Have you ever heard someone say, “let the dog lick it, it will heal faster”? Sounds gross doesn’t it? Well, research findings suggest that it’s true, a dogs saliva actually does have healing properties that can help a wound. Just the simple mechanical action of a dogs tongue can be helpful in dealing with a wound, as the saliva of a dogs tongue acts to loosen any debris that may be on the surface of the wound. The dirt or other debris will become attached to the moisture of the saliva, causing a cleansing of the wounded area.
Researchers at the University of Florida at Gainesville have discovered a protein called Nerve Growth Factor (NGF) in saliva. Wounds that were treated with NGF actually healed twice as fast as untreated wounds, indicating that if a dog does lick a humans wound, it could in fact lead to a faster recovery. In addition, Dr. Nigel Benjamin, a clinical pharmacologist with St. Bartholomew’s Hospital and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry, has conducted research indicating that when saliva comes into contact with skin, a natural component of saliva called nitrite, breaks down into nitric oxide, a chemical compound that is very effective in protecting cuts and scratches from bacterial infections.
The scientific research that has been conducted has mainly focused on the helpful compounds and antibiotics that are found in dogs saliva. Menno Oudhoff of the University of Amsterdam has found simple proteins called histatins in saliva, which are well known for their ability to ward off infections. In fact, some histatins also prompt cells from the skin’s surface to close over a wound more quickly. Oudhoff further noted, “The first thing that needs to happen for wound healing is to activate the migration of epithelial cells.”
There are some dangers of letting a dog lick a deep open wound, so always take precautions. The anaerobic bacteria called Pasteurella is found in dogs saliva as well and can cause serious infections when introduced deep into an open wound. Although the healing properties outweigh the negative impacts, there will always be a number of people who find it in their best interest to treat a wound by cleaning it with soap and water, then covering with an antibiotic cream and a bandage.