Q: After my dog Lola was spayed, her veterinarian fitted her with a plastic Elizabethan collar, or E-collar, to prevent her from licking her surgical incision. Fortunately, the incision is healing well.

Why do dogs lick their wounds, and why would our vet want to prevent it? I thought dog saliva contained an antiseptic that made licking beneficial.

A: Dogs lick their wounds because it soothes them, just as it soothes us when we rub a sore hand or arm.

In addition, licking may increase blood circulation to the area, which promotes healing.

Animals in the wild also lick their wounds to remove dirt and other debris that may otherwise cause infections.

However, in pets with clean surgical incisions, excessive licking impairs healing.

One or two gentle licks won’t cause a problem, but repeated licking or chewing at sutures irritates the incision and often opens it. Infection and the need for a second surgical procedure can result.

Popular opinion notwithstanding, saliva isn’t much of an antiseptic.

Decades ago, veterinary researchers tested dog saliva and found that it could kill some E. coli and Streptococcus canis bacteria, “but only slightly.” Furthermore, dog saliva had no effect on any of the other bacterial species tested.

More recently, researchers found that dog saliva contains proteins such as epidermal growth factor and fibroblast growth factor that may aid healing.

Still, healthy dogs’ mouths harbor more than a dozen groups of bacterial species, some of which cause disease. That number grows in dogs with dental disease and in those that eat feces or animal carcasses.

Because of dogs’ oral bacteria and the physical damage licking can cause, it’s best that Lola continue wearing her E-collar until her incision heals. Check the surgical site daily to ensure that it remains clean and dry.

Dogs that resist a plastic lampshade-like E-collar may be happier with a cloth E-collar, an inflatable tube collar or a wide, rigid collar that resembles a neck brace and restricts movement.

Yet another option is a bodysuit that looks like an infant’s “onesies” outfit.

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Q: I don’t like cats very much. Why, then, when I visit my friends, do their cats come to me immediately? They rub up against me and often jump onto my lap. It’s disconcerting.

A: Because you’re not interested in your friends’ cats, you probably don’t look at them. For this reason, the cats perceive you as safe.

Cats rarely gaze at one another. Only dominant cats stare at subordinate cats, and that’s to make their respective positions clear.

People who like cats often gaze at them in admiration, hoping the cats will walk over to be petted. However, many cats misinterpret these admiring gazes as dominance gestures or threats and approach someone who looks nonthreatening, like you.

Because you ignore them, they think you pose no risk and will treat them kindly.

If you don’t want attention from your friends’ cats, start focusing on them. Stare at them, and they’ll likely ignore you.

If this strategy is unsuccessful and your friends’ cats persist in lavishing their affection on you, I suggest you consider adopting a cat or two.

Apparently you smell like catnip or are a closet cat whisperer, and if that’s the case, you should just give in now.

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Lee Pickett DVM

Lee Pickett DVM

Lee Pickett DVM practices companion animal medicine in North Carolina. Click here to ask her questions for her weekly column. The opinions expressed are her own.