Should a domestic cat lick her wounds and why do they do it?

I would argue that it is entirely natural for a domestic cat to lick her wounds but veterinarians object to it. After surgery there is a wound and veterinarians stop cats licking that wound by providing an Elizabethan collar. But nature dictates that domestic cats will naturally lick their wounds. It is what a wildcat would do. This is because there are both good things and bad things in cat saliva. 

Firstly, licking alleviates pain. And it has a calming effect which is why cats lick themselves when stressed.

Cat wearing a collar to prevent her from licking a wound. Pic: Pixabay.


Secondly, there is a long list of substances in saliva which are beneficial to wound healing. You can read the full list on Wikipedia. I'll quote a short section: 'saliva contains cell-derived tissue factor, and many compounds that are antibacterial or promote healing. Salivary tissue factor, associated with microvesicles shed from cells in the mouth, promotes wound healing through the extrinsic blood coagulation cascade. The enzymes lysozyme and peroxidase, defensins, cystatins and an antibody, IgA, are all antibacterial. Thrombospondin and some other components are antiviral'.

The problem is - and we all know this - that a cat's saliva contains some nasty bacteria. This is exactly why cat bites can become badly infected, sometimes, albeit quite rarely, in my opinion. You have to take antibiotics quickly on the first signs of an infection from a cat bite in order to prevent quite a lengthy process of healing.

So there are pros and cons in cat saliva with respect to a cat licking her wound. The bottom line, however, is that veterinarians have made the decision that the cons are much bigger than the pros or in other words the dangers and downsides of a cat licking a wound far outweigh the potential benefits brought about by the compounds that I mentioned above.

Therefore the answer to the question in the title is that cats should not lick their wounds. However, when left to their own devices they'll do it because it makes them feel better. It alleviates pain and it helps the wound to heal. It is part of evolution. It is a home-made way for cats to heal wounds. Sunlight containing ultraviolet light is also good at healing wounds which is why they are sometimes better left exposed to the sunlight.

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