How to Keep a Dog from Licking Stitches Without a Cone? Vet Secrets Finally Exposed!

Seeing your furry friend come home with stitches can be worrisome. You want your pup to heal quickly without complications. However, their natural instinct is to lick the wound site. Excessive licking can introduce bacteria, cause infections, and prevent proper healing.

Traditional Elizabethan dog cones work to stop licking but come with their own host of problems. Your pooch likely finds the plastic cone uncomfortable and restrictive. There are better alternatives! This guide will explore creative solutions vets recommend to stop dogs from licking stitches.


Fact 1: Dogs have an innate desire to lick wounds as it’s a natural healing process in the canine world. Their saliva contains enzymes that can help fight infection. So licking is a primal instinct.
Fact 2: However, too much licking can introduce new bacteria and cause infections that delay healing. Licking can even pull out stitches altogether.
Fact 3: The Elizabethan collar was named after the ruff worn in Elizabethan times. The large plastic cone ruff helps prevent licking but is disliked by dogs.
Fact 4: Some dogs are more prone to obsessive wound licking due to anxiety, stress, or boredom. High-strung dogs may need more attention to curb the behavior.
Fact 5: In ancient times and even in some remote areas today, dogs licking wounds is encouraged due to the belief it has self-healing properties. However modern veterinary science does not support this.

Why Dogs Shouldn’t Lick Their Stitches

Dogs instinctively want to lick their wounds, but should you let them? Here’s the dilemma:

On one hand, licking is a natural healing instinct for dogs. Their saliva contains enzymes such as lysozyme and defensins that can kill bacteria. So at a surface level, it makes sense to allow it.

However, veterinarians unanimously agree that dogs should be prevented from licking surgical wounds or stitches. Excessive licking introduces new bacteria which can cause infections. The rough tongue surface also irritates the incision area, causing swelling and delayed healing. At worst, scratching with the tongue can pull out freshly placed sutures altogether.

The risks of wound licking far outweigh any potential benefits. So vets always recommend taking steps to stop your dog from licking stitches. The ideal solution causes minimal distress while being 100% effective at blocking licks.

Problems with Traditional Dog Cones

The Elizabethan collar has been the go-to solution vets recommend to prevent licking for decades. This plastic cone fits around the dog’s neck, surrounding their head. It acts as a physical barrier that blocks access to wounds on the body.

However, e-collars come with their own host of issues:

  • The rigid plastic causes great discomfort as it presses against the neck. Dogs find it very unnatural and awkward.
  • It impedes mobility and visibility as it blocks peripheral vision. Some dogs bump into objects and walls.
  • The awkwardness causes stress and anxiety for some dogs, especially excitable puppies. Some even go into depression.
  • It prevents dogs from self-grooming. They cannot lick their coats or scratch an itch.
  • Eating and drinking become a challenge with the cone ruff. Slobbering increases.
  • It prevents restful sleep. Dogs cannot curl up comfortably and have trouble finding a position to lay their head down.
  • They become withdrawn and less energetic as normal play is restricted. The overall quality of life is reduced.

Many owners report their dogs resort to rubbing the wound against surfaces to bypass the cone’s protection. So alternatives are needed.

5 Cone Alternatives To Keep A Dog From Licking Stitches

Here are some clever ways veterinarians recommend to prevent licking without using a restrictive cone:


Covering the incision site with a light sterile bandage can form a protective barrier. However, ensure it’s a breathable material so the wound is still exposed to air circulation. Avoid wrapping the bandage too tight as it can irritate the site further. Monitor for signs of new bleeding which may indicate scratching. Bandaging is more effective on paws and limbs than on other body parts.

Surgical Recovery Suit

These are body suits tailored for dogs that prevent access to wounds by covering the entire torso. They are made of stretchy lightweight fabric with openings for bathroom needs. Ensure the fabric does not brush directly against the sutures. This is a good solution that also prevents licking by covering the body fully unlike cones.

T-Shirts, Onesies, and Men’s Boxers

For small wounds, a creative solution is to use a human onesie, oversized T-shirt, or boxer shorts to cover the area and block licking access. The garment should not have openings that allow licking. Monitor for signs of scratching or irritation from the fabric. This works best for incisions on the chest, belly, or back region.


For paw incisions, dog boots offer protection by covering each paw fully to avoid licking. Use breathable boots and monitor for rubbing or biting at the boots. Introduce the boots slowly with positive rewards to get your dog comfortable wearing them. This solution works well for active dogs who need to go on walks.

Anti-Lick Sprays And Strips

Topical anti-lick solutions create a bitter taste to deter licking. Both sprays and medicated strips are available to apply around the wound. These work best as a training aid by teaching dogs not to lick rather than fully preventing access. Supervise initially and re-apply daily. Ensure your dog does not try to bite or scratch off the sprayed bandage.

Tips on How You Can Keep Your Dog From Licking Its Wound

Here are some training techniques and distraction ideas recommended by vets to deter dogs from licking stitches:

Technique Effectiveness
Active supervision Highly effective if you can monitor at all times.
Distraction with toys/play Effective for short periods if the dog engages with the toys.
Teaching obedience commands e.g. “Leave it” Variable – Depends on training level.
Applying bitter anti-lick spray Moderately effective along with supervision.
Dog-appeasing pheromone (DAP) diffuser Reduces anxiety-related licking.
Increase outdoor exercise Useful to tire out high-energy dogs.
  • Use interactive puzzle toys stuffed with treats to engage and distract your dog for hours. Rotate through different toys to prevent boredom.
  • Offer acceptable alternatives to lick such as chew toys. Nylon bones and rubber puzzle toys can satisfy the chewing instinct.
PRO TIP: Some chew toys can be stuffed with peanut butter or sprayed with broth to make them even more enticing. The longer your dog stays occupied, the less they’ll lick their wound.

Best Dog Cone Alternatives

If alternatives like shirts or bandages are unworkable, there are comfort-oriented products that serve as better alternatives to the traditional plastic Elizabethan cone without compromising protection:

Inflatable Collars

These are essentially inflatable pillows that wrap around the neck. They provide a cushioned buffer between the head and body. Dogs tolerate them much better due to comfort. They allow eating, drinking, and resting while still preventing licking. Ensure proper size as too small can still allow licking.

Soft E-Collars

Soft e-collars are made of pliable plastic edges with a fabric neckpiece for comfort. They flex to make it easier for dogs to navigate while still blocking lick access. The soft material causes less irritation than rigid plastic. Measure your dog’s neck and choose the right size collar.

Neck Brace Collar

This is a C-shaped collar brace that fits around the neck while allowing free head motion. Your dog can move their head up, down, and side-to-side while the brace prevents them from bending back to reach the body. Sizing is important for maximum protection.

Recovery Suits or Post-Surgical Garments

As discussed earlier, a full-body suit is an optimal solution that prevents licking wounds anywhere on the torso while avoiding a neck brace. Ensure the fabric does not directly touch stitches. Let your dog gradually get comfortable wearing it through positive reinforcement.

Accessories to Help Prevent Wound Licking

Here are some clever accessories veterinarians recommend that deter licking and provide protection:

Product Pros Cons
Protective bandages Breathable, allows air circulation Can slip, need frequent changing
Recovery suits Full coverage allows mobility Requires correct sizing; may be hot
Inflatable collars Comfortable, allows functioning Some dogs may try to pop it!
Anti-lick sprays Deters licking; aids training Needs frequent re-application; isn’t foolproof
Bitter apple spray Natural deterrent; safe for wounds The effect wears off; the dog may try to scratch it off
Dog boots Protects paw incisions A challenge for some dogs to keep on
Soft e-collars More flexible; less distress Less secure than rigid collars
Adhesive bandages Quick solution for small areas Easily scratched off by a determined dog

To compare inflatable collars vs. soft e-collars: Inflatables provide more comfort but soft e-collars offer sturdier protection. Combined together, they make an effective anti-lick duo without hampering movement. However, supervision is still required.

Techniques to Deter Your Dog from Licking Their Wound

Here are some specific techniques and remedies vets recommend to dissuade wound licking:

  • Apply an anti-lick spray or bitter apple spray around the site – dogs hate the taste. Reapply frequently for effectiveness.
  • Try natural home remedies like diluted apple cider vinegar or green tea around the area. Dogs dislike the smell/taste.
  • Provide lots of mental stimulation and exercise/adventures to tire your dog out so they lick less. A tired dog is a good dog!
  • Give your dog something permissible to lick like frozen broth cubes or safe chew toys to satisfy the urge.
  • Use an Elizabethan collar plus an inflatable collar together for maximum protection.
  • Try an abdominal binder wrap for incisions to the torso, tail, or rear area.
  • Use an inflatable collar plus a recovery bodysuit together for full protection minus discomfort.
  • Apply dog-safe numbing cream prescribed by your vet to help relieve post-surgical irritation that leads to licking.

Practical Tips for Managing Dog Behavior During Recovery

Invest In Itch Relief Products

Licking is often triggered by an itch or irritation around the incision site as it heals. Relieving this discomfort can curb the urge to lick.

Ask your vet to recommend anti-itch sprays, gels, or creams formulated specifically for dogs. Only use products cleared as safe for wounds. Read labels carefully.

Soothing aloe-based gels help relieve irritation and promote healing. Some contain lidocaine for mild numbing relief. These provide a distraction from the itchiness leading to licking.

PRO TIP: Always patch test any product on a small area of your dog’s skin to ensure there’s no allergic reaction before full application. Start conservatively and increase frequency/amount as needed.

Wounds Require Oxygen And Blood Flow

While blocking lick access is important, you still want the wound exposed to air at intervals so it can “breathe.” Oxygen circulation promotes healing.

Any covering – whether bandages, clothes, creams, or sprays – should be temporary. Continuously sealing the area with adhesive bandages or wraps prevents air exposure and increases the risk of infection.

Check on the wound 2-3 times daily. Remove any wrappings, clean gently, and let it air out for 10-15 minutes before recovering. Monitor for any heat, swelling, or oozing that indicates potential infection. Catching it early is crucial.

Vigilance balances protection with the oxygen and blood flow a healing wound needs. Work closely with your vet to find the optimal plan for your dog.

Additional Tips To Prevent Your Dog From Licking Stitching

Here are some final tips recommended by veterinarians to stop licking:

  • Stick to your vet’s prescribed medication regimen and bring your dog in for scheduled post-op wound checks. This ensures proper healing without complications.
  • Try verbal cues like “Leave it!” or “No lick!” and reward when obeyed. This aids training.
  • If your dog is anxious or stressed post-surgery, use calming aids like a ThunderShirt or pheromone diffuser. Reduce environmental stressors.
  • Monitor the wound multiple times a day for any bleeding, swelling, or oozing. This can indicate infection or a pulled stitch. Catch problems early.
  • If your dog manages to lick their wound, immediately clean it with a sterile saline solution to reduce infection risk. Limit their access to repeat this.
  • Keep high-energy dogs exercised with longer walks and more playtime to tire them out. Destructive licking sometimes comes from boredom.

Final Thoughts – How To Keep A Dog From Licking Stitches?

Preventing your dog from licking their wound requires vigilance and creativity. Be adaptable and patient in finding the right solution for your pet’s specific needs.

Balance your dog’s natural instincts with strict medical guidance for their health and prompt recovery. Monitor progress closely – both the physical healing and their behavior cues.

With some creativity and proactive solutions, you can steer your pooch away from obsessive licking without the dreaded cone! Try different options until you find the ones that work. Your furry friend will be back to their normal happy self in no time.

8. Invest In Itch Relief ProductsLicking is often triggered by an itch or irritation around the incision site as it heals. Relieving this discomfort can curb the urge to lick. Ask your vet to recommend anti-itch sprays, gels, or creams formulated specifically for dogs. Only use products cleared as safe for wounds. Read labels carefully. Soothing aloe-based gels help relieve irritation and promote healing. Some contain lidocaine for mild numbing relief. These provide a distraction from the itchiness leading to licking. Pro Tip: Always patch test any product on a small area of your dog's skin to ensure there's no allergic reaction before full application. Start conservatively and increase frequency/amount as needed.
Picture credit @Micah from Pexels


From traditional cones to recovery onesies, this guide explored the various techniques vets recommend to stop dogs from licking surgical wounds. While each dog has unique needs, the goal is finding a solution that’s comfortable yet foolproof.

Remember, deterring licking promotes faster and safer recovery. Work closely with your veterinarian and remain vigilant. With some creativity and commitment to your dog’s well-being, you’ll both get through this temporary recovery period smoothly!


How long should a dog wear a cone after surgery?

Dogs should wear an e-collar or cone for 10-14 days after surgery, or as long as prescribed by your vet, to prevent licking or biting the incision site. However, there are more comfortable cone alternatives now available.

Can I leave my dog alone with stitches?

It’s best not to leave your dog alone during the first few days after getting stitches. They should be supervised to ensure they don’t lick excessively or pull their stitches which can cause serious complications.

How often should I check the wound?

Check your dog’s wound at least 2-3 times a day to monitor healing and watch for signs of infection like discharge, heat, redness, or swelling. Alert your vet promptly about any concerns.

Can my dog take a bath after getting stitches?

No. Avoid baths for at least 2 weeks after your dog gets stitches. The incision needs to be fully closed and sealed to prevent infection from water exposure. Your vet will advise when baths can be safely resumed.

What should I do if my dog has already licked the stitches?

Do not panic. Clean the area gently with saline solution to reduce infection risk. Limit access to licking with a cone or other protective approach. Monitor closely for any complications and call your vet with concerns.

How can I calm my dog after surgery?

Use calming techniques like keeping routines consistent, relaxing music, aromatherapy, anxiety wraps, pheromone diffusers, or prescribed anti-anxiety medication if the stress is severe.

Do anti-lick sprays harm the wound or irritate the skin?

Veterinarian-approved anti-lick sprays are designed to be fully safe for wounds. However, first test a small area of skin before full use in case your dog has sensitivities or allergies to certain ingredients.

Are there any natural remedies to prevent wound licking?

Yes, you can try using small amounts of apple cider vinegar, lemon juice, green tea or lavender oil around the wound area as dogs dislike the taste/smell. Always ensure they are dog-safe before use.

How can I tell if my dog’s wound is infected?

Signs of infection include discharge, redness, heat, swelling, foul odor, tenderness, bleeding or the incision opening up. Contact your vet promptly if you notice any of these.

How soon can I start walking my dog after surgery?

Follow your vet’s guidance on resuming normal activity. Generally, lighter walks can start 10-14 days after surgery but avoid strenuous exercise for 4-6 weeks until the wound fully heals to avoid tearing internal stitches.

Do dog boots really work?

Yes, dog boots are an effective way to protect paw incisions from licking. Use pet-safe tape to additionally secure them. Introduce boots slowly with positive reinforcement so your dog tolerates wearing them. Monitor for rubbing.

How often should I apply anti-lick products?

Re-apply sprays or creams daily or as directed. Since dogs lick them off, frequency maintains effectiveness.