Should I let My Cat Lick Its Wound?

It’s a common sight for cat owners – you notice a cut or scrape on your beloved feline, and soon enough, they start licking or excessively grooming the area. On one hand, you don’t want to interfere with their natural healing instincts. But on the other, you worry about infections, complications, and whether it’s doing more harm than good.

So what should you do when your cat has a wound that needs some TLC? Should you let them lick it or not? Here’s a definitive guide to help you make the right call.

When Is It OK for Cats to Lick Minor Wounds?

Cats have a natural inclination to lick and groom themselves. In fact, they dedicate nearly 50% of their waking hours to self-grooming! And for good reason – a cat’s saliva contains enzymes and antibacterial compounds that provide cleaning and disinfecting benefits.

So for minor cuts, scrapes or abrasions on the skin’s surface, it’s typically fine to allow some licking. The enzymes in their saliva can help remove debris and bacteria from the wound site. As well, the constant licking motion stimulates circulation and reduces swelling.

However, you’ll want to limit licking of small wounds to the initial cleaning stages. Excessive licking can slow healing, so discourage overgrooming once any dirt or debris is cleaned off.

Signs your cat is licking a wound too much include:

  • Bald patches or loss of fur around the area
  • Enlarged or irritated wound
  • Significant redness, swelling or inflammation
  • Oozing, weeping or changes to the wound

If you notice these signs, it’s time to take steps to curtail the licking.

When Should Licking Be Discouraged or Prevented?

While a normal amount of licking can be beneficial, excessive licking can introduce bacteria and cause further problems. Here are some situations when it’s best to protect wounds and stop your cat from licking:

Deep cuts, punctures or tears in the skin

Any wound that punctures deep into the skin is vulnerable to infection and needs proper medical care. Licking could introduce more bacteria down into the cut. Deep wounds also tend to bleed more, so licking poses a risk for further blood loss.

Bites from other animals

Cat bites and scratches have high infection risks that need veterinary attention. The crushing action of a bite seals in bacteria under the skin that can quickly multiply unless properly drained and cleaned.

Surgical incisions or sutured wounds

Incisions from surgeries or abscess draining need time to heal from the inside-out. Constant licking can prematurely break down the outer healing layers. IV catheter sites also need protection so your cat doesn’t pull them out.

Burns or irritants on the skin

Chemical burns or reactions to irritants can worsen if licked, leading to blistering and skin damage. Saliva may interact with certain toxins, so it’s best to avoid contact.

Areas prone to abscess formation

Cats are highly prone to abscesses – pockets of pus and infection. Face and neck scratches often progress to abscesses needing surgical drainage. Licking can seal in bacteria instead of allowing drainage.

Wound previously treated with medicine

If a wound was already treated with antibiotic ointment or medication, licking may remove the medicine before it has a chance to work. Ask your vet if a protective covering is advised.

Immune disorders or diabetes

Cats with compromised immune systems or diabetes are more vulnerable to wound infections and healing complications. Limiting licking helps keep the area clean and protected.

Bottom line: Any deep wound, surgical cut or bite should be off-limits for licking. Seek prompt veterinary assistance to assess, clean and properly bandage the area.

How to Stop a Cat from Licking its Wound

If you’ve determined it’s in your cat’s best interest to leave their wound alone, here are some tips to discourage licking:

Use an Elizabethan collar

The “cone of shame” is the gold standard for preventing licking. But choose the right size so your cat can still eat and drink comfortably. Watch out for attempts to remove the collar.

Apply soft bandages over the area

Light dressings can physically block access to wounds for healing. Use breathable rolled gauze or soft wraps prescribed by your vet. Check often to ensure they stay clean, intact and non-irritating.

Try bitter tasting topical products

Substances like bitter apple spray often deter licking when applied around a wound. Get the OK from your vet first and supervise to ensure your cat doesn’t lick the product. Reapply frequently.

Keep covered with clothing or socks

For injuries low on the body, a snug fitting t-shirt, kitty sweater or modified sock can help block licking access. Use with supervision and remove periodically to check the skin.

Provide distraction

Redirect your cat’s focus by engaging them with play sessions using toys like feathers or laser pointers. Puzzle feeders stuffed with treats also provide mental stimulation and distraction.

Limit self-grooming triggers

Overgrooming can signal underlying stress or anxiety. Limit triggers like loud noises, changes to environment and introduction of new pets. Use calming aids like pheromone diffusers.

Separate from other pets

If the wound is from a fight with another household pet, keep cats separated to avoid further injuries while everyone recovers. Reintroduce slowly once wounds have fully healed.

Tip: Don’t use human bandages without veterinary guidance. Many human adhesives and wraps can be dangerous if ingested by cats during grooming.

How to Care for Your Cat’s Wound at Home

Caring for a wound properly at home makes a big difference in healing and recovery. Here’s how to provide optimal care under your vet’s supervision:

Keep the wound clean

Gently clean wounds with a saline solution rinse. Dab away any drainage or debris from the surrounding fur. Ask your vet if antimicrobial ointments are recommended for home use.

Allow air exposure whenever possible

Uncover wounds periodically to “air out” and prevent moisture buildup. Bandaages and wraps may be counterproductive if left on too long.

Check for signs of complications

Monitor for increased swelling, redness, oozing, or foul odors that could indicate infection. Skin discoloration around the area could signal tissue death. Notify your vet promptly if you notice any worrying changes.

Change outer bandages frequently

Replace any outer dressings used before they become wet, dirty or loose. Bacteria are just waiting to enter any gap in protection. Discard soiled bandages promptly.

Prevent scratching or rubbing

Your cat may instinctively try to scratch or rub at its wound. Use an e-collar and provide soft bedding to protect the fragile healing skin. Distract them with play or treats.

Follow all medicating instructions

If antibiotics, pain meds or other treatments are prescribed, carefully follow the dosage directions. Give all medications as directed until fully completed.

Restrict activity

Confine cats indoors and limit jumping, running and rough play to prevent re-injury. Use baby gates, harnesses and supervised time outdoors. Provide easy litter box access.

Tip: Ask your vet to demonstrate bandage changes and wound care techniques so you can properly treat the area at home.

How Long Should You Keep a Wound Covered?

There’s no definitive timeline for how long to protect a wound and keep it covered. Factors like the severity, location and cause of the injury all play a role. Here are some general timeliness to follow:

  • Minor scrapes or abrasions: Limit licking for the first 12-24 hours for initial cleaning, then leave uncovered.
  • Puncture wounds: Cover and protect for at least 5-7 days based on depth and infection risk.
  • Deep cuts or tears: Expect 10-14 days of bandaging, medicating and strict activity restriction.
  • Surgical incisions: Follow your vet’s specific instructions, but plan on 7-14 days of bandages and restricted activity. Internal dissolvable sutures need additional protection to avoid premature dissolution.
  • Bites from other animals: These carry very high infection risks and may need 2 weeks or more of wound management and oral antibiotics.
  • Burns or irritant reactions: Severe blistering can require several weeks of wound care and bandage changes as damaged tissues slough off.

The bottom line: Let your veterinarian guide you on when a wound has healed enough to leave uncovered and allow self-grooming. If complications arise, more stringent protection and veterinary intervention may be needed.

Signs a Wound is Healing Well

How can you tell if your diligent at-home wound care is paying off, and your cat is on the mend? Here are good signs of healing:

  • The skin knits back together and any open areas become smaller
  • Drainage lessens and becomes clearer rather than cloudy or bloody
  • Redness, heat and swelling steadily subside
  • Fur starts regrowing around the margins
  • Your cat shows less discomfort when the area is handled
  • Any medications are completed as directed
  • Activity levels and appetite return to normal
  • Your vet is pleased with the wound’s improved appearance

However, if you notice worsening of any of the above – for example, increased drainage or swelling – contact your vet right away. Delayed healing could indicate an underlying issue like infection, inadequate blood supply or a foreign object still in the wound.

When to Call the Vet About a Wound

Despite your best at-home nursing, complications can arise with wounds that warrant veterinary attention. Call your vet promptly if you notice any of the following:

  • Increased redness, heat, swelling or pain around the wound
  • Green, yellow or foul-smelling discharge
  • Bleeding that won’t stop after application of pressure
  • Loss of a large area of skin (degloving injury)
  • Difficulty breathing or signs of respiratory distress
  • Signs of shock such as pale gums, weakness, or collapse
  • Loss of appetite or refusal to drink water after 2 days
  • Exposure of bone, cartilage, muscle or other underlying tissues
  • Skin dying and turning black (necrosis) around wound edges
  • Presence of maggots or fly larvae around necrotic tissue
  • Abscess with significant swelling and fluid pocketing

Time is of the essence with wound complications, so don’t delay seeking veterinary help. Be prepared to bring your cat in immediately if the vet determines they need urgent care.

Nutrition Support for Wound Healing

Just like with us humans, nutrition plays an important role in your cat’s ability to heal from injury. Make sure to provide:

  • High-quality protein sources – Chicken, fish, eggs and lean red meats supply amino acids for repairing damaged tissues and fighting infections.
  • Vitamin A – Supports immune defenses and new skin cell growth. Sources include liver, fish oils, and orange/yellow fruits and veggies.
  • Vitamin C – Helps build collagen and antioxidants for wound recovery. Found in many fruits, veggies and organ meats.
  • Zinc – Speeds wound closure and skin regeneration. Oysters, fortified cereals, nuts and seeds are good sources.
  • Calories – Injuries increase metabolic demands. Feed easily digestible high-calorie foods during recovery periods.

Tip: Ask your vet about supplementation with zinc, vitamin C and omega-3 fatty acids while your cat heals. These provide nutritional wound support.

Ensure easy access to food and water

Place food, water and litter boxes in easy-to-reach spots. Reduce the need to climb or jump. Help debilitated cats maintain hydration and nutrition.

Licking Wounds: A Visual Guide for Cat Owners

To help you visualize when it’s appropriate or not to let your cat lick its wound, here’s a quick photo guide:

Type of WoundLet Cat Lick?Reasoning
Minor paw scrape✅ Yes, in moderationMinor paw scrape. Okay for light cleaning but discourage excessive licking.
Deep laceration near eye❌ NoDeeper injury near eye needs veterinary attention.
Surgical incision on belly❌ NoSurgical incision site must stay completely protected.
Surface wound on tail✅ Yes at first, then discourageSurface tail wound can be licked initially but excessive grooming will delay healing.

In Conclusion: Use Good Judgment When Letting Your Cat Lick Wounds

As you can see, whether to let your cat lick its wound isn’t a straight yes or no answer. Light grooming can provide some benefits, but excessive licking causes more harm than good.

Follow these rules of thumb:

  • Minor scrapes: Allow light licking for cleaning but discourage overgrooming
  • Anything deep or punctured: Do not let cat lick and seek veterinary care
  • Surgical incisions: Keep completely covered and protected
  • Bites or scratches: Immediately clean but prevent licking during healing
  • Burns or irritants: Avoid licking due to chemical risks

Work closely with your vet to provide proper cleaning, protection and home nursing care. Every wound is unique, so let your cat’s specific injury factors guide your management approach. With time, patience and good care, your beloved feline will be on the mend and back to their happy, healthy self in no time!