One of the most important steps you can take to make sure your pet heals correctly is to keep him or her from licking. It is CRITICAL that you keep your pet from doing this, or you could be facing a lot of problems post-op.
Sometimes, our furry friends lick because the place feels weird or tastes interesting. Or they may lick because it hurts (in the first few days) or because it itches (as we approach days 5-7). Contrary to the old wives’ tale, our pets mouths have a lot of germs in them and saliva does not heal wounds—instead it becomes a source of infection. If your pet licks at the incision more than even once or twice—especially if you have to tell your pet to stop—you need to do something right away to get this cycle stopped. Because pain could be part of the equation, if you haven’t gotten your pet any post-op pain medication, we recommend you do so as part of helping stop the lick. Medications we give at the time of surgery last for up to 24 hours. Contact us or your regular veterinarian about what might help your pet.
The best way to get your pet to stop is to get an Elizabethan (or “E”) collar, AKA “Lampshade”, or “Cone of Shame”. These stay on your pet during the healing cycle and prevent your pet from licking. We carry them at our clinics and they can be purchased at the time of surgery, but regular vet offices and many pet stores carry them. Because of the different shapes of our pets, it is best to take the pet where you plan to purchase the collar, because it needs to be matched up to your pet’s size correctly to work.
Another option is to use something around the incision to stop licking from happening. We carry one product that we like, but there are many different products on the market that are available through pet stores and even in grocery stores/general merchandise stores. Common ones are Bitter Apple, Bitter Orange, and so on—the label will generally say something about “to stop licking”. These are applied to unbroken skin AROUND the incision, so use a cotton swab to help with that. Also, when you apply this stuff, it helps to give your dog or cat a good full-strength taste of it so they will know how bad the stuff you are painting on them will be. A big yucky taste plus seeing you put it on them can often be enough to stop the licking right then. Occasionally, a pet may actually LIKE the flavor. If you give them a good taste of it before you use it and they want more, that would help you know to look for a different product.
Wait. It is late and all the stores near me are closed. What can I do?
Solid deodorant sometimes will work to stop licking—same thing, apply it around the incision. Too much of this can be bad for your pet, though, so if he or she continues licking, you will need to find another solution.
T shirts and onsies can also work to help block licking. Gather the t-shirt over the back near your dog’s waist, to keep it from hanging, and wrap the gathered bunch with white tape (do not tape to your pet!). Onsies need to be 12-24 months, and these work well on little dogs and some cats. Snap between your pet’s back legs and tail between snaps. Unsnap and roll forward at potty time. For male dogs, sometimes toddler underwear or pull-ups can be used. Finally, for some smaller pets including cats, you can take a tube sock and modify it by cutting holes for head and legs—just make sure it is long enough to cover the affected area.
-Dr. Lisa Chassy, Director of Public Spay/Neuter Programs, Young-Williams Animal Center Spay/Neuter Solutions