There are several effective ways to stop your dog from licking his stitches without using an Elizabethan collar or cone. The key is to prevent access to the incision area and keep your dog distracted. Recommended approaches include:
- Using bitter apple spray or other deterrents on the stitches and surrounding area
- Covering the incision with wrapping, bandages or clothing
- Watching your dog closely and using verbal corrections or distractions
- Giving chew toys, food puzzles, or other activities to keep your dog busy
- Limiting activity and confining your dog when you cannot supervise
Consult your vet if licking persists so they can check for signs of infection and recommend additional solutions. Serious cases may still require a cone. But in milder situations, a combination of deterrents, supervision, and distractions can help dogs leave stitches alone to heal.
Why Can’t Dogs Lick Their Stitches?
Licking and chewing at stitches is dangerous because it can lead to:
- Infection – Saliva contains bacteria that can introduce infection.
- Delayed healing – The wound cannot properly close and seal if it keeps getting opened up.
- Dehiscence – The stitches get pulled out before the incision fully closes.
- Abscesses or seromas – Fluid pockets develop under the skin.
- Swelling and irritation
Dogs instinctively want to lick their wounds to soothe irritation, clean away secretions, and speed healing. But too much licking will have the opposite effect. That’s why it’s important to take precautions to keep your dog from accessing and licking their stitches.
Should You Use an E-Collar or Cone?
The Elizabethan collar (e-collar) or cone is the most secure way to prevent licking stitches. But many dogs dislike wearing cones, and the collar can be cumbersome. Used improperly, cones can even cause other risks:
- Strangulation if caught on objects
- Difficulty accessing food and water
- Vision impairment leading to bumping into things
- Stress, anxiety, or depression
For less serious licking issues, alternative options may work just as well. Cones are still ideal for:
- Dogs who persistently try licking stitches despite deterrents
- High-risk or difficult to cover areas like abdomens or knees
- Dogs who claw, rub, or bite at their stitches
- Highly anxious dogs who self-mutilate
- Times when you cannot supervise your dog
Discuss cone use with your vet based on your dog’s tendencies and tolerance. Temporary cone use is sometimes still needed even with other precautions in place.
How to Stop Dog From Licking Stitches Without Cone
Here are effective techniques to keep your dog from licking their stitches without a cone:
Use a Deterrent Spray or Ointment
Sprays like bitter apple, yuck spray, or bitter lime work by providing an unpleasant taste dogs instinctively avoid licking. Some other deterrent options include:
- Bitter cherry spray
- Distilled white vinegar diluted with water
- Cayenne pepper-based products
- Anti-lick strip ointments
Spray the stitches and surrounding area whenever your dog licks. Check that your dog does not try to lick right away before the taste sets in. Reapply frequently, including if the dog gets wet.
Cover the Incision
Block licking by creating a physical barrier over the stitches. Options include:
- Self-adhesive bandages, wraps, or gauze
- Medical tape – Apply non-stick layers over incision
- Athletic wraps, socks, leggings, or sleeves
- Onesies, t-shirts, boxer shorts with the tail hole stitched
- Inflatable donut collars – Less obstructive than cones
Use breathable materials to prevent moisture buildup. Monitor for rubbing, irritation, or swelling. Wrap snugly but not too tight. Avoid bandaging joint areas to maintain mobility.
Keep Your Dog Distracted
A bored dog is more likely to focus on their stitches. Reduce licking by providing:
- Toys and chews – Try food-stuffed toys to keep dogs engaged
- New toys and frequent rotation to maintain interest
- Extra playtime and exercise as permitted by your vet
- Training sessions and mental stimulation
- Separate stressed or anxious dogs from triggers
Use food puzzles, stuffed Kongs, or chew toys to redirect any licking attempts. Meet your dog’s needs for activity and enrichment to avoid obsessive behaviors.
Supervise Your Dog Closely
When you are with your dog, watch for any licking attempts. Stop licking right away by:
- Verbal interruptions like “leave it!” or “no lick!”
- Distractions with toys or treats
- Gently blocking or moving your dog’s head away
- Confinement or leash control
Praise and reward your dog when they refrain from licking. This helps reinforce the behavior you want. Implement supervision procedures when you cannot directly monitor your dog.
Use Alternative Confinement
When you can’t supervise your dog, restrict access to the incision by:
- Confining your dog to a crate, small room, or pen
- Tethering your dog in view with a leash
- Blocking off furniture or areas to limit mobility
Make sure your dog has sufficient space for their needs. Provide water, potty breaks, rest, and room to turn around. Don’t leave dogs alone for longer than they can comfortably hold their bladder to avoid accidents and infection risks.
Ask Your Vet About Anti-Lick Medications
If licking persists despite your efforts, ask your vet about oral medications to reduce the behavior, such as:
- Antihistamines like Benadryl to control licking urges
- Antidepressants for anxiety-driven licking habits
- Topical anti-itch sprays with hydrocortisone
- Bitter tasting oral coatings
These drugs can have side effects, so discuss options suitable for your dog. Follow all medication instructions carefully. Meds may provide temporary relief while you also implement other training techniques.
What to Do If Your Dog Keeps Licking Stitches
If your dog won’t stop licking their incision site despite your best efforts, contact your vet. Ongoing licking can lead to complications. Your vet will check for issues like:
- Skin infection – Redness, heat, swelling, discharge
- Abscess or seroma – Fluid-filled lump near incision
- Suture reaction – Itching, irritation around stitches
- Dehiscence – Gap in incision, broken stitches
Treatment may involve:
- Antibiotics for infection
- Drainage of fluid pockets
- Sedation for wound exam and stitch replacement
- Anti-itch medication
- recommendation that your pet should wear a cone for proper healing.
Be proactive about follow-up checks if licking is ongoing so your vet can intervene before complications require more invasive corrections. A cone may still be needed for dogs who won’t stop licking even with medication.
When Can Stitches Come Out After Licking?
Stitches usually stay in for 10-14 days following a surgery or procedure. But if your dog licks extensively, the threads may need to stay in longer for proper wound closure. Factors affecting stitch removal after licking include:
- How much licking occurred – moderate vs severe
- Visibility of gaping, wound breakdown
- Presence of complications like infection
- Location of incision and how easily it can be reopened
- Your dog’s general health status
Your vet will examine the incision and determine if it has adequately healed before removing stitches. In some cases, a follow-up surgery may even be needed to close a dehisced wound. Discuss timing with your vet based on your individual dog’s situation. Limit licking to get stitches out as soon as possible.
Key Takeaways to Stop Dog Licking Stitches Without Cone
- Use bitter deterrent sprays to discourage licking behaviors.
- Keep incisions covered with wraps, clothing, or bandages.
- Provide distraction with toys, chews, playtime, and training.
- Watch your dog closely and interrupt licking attempts.
- Confine your dog when you cannot supervise.
- Ask your vet about anti-lick medications if needed.
- Get follow-up exams if licking persists to check for complications.
- Keep stitches in longer if licking caused delays in wound healing.
Stopping your dog from licking their stitches doesn’t necessarily require a cone. Try a combination of supervision, confinement, distraction, and deterrents based on your specific situation. But if licking remains problematic, an e-collar may still be needed for your dog’s safety and proper recovery. Discuss options with your vet to find the right solutions.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why does my dog keep licking his incision?
Dogs lick surgical incisions to soothe irritation or inflammation, clean away drainage, and try to “heal” the area through moisturization. But excessive licking can undo stitches, introduce infection, and delay recovery.
What home remedy will stop a dog from licking stitches?
Home remedies to stop licking include diluted vinegar or lemon juice sprays, cayenne pepper-based deterrents, anti-lick strip ointments, self-adhesive bandage wraps, secured clothing, supervision with verbal corrections, distraction with chew toys or playtime, and confinement when unsupervised.
When should I be concerned about my dog licking his stitches?
Contact your vet if licking is excessive, stitches appear loose or gaping, discharge is present, swelling increases, your dog seems in pain, or the incision feels hot. These can indicate complications like infection which require prompt medical care.
Can a dog remove stitches by licking?
Yes, dogs can remove their own stitches by licking, chewing, and scratching excessively at the incision site. This risks the wound reopening before healing is complete. Suture dehiscence requires a follow-up surgery to close the skin. Limit licking to allow proper recovery.
Is it OK for my dog to lick his stitches a little bit?
Occasional licking is normal, but should be discouraged to prevent it escalating to harmful levels. Use deterrent sprays and supervise your dog to allow only minimal licking. Excessive licking or chewing can quickly lead to complications, so contact your vet promptly if you notice concerning symptoms.
Licking at stitches is detrimental to your dog’s healing, so implementing strategies to prevent access to the incision is crucial. With diligent monitoring, confinement measures, distraction techniques, and deterrent products, many dogs can avoid wearing a cone during recovery. But if licking behavior cannot be controlled, a protective collar may still be required to shield the vulnerable surgical site. Work closely with your veterinarian to ensure your dog leaves their stitches intact long enough to properly mend. A little creativity and commitment to your dog’s well-being goes a long way in supporting their healing process.