Wound Care for Pets

by Wound Care

Gus is healing from multiple dog bites and a machete laceration.

Whether you’ve got a playful pup or curious cat, it’s practically inevitable that your pet will require first aid. Rambunctious romps could result in some cuts and scrapes (or worse) along the way. Immediate and proper attention at home will help speed healing and minimize pain. Here are some basic guidelines to care for your pet’s wounds at home:

Be careful!

If your pet is painful, he or she may accidently bite you. Even the sweetest, most timid creature can lash out with its teeth if in pain and distress. Soothe them first with a calm voice, and approach slowly. If your pet is growling or hissing, it’s best to bring him to the veterinarian where he can be safely handled, i.e., muzzled if necessary. Protect yourself by using a blanket or towel before transporting to the veterinary clinic.

Check for active bleeding

Apply direct pressure to the wound using a clean washcloth or similar material. Keep the pressure on for 5 minutes before evaluating the extent of the injury. If after 5 minutes, there is blood pulsing from the wound, there is an arterial injury—GO DIRECTLY TO THE VET. Do not apply a tourniquet unless you’ve been trained to do so; incorrect application can result in tissue death.

If the bleeding has stopped after 5 minutes, you may continue with the next step.

Cleaning the wound

Once the bleeding has stopped, you should clean the wound. Clip any long hairs away with blunt scissors; be careful not to get too close to the skin and cause further injury.  This is likely not necessary in pets with short coats. FLUSH the wound repeatedly with warm tap water using a turkey baster, clean squirt bottle, or similar tool. If you don’t have any of these items, simply pour the water over the wound. You can further DISINFECT the wound using dilute Betadine (povidine iodine) or chlorhexidine—dilute to light tea color or pale sky blue / light pink color. Or, use saline by mixing 2 teaspoons of salt in every one cup of water. Try a Ziploc bag to soak feet for 5 minutes (much easier than a bowl, which eventually gets kicked over).

Pat the wound gently with a clean towel to DRY thoroughly without disturbing the blood clot. Do not attempt to scrub the wound. And, it’s best NOT to bandage. Use an Elizabethan (cone) collar to prevent licking; you can find at most pet stores (or from your VET). Do NOT use hydrogen peroxide or alcohol to clean any wound; they can delay wound healing (even though our moms used them repeatedly on us).

You may use an ANTIBIOTIC SPRAY if you have it handy. I don’t usually recommend using Neosporin or similar products as they are thick and may seal in bacteria and possible attract dirt to the wound. Do NOT use ointments or sprays with steroids such as hydrocortisone or betamethasone, which may delay wound healing. Do NOT use antifungal creams, e.g., clotrimazole.

Monitor the wound DAILY

Check every day for signs of infection:  redness, swelling or discharge. If you note any signs of infection, please make an appointment with your VET as soon as possible.

You MUST go to the VET under the following conditions:

  • Any eye injury
  • Uncontrolled bleeding
  • Dog or cat bite (a tiny puncture can result in a very large abscess in a day or two)
  • Deep cuts where you can see muscles, tendons or fat

Even the smallest wounds will heal faster and be less painful if you allow your veterinarian to assess and care for it at the onset. I always prefer to prescribe pain medications and often antibiotics depending on the scenario. I hope you’ve found this helpful.

Cynthia Hervatic, DVM