Biology

How to Quickly Heal Wounds of Animals: Licking

How to Quickly Heal Wounds of Animals: Licking

We have observed that many creatures around us lick their wounds. Dogs, cats, monkeys, and even humans. Imagine you accidentally cut your hand. If you bring your cut finger to your mouth right away, you are not alone. This instinctive response, and the faster healing of mouth sores, diverted scientists’ skepticism to saliva.

The Holy Water We All Have: Saliva

It has been known for a long time that mouth wounds heal faster than other wounds in our body. As a result of the research in the past years, we have now had the opportunity to learn the reason for this issue.

In research that has been going on for many years, it was known that the moist environment created by saliva and the proteins in it accelerate the healing process. In 2008, researchers scrutinized saliva and discovered a protein called histatin. This protein in the saliva contributes to the killing of bacteria, preventing infection and accelerating the healing process. In addition, it was concluded that this protein helps the cells to move and adhere to each other while closing the wounds. There are also studies showing that histatin supports the formation of new blood vessels.

Histatin Peptide
Histatin Peptide
Image Source: ScienceDirect

It Is Possible To Shorten The Wound Healing Time From Nine To Three Days!

In addition, a 2006 study shows that lysozyme enzymes found in saliva reduce the risk of infection by attacking the cell walls of bacteria.

According to a more recent study done by the University of California and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in July 2018, wounds of similar size were opened in the mouths and arms of the subjects and their healing processes were observed. By comparing gene expressions in injured areas, the researchers concluded that the SOX2, PITX1, PITX2, and PAX9 proteins in the mouth are constantly hibernating and act rapidly in wound formation. It was concluded that the repair process in the mouth was approximately 10 times faster than the injury to the skin.

Cat Licking Image

Then, in experiments on mice, it was seen that wounds that heal in nine days under normal conditions can heal in three days when the levels of SOX2 protein are increased by genetic intervention.

Although there is no definitive research on humans yet, these studies on the healing process seem very promising.

Dog Collar Image

NOTE: Trying to heal the injured area by licking, as many animals do, seems very logical in theory, but in practice, it is quite risky. In addition to many beneficial microorganisms in our saliva, there are not a few that can be considered harmful. Therefore, it is not recommended to treat an open wound with saliva as it can be a risky move. Since the immune system of animals is different from ours, the licking process usually does not cause a problem for them. However, some medications that are rubbed for animal injuries may contain chemicals that can harm them when they are licked. For this reason, they need to use equipment such as a neck collar that will prevent them from licking from time to time.

References and Further Readings

Ihalin, R., Loimaranta, V., & Tenovuo, J. (2005, August 2). Origin, structure, and biological activities of peroxidases in human saliva. Archives of Biochemistry and Biophysics. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0003986105002870.

Khurshid, Z., Najeeb, S., Mali, M., Moin, S. F., Raza, S. Q., Zohaib, S., Sefat, F., & Zafar, M. S. (2016, May 4). Histatin peptides: Pharmacological functions and their applications in dentistry. Saudi Pharmaceutical Journal. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1319016416300287.

Saey, T. H. (2019, August 8). Here’s why wounds heal faster in the mouth than in other skin. Science News.
https://www.sciencenews.org/article/why-wounds-heal-faster-mouth-other-skin.

Images not cited are used through Canva Pro with a royalty payment.

The proofreading has been done by Asu Pelin Akköse and Mete Esencan.

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Mete Esencan

Hello everyone! I'm Mete Esencan. I am a graduate student in the Department of Chemistry at METU. I was planning to establish a platform by combining the research knowledge I gained during my basic science education and the management experience I gained in the METU Chemistry Society, which I was in charge of for three years. For this purpose, in February of 2021, I took the first step and established the OkButWhy, a platform where we can write articles as if to chat about science, art and philosophy. I wish everyone a pleasant reading!

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