How to treat minor wounds on your pet
There’s probably not a dog or cat alive that has never returned home from their outdoor adventures with a scrape, scratch or cut. Either caught up in a tight spot, on a sharp (metallic) object or even on the pointy ends of a rival’s canines or claws (we’re looking at you, tomcats!), skin wounds are a common fact of life for our pets. Keep reading to learn how to deal with them!
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Types of wounds and when to see your vet
Sharp edges and pointy objects give neater scratches or cuts, but they can also cause stab wounds that could extend deep in the tissues under the skin. A good rule of thumb is to see a vet if the wound goes through the entire skin thickness, however small it may be. Sometimes bits of foreign material get trapped in the pockets created under the skin, causing infection if not removed. These wounds also heal slower (because the deep layer the skin uses to repair itself is broken as well) and will benefit from stapling or stitching.
Unfortunately a small wound is not always a simple wound. Bite wounds are a good example of this. Even when they don’t look like much, they can turn into a big problem because of the microbes on the attacker’s teeth or nails. Cats routinely leave the ends of their nails or even the tips of their teeth in their opponents while dogs, besides the teeth marks, also usually inflict extra crushing damage with their strong jaw muscles. Bites also should always be seen by a vet and treated with antibiotics.
Wounds on paw pads tend to cause a lot of pain during walking (the lameness might be what alerts you to the wound) and are more likely to get infected from the contact with the ground, so it’s best to have these checked by your vet to get painkillers and a short course of antibiotics for your pet.
An animal that rubs its body along a rough surface (as when they’re trying to crawl through a narrow space with rough floors or walls, for example) will get scrapes or abrasions from it, a type of injury that doesn’t go very deep through the skin, but can extend over a large area, which increases the risk of infection. Take your pet to the vet if the scraped area is bigger than a £2 coin.
Always bring you pet to the vet ASAP if the wound:
is very big or there’s other suspected damage (pet hit head or chest, hit by bike or car, etc),
is bleeding a lot of or for longer than 10 minutes,
has something sticking out of it,
is quickly surrounded by serious swelling or redness.
If you’re not entirely sure what to do, book an appointment using the button below this article and within 30 minutes you’ll get practical and professional advice from one of our friendly vets.
What can you do to help your pet?
stop the bleeding
If your pet just got the wound and it’s still fresh and bleeding, the first step is to stop it by applying gentle pressure on the entire area with a clean cloth for 5-10 minutes. Keep your pet still for another 20-30 min afterwards while the body’s other anti-bleeding defences get activated.
examine and clean the wound
Have a look at the wound - is it full skin thickness? Can you treat it at home or should it be seen by your vet?
If you need to go to the vet, it’s best not to do anything apart from stopping the bleeding until the appointment. If it’s a fairly superficial and minor wound, follow the steps below.
After the bleeding has stopped, cover the wound with something to prevent hairs getting into it and clip or cut the coat around it to have a better view of it and to make the cleaning easier.
For cleaning, you can use either a home-made saline solution (1 tbsp of salt/1 litre of water) or a diluted antiseptic, like Hibiscrub (1 part antiseptic to 10 parts water). It is a good idea to keep some in your pet’s first aid cupboard.
Gently clean the wound using a bit of gauze or some other non-linting cloth. Avoid soaking the clot or the scab that forms over it, clean only AROUND the wound, not OVER it. Do this 2 times per day, for 4-5 days. The antiseptic or saline solution is irritating to the new skin cells that start growing from the edges from day 5-6 on, so it’s best to leave it alone after this. After 4-5 days the skin has knitted enough to prevent infection.
protect the wound
The first and most important job of the skin is to protect everything underneath it. So when there’s a literal hole in this protection, you have to take some precautions against infection.
Use a bandage (or a sock, if it’s on a paw) when you take your dog outside for walks, especially if it’s raining and wet. Keep your walks short for 2-3 days and do not allow your dog to swim for a week. Keep a cat inside for 3-4 days if the wound is moderate (follow your vet’s advice for serious ones).
Both cats and dogs tend to lick at their wounds, but instead of helping, they often end up aggravating or contaminating it. Use a pet shirt or a collar (the ‘lampshade’ type or an inflatable one) to prevent them from licking at the wounded skin. Make sure your cat doesn’t sneak outside with a collar or a pet shirt on, it hinders their vision and movements and may put them at risk.
Keep the bandages or pet shirts in place only for as long as strictly necessary. Do not use any creams or ointments, wounds heal best when left open to the air to dry.
Wound healing: what to expect and how to help it along
All wounds heal in three major phases:
initial swelling and getting rid of the dead cells and tissues at the edges (first 4-5 days)
complete closing up of the created defect (day 4-5 to end of week 2)
rearranging of the new tissues, either into new skin or scar tissue (from end of week 1 on).
There are a number of factors that can interfere with these phases of wound healing (some like contamination with microbes, foreign bodies or keeping the wound moist by licking or creams were mentioned above) but the most important one is movement. If you can minimise the movement of the skin in the wound area in the first week, you give it the best chance at healing.