Although we never would like to have a loved one wounded or hurt, accidents do happen. This is part of life. As parents of dogs and sometimes kids we must pay attention to active and playful young beings. Injuries can happen in a second of distraction, so we need to be prepared to treat dog wounds the best possible way. Infected dog wounds can bring additional worries.
Veterinarians are used to seeing all kinds of injuries and trauma, in many cases coming with wounds. injuries leading to wounds should receive proper management, but prevention should be the best way to go (more about this later in the article). This article will take you through a series of steps and tips for you to cope with the situation of your dog being wounded.
We will cover these topics about dog wounds in this article:
Dog wounds general stuff
Although it may seem obvious, wounds are such injuries that result in the breaking or tearing of the skin (and sometimes even deeper tissues like muscles). Wounds in which the body surface is broken are usually called open wounds. Damage may be in the form of cuts or lacerations, scratches, or punctures, generally caused by accidents, or commonly in dogs by aggression bites from other dogs.
Other than accidents or bites, wounds are also caused in a controlled way through surgery and the accompanying suturing, or stitching. Minor wounds cause no problem, but major wounds that include blood loss should be seriously taken and managed. Controlling bleeding (or hemorrhage) will be the priority. A wound, minor or major, needs to be properly cleaned to avoid germ proliferation (infection). This article will cover the basic first aids a wounded dog requires and describes what to do in case the wound becomes infected.
How wounds heal?
The skin is made of two layers: the dermis (inner) and the epidermis (outer). Small cuts will only affect the thin outer epidermis and therefore healing becomes easier. Wounds to the epidermis layer are usually referred to as scratches. Deeper open wounds may affect the dermis where the main blood vessels of the skin are located. This layer is thicker and mainly made of connective tissue with cells called fibroblasts and collagen fibers.
Wound healing occurs in three steps. The first step of recovery is inflammation. Inflammation refers to many stages in which blood vessels first constrict and then dilate to allow blood cells to reach the wound site. White blood cells kill the bacteria and prevent the wound site from infection. During the process, they release chemicals besides helping to kill bacteria attract more white blood cells. The second stage is termed proliferation, in which capillaries and fibroblasts reach the wound site to form a framework for skin stem cells to grow and rebuild the structure. The third stage, remodeling, refers to the rebuilding of tissues. New collagen fibers build along the tension lines to provide strength to the tissue. If the wound is deep (involving the dermis) and goes through these three stages (Inflammation, proliferation, and remodeling) untreated, the remodeling stage will result in a scar made by fibroblasts that will proliferate to try to fill the open space of the wound. At the inflammation step, if germs are winning the battle the wound is said to be infected.
Just in case you want to know, the cells responsible for skin repairing are skin stem cells. Those located in the epidermis can repair just that, the epidermis.
Stem cells living in the surroundings of hair will be able to repair the skin epidermis but also replace hair, sebaceous, and sweat glands of the skin.
Just at the time of occurring, wounds become contaminated with bacteria from the environment and even from the own dog skin. Bacteria take some time to multiply. Common bacteria can take 20 minutes to divide and produce 2 daughter cells. This keeps occurring over and over again for a while until large numbers of bacteria thrive and the wound becomes infected. The first 6 to 8 hours between wound contamination at injury and bacterial multiplication leading to infection is called the “golden period”. The key to dog wound treatment lies in the good use of this golden period. This is like a timeout that we should use to act quickly and reduce by all possible means the progression of the bacterial growth that may lead to an infected wound (while we accelerate healing).
Wound types possibly affecting dogs
There are many types of wounds (occurring sometimes in combinations). The following are some wound types that could affect dogs:
Cuts and tears, also called lacerations (scratches when they are minor) – cuts in the skin. They may be superficial or deep. If not infected, wound borders can be brought together (like with stitches). If the wound is infected, it must be cleaned with an antiseptic first. If very deep, inner organs may be affected, like muscles, tendons, or even viscera (i.e. stomach, intestines, etc.). There may also be broken bones (fractures). In all these cases a dog should be taken to a veterinarian and treated as an emergency.
Pressure wounds – tissue begins to die because of prolonged pressure (like from getting trapped into something) or laying in a place for a long time. These are extremely difficult to treat (your vet will decide what is the best course of action)
Gunshot wounds – deep injuries due to gun bullets (different degrees of severity and danger)
Bite wounds – animal bites result in puncture wounds (rabies virus might be transmitted from sick animals). These wounds become easily infected.
Degloving wounds – skin is torn off and lost in specific areas. These wounds occur typically when a dog is run over by a car (friction wound). Since skin is lost, scar tissue forms from inside the dermis or the subcutaneous tissue. They easily become infected. Should be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected and covered with antibiotic ointments.
Dog wound management
When wounds involve important nearby blood vessels a hemorrhage develops. If the bleeding is important and action is not taken fast enough dogs may suffer from a shock (a sudden drop of blood pressure because of blood loss). This is a medical emergency that requires as early as possible attempts to diminish the bleeding and taking the patient to a qualified Veterinarian urgently (wound cleaning is not so important at this time). General management of the injury starts after the animal is stable and spared from the shock or trauma.
First aids at home
If the wound is bleeding, apply pressure with the help of a bandage or a clean piece of cloth. See if the injury is deep or only the skin is damaged. You should take your dog to a vet as fast as possible if:
- The wound is deep
- Bleeding is excessive
- A large area of skin is damaged
- You suspect a bone is broken (fracture), in which case pain will be present
If the injury is small or a little scratch on the skin, you can manage the wound at home. You should irrigate the wound with fresh water, apply the antiseptic solution, and decide to cover the wound with a bandage or leave it open. In case of straight and short wounds, after cleaning and disinfecting a band-aid can be applied, trying to approach the borders of the wound together. In degloving wounds, it will be better to leave the wound open, and after cleaning and disinfecting apply a healing ointment or a healing spray.
You should leave the wound open only when there is no risk of dirt, and your dog cannot lick the wound. If a clean environment cannot be guaranteed, an aseptic dressing can be placed on top of the wound. If you don’t feel comfortable managing the wound or the wound is complicated, you should take your dog to a vet. Bleeding can be stopped by applying pressure with a bandage or a piece of cloth most of the time. You should immediately take your dog to a vet care center.
Controlling bleeding: more details of what to do
Bleeding is what scares people the most when dealing with wounds. First thing, remain calmed and follow the suggestions below.
Put a muzzle and be prepared to restrain the dog (wounds may be painful). Dogs could instinctively attempt biting (nothing personal, just a reaction). This precaution should be taken anytime we interact with the wound (bleeding or not).
First recognize the type of bleeding: arterial or venous, depending on the type of blood vessel that has been severed or traumatized. This will come in handy at the time we try to contain a bleeding wound.
- Arterial bleeding: blood is bright red and spills out as a spurt
- Venous bleeding: blood is dark red and oozes out
notice that both types might be present
Compress method to stop bleedings in dog wounds
The first course of action will be to apply pressure on the bleeding point with a compress. This is the safest and most effective method. Apply several sterile gauze pieces or when not available, a clean cloth onto the wound. Maintain this direct pressure for 5 to 10 minutes. Bandage if possible or keep the pressure manually until medical help arrives. If the area starts to become swollen this is a sign the blood circulation in the area may be compromised. In this case, the bandage should be loosened.
Tourniquet method: a second option to stop bleeding
A tourniquet can be applied to wounds in limbs and tail, ONLY to control arterial bleeding that CANNOT be controlled with the pressure method. A tourniquet is any material bendable around the limb or the tail that can be twisted to cut blood circulation (a length of gauze, cloth, tire, a belt). Never use anything that can cut the skin when used as a tourniquet (like wires, yarn, etc). The tourniquet should be placed between the wound and the heart (not between the wound and the end of the limb or tail).
How to use a tourniquet?
Twist JUST enough to stop bleeding (further twisting won’t be any better).
Loosen every 10 minutes and check if the bleeding stopped.
If blood stopped: remove the tourniquet and continue with the pressure method
If blood did not stop, let bleed a little for some 20 – 30 seconds and twist the tourniquet again. repeat the cycle (wait 10 minutes – loosen – check the bleeding). Keep going like this until help arrives or the dog can be transferred to a veterinary hospital.
Some DONT’S of dog wounds
- Do not use strong chemicals not suitable as antiseptics
- Do not wipe if the bleeding stopped (inadvertently removing the blood clot which may resume the bleeding).
- Do not apply oxygen peroxide to fresh wounds. Bleeding may resume as H2O2 dissolves blood cloths that are naturally containing the bleeding (do use H2O2 to clean the wound afterward or when already stitched or to clean blood cloths and stain from your dog’s coat).
What your Vet will do to properly manage your dog wounds
Your vet will manage the wound as follows.
First of all, the wound will be irrigated with fresh clean water. The term irrigation means washing, a procedure in which the visible and microscopic debris will be washed away, and the chances of infection will be reduced.
Your Vet will apply a disinfectant, especially if the wound is infected.
If the wound is already infected, a sample may be taken (or not) for bacterial culture, and your veterinarian will prescribe an antibiotic to treat the wound.
After the above steps, your veterinarian will decide to close the wound or leave it open. Wound management will differ depending on the wound type.
Sutures, staples or surgical glue is used to close the wound. Closed wounds have a lesser risk of infection. However, sometimes vets don’t close the wound and manage them with bandages and debridement (removal of dead skin tissue).
So, what is next? Post wound management
It is essential to prevent the wound from further problems like reinfection or reopening (dehiscence). For example, covering the wound with a bandage helps prevent the wound from dirt, and antiseptic solution or ointments will prevent infection. There are some antiseptic sprays available in the market that will also be insect repellent (flies can lay eggs in the wound and larvae or fly worms may grow to aggravate the problem, setting back the process of wound healing).
Dogs usually lick the wound, and in that case, a bandage will prevent your dog from wound licking.
If the wound is open, an Isabelline collar is an effective tool to prevent your dog from licking, biting, or taken off stitches in the wound.
For open wounds on a dog, the use of fly repellents is mandatory.
When these precautions are not taken the wound will most probably become infected. If stitches are infected, they will become loose, and the previously closed wound will open again. Dogs with access to wounds will bite or lick them, aggravating the problem even more. Therefore, a little bit of care can avoid us and our pets a lot of headaches.
Antiseptics to be used on a dog wound
Several antiseptics may be used for cleaning dog wounds. Chlorhexidine is an inexpensive and effective antiseptic to be used on the wound. Some chlorhexidine formulations are soapy. Bubbles diminish the superficial tension at the site of the wound (which in turn kills many bacteria). If you do not have any antiseptic at hand, you can use a regular shower soap as a first step to clean your dog’s wound.
You may also use natural antiseptics like aqueous solutions of bee propolis that sometimes are sold in spray formulations. Bee propolis can stop bacteria, viruses, and fungus, while also accelerating wound healing.
There are lasers available designed to easily treat dog wounds at home. All surgeries will involve some kind of wound. A laser is a concentrated beam of light that can be directed to a spot. Some laser types are specifically designed to be directed to wounds to reduce inflammation and accelerate cell proliferation to heal the wound while reduces pain.
Some medical-grade home lasers designed for pets produce beams that can penetrate regular wound dressings to facilitate the treatment.
You could also try and make your natural antiseptic solution at home. For example, you can prepare the following easy recipe
- Jojoba oil 120 mL (1/2 cup)
- Frankincense essential oil (4 drops)
- Cedarwood oil (4 drops)
- Tea tree oil (4 drops)
- Lavender oil (4 drops)
Mix 120 ml (1/2 cup) of Jojoba oil with 4 drops of each of the essential oils (frankincense, cedarwood tea tree, and lavender) to make an effective antiseptic for dog wounds. We recommend you buy good organic-grade versions of these oils.
Explanation of the recipe (why is this natural antiseptic effective?)
Jojoba oil is the carrier oil (where you are dissolving the rest of the oils). It is safe for dogs, it will stay on the surface of the skin while contributing to skin repair. In itself, jojoba oil has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
Frankincense essential oil has wound healing and anti-inflammatory properties, with the plus of being analgesic (pain-relieving).
Cedarwood oil is antiseptic, antifungal, and very importantly it has an antipruritic (anti-itching) activity. As a great plus, it has mosquito repellency which may work at keeping wounds free from flying insects
Tea tree oil has antimicrobial activity (against bacteria, viruses, and fungus), It also accelerates wound healing.
Lavender oil is a well-known natural antiseptic.
You may consider a simplified version of this recipe (Jojoba oil 120 mL + 12 drops tea tree oil + 12 drops cedarwood oil.
Some ointments you can place in your dog wounds contain more than one antibiotic to widen the antibacterial spectrum. Ointments having bacitracin, neomycin, and polymyxin B are widely available for dog wounds. You can accelerate wound healing by providing a healthy diet and supplementing your dog with vitamins. Vitamin A (retinoic acid), B complex, and zinc can be very useful.
SOME Final thoughts
Best than curing dog wounds is prevention. You may think wounds are unavoidable – but this is not the case. You can prevent your dog from injuries and wounds to a high extent by using very simple approaches. Have you heard of dog environment enrichment? Providing enrichment to your pet not only avoids accidents but provides a high life quality to your pet and fewer problems for you. First, make your house “dog-proof” meaning creating a safe environment for your dog. For instance, avoid furniture with sharp corners and leave dangerous objects out of the range of your dog. In general, common sense will be enough.
Also, make the outdoor environment safe so that you don’t have to face such an unfortunate event as a wound in the first place.