How to treat minor wounds in cats and dogs
Cuts, abrasions and other skin injuries can occur in pets for a variety of reasons. The treatment options depend upon the cause of the injury, the severity and size of the wound, and where is it located on the body. Many minor injuries can be treated at home using the advice below.
Causes of wounds
Wounds can arise for many reasons and the cause will influence how deep and complicated a wound is. A small wound can be as complex to treat as a large wound. Equally, a large wound may heal more quickly than a small wound. There are a number of factors which influence wound healing, which include movement, contamination, a foreign body, continuing trauma and infection caused by licking or scratching, or use of harmful creams or ointments.
It is important to assess each wound separately in order to select the right treatment option(s) and achieve the best and fastest healing outcome. For example, a split paw pad, caused by stepping on a sharp stone, may not heal initially as the wound constantly opens up when the dog walks, and dirt from the ground continually contaminates the wound. Appropriate intervention is needed to ensure that this wound has the optimal conditions to heal quickly.
How can you help your cat or dog?
- Take care with any of the following steps as your pet may be in pain and interfering with the wound may cause them to bite or scratch. It may be easier to ask a second person to hold your pet whilst you investigate.
- If your pet sustains a cut or abrasion the first priority is to stop any bleeding. This is achieved by placing a clean dressing against the wound and applying mild to moderate pressure for ten minutes. The blood is typically dark red in colour and should slow down and stop (clot) fairly quickly.
- If the bleeding is pulsating and bright red in colour then it is likely to be from a damaged artery. Again, this is uncommon but you will notice that the bleeding is not slowing down, or stopping, despite applying pressure, and you should seek immediate veterinary care.
- Once the bleeding has stopped, the next step is to clean the wound. The best way to do this is to use lukewarm saline solution. Gently clean the wound using gauze to remove any contamination or debris. Cotton wool can be used but ensure that fibres are not left behind during cleaning.
- Clean the wound 1-2 times per day, particularly in the first 2-3 days whilst it is open to infection. It is important to keep the wound clean and protected, so use a bandage, if appropriate, and make sure your pet doesn’t go in any dirty water or other sources of contamination.
- Your pet may want to lick the wound. It is very important to prevent this happening because it will cause contamination and infection. A dressing over the wound, or a medical pet shirt / Buster Collar (lampshade) / Inflatable Buster Collar are the best ways to prevent licking. Alternatively for a wound on the foot, a clean sock may be used on the affected limb.
- The dressing will need to be changed daily at the start of wound healing. Dressings can then be changed every 2-3 days, as long as any discharge from the wound is clean, and the bandage does not slip or become too tight.
- Please seek guidance from a veterinarian if you need help with bandaging. A poorly placed bandage can create more problems that the wound itself!
- Depending upon where the wound is, lead walks or stopping walks for up to 2 weeks will dramatically speed up healing. This is particularly important for wounds over joints, for example, where there is a lot of movement.
To make saline solution:
- Take 2 cups / 500 ml / 1 pint of boiled tap water.
- Add one teaspoon of table salt and put into a clean container whilst still hot.
- Allow it to cool to room temperature. This can be stored in the fridge for up to a week in a sealed container.
Treatment of wounds
No two wounds are the same. There are three phases of normal wound healing.
1. Inflammation and removal of debris.
2. Production of new tissue.
3. Maturing of new tissue into its final form (skin and scar tissue).
There is no set way to treat a wound and management will naturally change as healing progresses through these three phases. Interventions at all three phases can speed up or slow down healing, therefore you should be guided by your veterinarian about the best management for you pet’s particular wound. Photographs are a very useful way to monitor the progress of wound healing over time. Wounds that are left open will heal by scarring and those closed with stitches, skin staples or skin glue will have minimal scarring.
Some wounds will need investigation at your veterinary clinic. A general anaesthetic and diagnostic imaging may be required to enable complete exploration and treatment of a wound. This will ensure that the extent of the wound is known, and damage to deeper structures (muscles, blood vessels, nerves and bones) is not missed. Often large or deep wounds, or wounds where there has been significant skin loss, will need suturing. The aim of suturing is to bring the skin edges together so that healing is as straightforward and quick as possible. Very large or severe wounds may need to be surgically closed more than once, or require several dressing changes to achieve resolution, or even advanced surgical techniques, such as skin grafting or skin expansion techniques.
When to see your physical veterinarian:
- If there is significant bleeding.
- If the bleeding does not stop with ten minutes of gentle pressure.
- An artery is bleeding.
- If you are suspicious that there may be a foreign body or foreign material in the wound that hasn’t come out with cleaning.
- If there is significant swelling, redness or pain associated with the wound.
- If there is a bad smell or discharge from the wound.
- If your pet becomes unwell.
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