When Dogs Lick Their Wounds

We use the expression “licking your wounds” as an act of defeat and it may be, but I’m thinking about the medical implications of this ancient practice of our closest companions.

I have had dogs and other pets incessantly lick their wounds and have been forced to cover them up to prevent further damage. We even have those Elizabethan collars to keep dogs from doing that.

Recently I had almost parallel experiences with an elderly male patient and a young Alabai female dog who happens to be the latest addition to my household.

The older man has venous insufficiency, chronic edema and a past history of leg ulcers. He had a new one that was treated (elsewhere) with four layers of various dressings I’m not familiar with.

The smell in the room after his dressings were removed was alarming. We (my nurse practitioner and I) cleaned his leg up. The leg ulcer wasn’t bad, but most of the area that had been covered under the thick bandaging was denuded, red and weepy. We decided on a thin layer of Silvadene cream and plain gauze wrapping.

Within a week, he was almost healed and my conclusion was, as often before, that in wound care, less is usually more.

My Alabai had a couple of puncture wounds on her front leg from play fighting with the other Alabai. The breed is nicknamed volkodav in Russian. I never learned that word, as I dropped out of the Swedish military’s interpreter school to pursue my medical training. But it means “wolf crusher”. These dogs are fearless livestock guardians and practice fight with each other.

Anyway, my young dog seemed to be licking her front leg an awful lot, so I got worried and bandaged it up with antibacterial ointment, a Telfa non-stick pad, gauze and “vet-wrap”.

When I got home from work the next few days, the Telfa pad was always on the floor and the dressing seemed intact. But there was redness and hair loss under the bandage, suggesting she had been bothering her front leg through the bandage.

In an act of faith and courage, I then left her without any bandage in her barn guarding spot and went to work.

Lo and behold, she’s licking it almost casually now and then and it is healing nicely.

Again, less is more in wound care.

(There is something about those nonstick pads and animals. Last year my horse had a leg wound. I started out, on my veterinarians recommendation, using such a pad under all the other prescribed wrapping. On three occasions I found the Telfa pad on the ground in the paddock with a completely intact bulky dressing on the horse’s leg. I don’t know how she got it out of there but clearly she didn’t want that kind of dressing material on her wound. So I simplified the dressings and she healed just fine.)

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Osler said “Listen to your patient, he is telling you the diagnosis”. Duvefelt says “Listen to your patient, he is telling you what kind of doctor he needs you to be”.



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