of these substances.
What’s more, most garage floors are dirty. This grime could easily get into an open wound.
It can be tough to find a cat in the house, but it’s important. Your cat may not want your help, but that doesn’t mean that he doesn’t need it.
Does Cat Saliva Heal Wounds?
Cat saliva does have wound-healing properties. That isn’t a myth. Some of the healing properties of feline saliva include:
- Opiorphin is a chemical compound that acts as a natural painkiller
- Thrombospondin is an antiviral protein
- Lysozyme and peroxidase are enzymes that kill bacteria. Lactoferrin, cystatins, and defensins are also present, serving exactly the same purpose
- Epidermal growth encourages the healing of an open wound
Should a Cat Lick an Open Wound?
If your cat licks his wound briefly, he may just be cleaning them up. Cat’s tongues are rough because they are covered in tiny barbs. These will collect and remove any dirt in the wound.
Despite these qualities, licking wounds should be deterred. The reasons for this are as follows:
- Cats mouths contain more bacteria than their saliva can kill. This makes infection of an open wound far more likely.
- A cat can lick a wound to excess which can further aggravate the problem. Also, it can become a compulsion that a cat struggles to contain.
The infection of an open wound can become a severe issue. If bacteria gain access to the body through the wound, it can reach the bloodstream. This, in turn, means that bacteria are carried throughout the body, infecting and damaging your cat’s vital organs.
Why are Cat’s Mouthes So Dirty?
Cats are clean animals, so it’s hard to imagine any part of them being filthy. This does not change the fact that most felines have mouths filled with bacteria, though.
Your pet uses his mouth regularly. Cats explore the world by tasting various things. Naturally, some of what they encounter will be unclean, especially outside. Also, think about whether your cat is a hunter. If your cat brings you vermin, he will have killed it with his teeth.
It’s no secret that rodents carry diseases and infections. Your cat will have exposed his mouth to all sorts of germs and bacteria. Just because your pet isn’t sick, it doesn’t make his mouth is clean and safe. Brushing your cat’s teeth will help with this problem.
That doesn’t mean that your cat is safe to heal his own injuries, though. Your pet will continuously find ways to get his mouth dirty again.
Why Do Cats Lick Open Wounds to Excess?
Cats find licking to be quite soothing. As a result, licking an open wound will feel good. It eases pain and provides a comforting sensation.
You’ll have to be observant and ready to step in when it goes too far, though. If your cat shows any signs of thinning hair or red skin, then he’s licking himself far too much.
Once your cat gets a taste for licking, he’ll keep at it. He’ll likely continue long after the injury has healed as it’s become a habit. This risks reopening the wound.
My Cat is Licking an Open Wound Raw
If your cat is licking this much, it’s likely due to compulsion. What started as a positive experience has now become a habit that your pet cannot break.
Your cat may also be behaving this way due to stress and anxiety. Whatever caused his wound, it was likely a frightening experience to be injured. Your pet may be self-soothing to calm down.
If this is the case, you’ll need to keep your cat calm in other ways. Try the following:
- Speak in a low, soothing and slow voice. Cats pick up on nervous energy from humans.
- Apply scents around the house that calm cats down. Lavender and chamomile can assist.
- Play mid-tempo classical music. This is believed to calm a cat’s heart rate.
- Ensure that your cat has at least one safe space that he can easily access. This area must be your pet’s sacred domain where he’ll never be disturbed.
- Ensure that your cat is in a strict, unbreakable routine. This means feeding and playing with him at the same time every day.
If your cat seems determined to lick a wound raw, it may be worth seeing a vet. This behavior suggests that the injury site is causing irritation.
This may be just an itch. You have surely felt the itchy sensation of a healing scab before. In such an instance, your cat needs to leave the wound well alone.
Your cat may be living with inflammation or infection at the wound site. This will need to be dealt with through medication.
How to Stop a Cat Licking Their Wounds
Injured or not, your cat will always have a natural urge to groom himself. Denying a feline the ability to groom can cause him stress. If your cat has an open wound, his instinct will be to clean it.
This is fine in short, small doses. Any more than this does him more harm than good. If you are to convince your cat not to lick his wound, you’ll need to clean it for him.
Of course, this is only half the battle. Once you have cleaned your cat’s wound, you need to stop him licking until it’s healed. This will require the assistance of external materials.
How to Heal an Open Wound on a Cat
A cat’s wound will need to heal by itself. You will not be able to fix the issue immediately. You can, however, clean up the wound minimize the risk of further damage. To achieve this:
- Assess the wound. If you are comfortable that you can deal with it yourself, continue. If you have concerns about the depth or severity of the injury, seek veterinary assistance.
- If required, trim hair from the injured area using clippers. This will prevent fur from growing inside the wound.
- Rinse the wound with tap water. This will rid the area of any dirt and grime.
- Apply a cat-safe antiseptic to the wound to banish any stubborn bacteria. Cat World has a list of products that are non-toxic to felines.
- Pat the area dry. Once you’re confident that the area is dry, you should apply a bandage.
You’ll also need to monitor the site of your cat’s wound. Do this at least once a day and ensure that it is healing appropriately. Ensure that your cat is not licking the wound through the bandage.
How Long Does it Take a Cat to Heal an Open Wound?
This depends on the severity of the wound. How your cat was injured also plays a part. Any infection will naturally slow the process down, too.
Most non-serious open wounds on a cat will heal within a week. Non-serious means a cut that does not lead to significant blood loss and is not deep enough to cause significant concern.
As the Mar Vista Animal Center explains, there are four cat wound healing stages. These consist of:
Inflammation begins as soon as you start treating your cat’s wound. Blood clots start to form to slow down the bleeding. It’s advisable to prevent them from licking. At this critical stage, mouth bacteria can be very harmful.
Debridement begins not long afterward. This involves any undesirable bacteria being discharged from the wound as pus. Your cat will want to lick at this, but again, prevent them from doing so.
Within a day or two, the wound will start to repair itself. This will involve the site of the injury shrinking as new flesh is generating. This is also when your cat’s skin will begin to scab over.
This phase will itch and tickle. Avoid letting your cat lick this scab, and stop them scratching and biting. The skin needs to be permitted to heal properly.
Your cat will heal completely. A minor injury will see the skin return to its former strength. A more significant wound will heal to around 80% of its previous vigor.
What to Use to Prevent a Cat from Licking a Wound
Once you have covered up an open wound on a cat, you’ll need to deter him from licking it. The most effective way of achieving this is by applying a taste-deterrent flavor to any bandage.
You can pick up products that will achieve this goal at a pet store. Alternatively, apply a citrus aroma. Be careful with this, though. If you use a fresh lemon, it may seep into the wound.
If all else fails, you’ll need to prevent your cat from gaining access to the wound. You have two options: an Elizabethan collar (aka the collar of shame) or clothing.
Once extremely commonplace, Elizabethan collars are used less now. This is due to the restriction they place on your cat’s mobility. A vet will be able to provide one upon request, however.
Clothing is easier to manage. You could apply a sweater from a pet store or ask a vet for a medical onesie. This will cover the wound and prevent your cat from gaining access.
My Cat Keeps Licking Their Stitches
Stitches and sutures are a common treatment for injuries in cats. They will not be necessary for a minor cut. More significant wounds will need to be stitched up as cats require stitches after surgery.
A common issue for pet owners is a cat licking stitches after spaying. This will be a result of your cat’s skin itching. Your cat will also instinctively attempt to clean the area. You must prevent your cat from licking stitches as licking leads to chewing. This will see the stitches eventually falling out.
Most stitches are removed after two weeks. Beyond this, your cat can lick and groom himself at his leisure. Keep an eye on him and ensure that licking does not become obsessive.
Once a wound is covered with a bandage, access to your cat’s tongue is restricted. This, in turn, allows a wound to heal unencumbered.
Tempting though it will be for your cat to lick his wounds, you must stop him from doing so. He’ll be grumpy initially, but he’ll be glad of this when the injury heals without infection.