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My dog’s wound won’t heal. What should I do?

Dog wound and incision healing

The curious streaks and playful nature of dogs can easily get them into trouble. It’s no wonder why they end up with wounds when playing, getting into fights with other animals, or by accident. Sustaining a wound is bad enough, more so when the wound is taking a long time to heal. Before you suspect anything serious, you should be aware that healing and repair of any wound undergo four stages - inflammation, debridement, repair, and maturation. Keep reading to learn about these healing stages and what to do if your dog’s wound isn’t healing correctly.

Stages of Wound Healing

Although there are several types of wounds, all undergo similar stages of healing. The duration of each stage depends on the type of wound, management, and your dog’s overall health.

Stage 1 - Inflammation

The first stage of wound healing is characterized by swelling, redness, pain, and heat. There may be a loss of function in the affected area. At this stage, the immune system is activated and there is increased blood flow to the area.

However, if during this stage, your pet is experiencing an unusually high fever, excessive bleeding, or a bad odor you should call your vet. This can indicate that the wound has become infected.

Stage 2 - Debridement

The second stage of wound healing involves “wound clean-up” on the cellular level. White blood cells remove dead cells and tissues and kill any bacteria that are present. Pus is usually present at this stage.

Wound debridement can be a natural process, performed by your pet’s body, or it can be performed by your vet to surgically remove damaged or unhealthy tissue.

You should never attempt to debride your dog’s wound yourself because it can slow down or even stop the healing process. If you notice any blackened or dead tissue around your dog’s injury, you should have them checked by your vet. Too much necrotic (dead) tissue needs to be surgically removed because it will delay healing.

Stage 3 - Repair

If there is no infection, repair of affected tissues starts a few days after the trauma. There will be a production of new cells and the rebuilding of damaged tissues. Wound closure also occurs at this stage.

Stage 4 - Maturation

At this stage, your dog may appear fully recovered and is back to playing around. However, the wound is not yet completely healed at this time.

As the wound closes and heals, a thick scab develops over it. The scar tissue that has formed over the injury has yet to fully solidify and become stronger. There is still a need to keep a close eye on your dog for the next few weeks or months until the wound is completely healed inside and on the skin surface.

Does my dog need stitches?

If the wound is a result of surgery, such as neutering or spaying, the skin will eventually close over the incision. This is often referred to as “primary intention”.

“Secondary intention” occurs when simple surgery or sutures cannot close the wound. This is often the case when the damaged area is quite big, and the edges are too far apart to suture together. The presence of an infection may also prevent your vet from suturing a wound closed.

Why won’t my dog’s wound heal?

Some wounds don’t heal as they should. Many factors affect how well and how quickly your dog’s wound will heal.

Factors that influence wound healing in dogs include:

  • The overall health of the animal
  • Presence of an underlying medical condition, such as anemia, in which reduced oxygen levels significantly affect wound healing.
  • Cause of the injury
  • Poor nutrition - Malnutrition can interfere with the healing process.
  • Presence of infection
  • Medications - Topical medications have active ingredients that are used to treat wounds. Some promote natural closure of the wound, prevent infection, or provide pain relief. However, there are topical drugs that may slow down the healing of the wound.
  • Environmental factors - The ideal temperature for wound healing is around 86°F (30°C). Cold weather may make wounds weaker, resulting in longer healing times. Wounds also need oxygen (good airflow) to heal.

Wound Care for Dogs

Wound management that is performed by your vet will depend on the type of injury. The initial step is to stop bleeding and make sure that your dog is stabilized. Next, wound irrigation (lavage) washes away any debris on the wound and reduces the risk of infection. Wound debridement may be necessary to remove any dead tissue and foreign material. These can reduce bacterial contamination and prevent infection.

However, if the wound is already infected, a tissue sample may be collected for culture in the laboratory so the bacterial pathogen can be identified, and the appropriate antibiotic can be given. Pain relief medications are also usually given.

Your vet will decide whether to leave the wound open or suture it closed. Wounds that are left open generally need repeated bandaging and debridement. Wet-to-dry dressings help clean the wound during each bandage change.

The bandage needs to be changed as often as twice daily during the early stages of wound healing. You will be instructed by your vet on how to change your pet’s bandages and clean the wound.

Maintaining proper blood flow to the wound is very important. Make sure the bandages are not excessively tight.

How to Care for Your Dog’s Wound

1. Follow your vet’s instructions regarding medications and wound care. Make sure that you understand what needs to be done and when to do each treatment. Proper wound care can help reduce the risk of infection and other complications and help promote faster healing.

2. Wounds should be kept dry, so avoid bathing your dog until you get your vet’s approval.

3. Avoid applying any medications on your pet’s wound unless instructed to do so by your vet. Alcohol and hydrogen peroxide should never be used to clean your dog’s wounds. These products can damage the tissues and delay healing.

4. If you notice large amounts of blood or continuous wound drainage, you should call your vet right away. It’s normal for the skin to be a deeper shade of red during the first few days after surgery, and bruising is usually present around the wound. A fresh wound may also seep a small amount of blood intermittently during the first 24 hours.

5. Know how to identify a wound that is not healing. Call your vet if you notice excessive swelling or redness in or around the wound, unpleasant odor or discharge, continuous seepage of blood or fluid, large amounts of blood or fluid, and intermittent seepage of blood that continues for more than 24 hours.

6. Prevent your dog from licking or chewing the wound. This is very important, as wounds normally become itchy as they heal. It may be necessary for your dog to wear an E-collar (cone) for up to 2 weeks to prevent licking and chewing of the wound.

7. Restrict your dog’s activity while the wound is healing. This can help prevent the wound from reopening. Your vet will give you instructions on how much physical activity your dog can engage in and when. But some general guidelines include the following:

  • Crate rest or confinement for several days or weeks may be necessary, as recommended by your vet.
  • Limit your dog’s access to going up or down stairs.
  • Don’t allow your dog to jump on furniture.
  • Keep your dog on a short leash whenever you take him outside.
  • Keep walks short and avoid hills or uneven terrain.
  • If there are other pets in the house, it’s a good idea to separate your dog from the rest. The other pets may lick the wound or entice the dog to play and romp around.

Read more:

First Aid Kit Checklist for the Dog Owner

How to Stop Your Pet from Licking Their Wounds

What to Do if Your Pet Has a Bite Wound

Need to speak with a veterinarian regarding your dog’s wound or another condition?

Click here to schedule a video consult to speak to one of our vets. You can also download the FirstVet app from the Apple App Store and Google Play Stores.

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