Cats can get wounded in all sorts of ways – in a fight, due to an accident or through surgery. When their skin is cut, burned, sore or infected, they tend to lick the affected area.
Why do cats lick their wounds?
Have you ever sucked your finger after cutting it? You’ve probably found it helps ease the pain while also stemming the bleeding. Many mammals instinctively lick their injured skin for the same reason. It’s where we get the phrase ‘licking your wounds’ from.
For a cat, the action of licking feels soothing and comforting. Licking also removes dried blood and dirt from the wound while the cat’s lightly barbed tongue effectively cleans the surrounding fur.
Is cat saliva antiseptic?
Unfortunately, by licking their wounds, your cat is more likely to cause an infection than prevent one.
Bacteria thrive in cats’ mouths. These bacteria may originate from leftover food particles, dental plaque, and cats’ less hygienic habits, such as drinking from dirty puddles and licking their own bottoms.
Cats’ mouth bacteria could trigger a skin infection, abscess or even potentially fatal sepsis. That’s why vets advise pet owners to prevent their cats from licking their wounds.
Are there other reasons to prevent cats licking wounds?
Most cats are fastidious about keeping themselves clean. Some will chew at a scab or stitches because these feel unpleasantly rough when they wash themselves. There is also a risk that a cat’s barbed tongue could reopen a cut or surgical wound before it’s healed.
Some cats can be overzealous when washing a scratch or graze and lick themselves sore. This creates a lick granuloma (sometimes called ‘hot-spot dermatitis’) – a red-raw bald patch caused by excessive licking.
What should I do if my cat is wounded?
A small scratch will probably heal fine by itself, but if your cat is bleeding or has a bite or puncture wound you should take them to a vet as soon as possible. This is especially important if your cat has been bitten by another animal. Germs from the other creature’s mouth can quickly cause an infection, so it’s vital that the wound is properly cleaned. Often antibiotics will be administered.
If the wound is bleeding freely, apply a pressure bandage to stem the bleeding until you can get medical help. Otherwise, wash the wound gently with saline solution (one tablespoon of salt in a pint of tepid water). Never use disinfectants or antibacterial creams on your cat unless prescribed by a vet, as these can worsen the skin damage and may poison your cat when it licks the wound.
How can I stop my cat from licking a wound?
The classic method of stopping an animal from licking a wound or stitches is to use a lampshade-style cone, known as an Elizabethan cone – or E-cone for short. This stiff plastic cone fits onto your cat’s regular collar, surrounding the face and effectively preventing the cat from getting its tongue to most of its body.
While some cats tolerate an E-cone pretty well, others hate it and may be frightened, angry or depressed if made to wear one. Others fight the cone and might get a paw stuck through the neck hole.
Are there alternatives to an E-cone for cats?
If your cat won’t tolerate a plastic E-cone, there are fabric, cushioned and inflatable cones and collars you could try.
Another option is to bandage the wound to prevent the cat from licking or biting it. The dressing must be tight enough to stay on, but not so tight that it causes discomfort. You can buy special cat bandages with a bitter taste to deter your cat from chewing or biting them. Be prepared to clean and re-dress the wound every day.
Alternatively, your cat might be happier wearing a ‘recovery suit’ – a feline body stocking or onesie that covers the sore area without restricting their movement. You can buy one ready-made or fashion your own out of an old T-shirt, baby-gro or large sock.
Never yell at, hit or otherwise punish your cat for licking their wounds or removing an E-cone or bandage. They’re just doing what comes naturally, they won’t understand, and you’ll be adding stress and anxiety to an already traumatic situation for them.
How should I care for my wounded cat?
If your cat has had an injury or surgery, you’ll probably need to keep them indoors for at least a week – possibly longer. Try to keep your pet calm, provide nutritious food, and check the wound site at least twice a day for fresh bleeding, discharge, redness, swelling or any other signs that it could be reopening or becoming infected. If you have any concerns, contact your vet straightaway.