Dog Stitches After Care

Updated on February 11, 2016
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Adrienne is a former veterinary hospital assistant, certified dog trainer, behavior consultant, and author of "Brain Training for Dogs."

Dog incision suture care
Dog incision suture care | Source

Types of Stitches Used in Dogs

Whether your dog was just spayed or had a recent laceration repair, he will be sent home with an incision closed with stitches or staples. Your vet may have provided you with a discharge paper instructing you on proper dog stitches after care, but you may want to learn more about everything so you can readily recognize signs of trouble and take the best care of your dog. Often, you aren't even given the opportunity to talk with your vet after the surgery as they may have limited time on hand or another dog to take care of promptly. The veterinary technician may have provided you with some basic guidelines, but you may have many questions unanswered. The questions likely aren't that important that you feel they warrant a call to your vet, but still, they leave you wondering.

One question you may have is what types of stitches did your dog get? Interestingly, there are different ways to close an incision in dogs. One of the most common ways to close the edges of tissue together is through sutures, commonly referred to as stitches. Just as you stitch together pieces of cloth, the dog's skin can be sutured together with needles and thread. The thread is usually made of synthetic material.

Nowadays, stitches can be absorbable or non-absorbable. In the case of absorbable stitches, the dog's body will naturally break down and absorb the suture material over time. Depending on the material, absorption time frames vary. The stitches last long enough to promote healing of the tissue. Absorbable stitches are commonly used to close up the dog's muscle and subcutaneous layers and organs, like the intestine. An advantage of these stitches is that your dog will be less likely to remove them by licking or scratching. Your dog likely got absorbable stitches if your vet told you that you don't need to come back to have them removed. However, if you are in doubt, it's good to give your vet a call to double check. In some cases, the dog's body may reject the stitches rather than absorb them, triggering inflammation.

Non-absorbable stitches, as the name implies, aren't absorbed by the dog's body and therefore will need to be removed. These strong stitches are often made of nylon, steel, or synthetic materials. If your dog has non-absorbable stitches, most likely your vet told you to come back in about 10 to 14 days to have them removed. Generally, less scarring takes place with non-absorbable stitches since the immune system is less involved.

An alternative to stitches are surgical staples. Stapling a wound is much faster than suturing manually with thread and needle and it's also more accurate. As the name implies, a stapler is used to close wounds using metal staples. Staples are often used to close an incision of the skin, but can also be used to close an incision of the intestine or stomach. As with non-absorbable stitches, staples will need to be removed as they don't dissolve. Staples are removed generally 10 to 14 days later using a specialized staple remover. However, at least in human medicine, now even synthetic absorbable staples are becoming available.

In some cases, your vet may use surgical adhesives to close the wound, however these have their limitations. For instance, they cannot be used near the eyes and are not suitable for oozing, contaminated wounds. Also, incisions closed with adhesives are more prone to opening up when compared to stitches. Generally, adhesives are used to close very small incisions. The surgical glue is gradually removed by the body after some time.

Depending on the type of incision, the stitches may be used to close just skin or several layers of tissue. For instance, in a simple laceration involving just a superficial skin tear, the edges of the skin are stitched together, but in the case of a surgery, the vet may need to stitch up muscles, the subcutaneous layer made of fat and connective tissue, and then finally skin, meaning there will be several rows of sutures in a single incision site. When a large mass is removed, not much tissue may remain to close to incision. In this case, there may be lots of tension which can ultimately cause the incision to open up despite being stitched. To prevent this, your vet may use a special tension-relieving pattern to stitch up the area or may invest in a skin suture, also known as a 'stent suture' according to VCA Animal Hospitals.

Dog Stitches After Care

Whether your dog got absorbable or non-absorbable stitches or staples, you will need to take good care of the area as it heals. Generally, according to Pet Education, within 7 to 10 days the dog's incision area is capable to withstand tension and stretching. The moment the injury takes place, the immune system activates the white blood cells which mobilize to the incision site. The skin will redden, bruise and swell, but over time, scar tissue will form. Veterinarian Dawn Ruben claims that permanent scars tend to develop about 14 to 21 days later.

Did you know? You may think the an incision heals from one end to another, when in reality it heals side-to-side. This means that a 3 inch incision will relatively heal at the same rate as a half inch incision. Following are some things to watch for that may impair healing.

  • Avoid Licking

Your vet sent you home with an Elizabethan collar (also, known as the "cone" or more humorously "the collar of shame") for a good reason: to help protect the area from excessive licking. Excessive licking may cause your dog to pull out the stitches or even cause an infection. It's a myth hard to debunk that licking wounds helps dogs heal! To the contrary, licking may cause bacteria to enter the site. Depending on the location and type of incision, you can ask your vet about using a bandage to keep your dog from licking the area. If the incision is near the abdomen or shoulder area, you can try to discourage licking by letting your dog wear a t-shirt. Simply, have your dog's head and front legs go through the head and armholes of the shirt, explain Pet Place Veterinarians. If the problem area is the foot, you can ask your vet about placing a sock on the area. Of course, avoid doing so if you own a dog who would eat the sock or shirt and risk an intestinal obstruction!

  • Avoid Scratching

Licking can cause damage but also can scratching. As the wound heals and the fur starts growing back, the area starts getting itchy The Elizabethan collar may not be helpful in this case, as it prevents licking, but won't do much for scratching. Monitor your dog closely for scratching, and if possible, find a way to discourage scratching by using a command such as "leave it" or a positive interrupter. Crating your dog when you are not around may be helpful if it's snug enough to discourage scratching. Depending on where the incision is, letting your dog wear a t-shirt may help discourage scratching. This can be good for incisions on the abdomen and shoulders. Ask your vet if this is a good option for your dog as some vets prefer the wound to air. Remember that dogs are capable of scratching their front legs with their back legs, so if your dog has an incision to the back of his front legs, he may cause significant damage by scratching!

  • Limit Activity

Yes, those staples and stitches are strong, but if your dog moves in a way that puts tension and stretches the area excessively, this may impair healing and there are also risks that the sutures may come out and/or the incision may start bleeding. This is why your vet told you to restrict activity as the incision heals. So best to take your dog out on potty breaks always on the leash and discourage running around and jumping especially during the first days. Jumping up and down may cause swelling and pain. Also, avoid long walks and rough-housing with other dogs. Depending on the incision, your vet may recommend restricted activity for anywhere between 7 and 14 days or even longer. In some cases, your vet may recommend cage rest or keeping your dog in a small room.

  • Keep the Area Dry

You may feel compelled to give a bath to your dog, but you may want to hold it off if your dog has an incision that has to heal up. This also means preventing your dog's incision from getting wet in the rain. Also, you should avoid applying any creams, ointments or disinfectants unless your vet told you to do so. In particular, never use hydrogen peroxide or alcohol-based products as these will impair healing since these products damage the cells recommends VCA animal hospital.

  • Know What is Normal

Your dog doesn't have to deal with an incision every day, so it's normal to not know what a normal incision must look like. You ideally want to see an incision that is clean with the edges touching. It's normal for the skin to appear reddish/pink in color and it's normal for the color to intensify during the first days as the area heals. It's also normal to notice some bruising along the edges in pale skinned dogs as the area heals. According to veterinarian Dawn Ruben, it's normal for the incision to swell, bruise and become red the first days after surgery. The redness and swelling is caused by an accumulation of fluid and blood cells and should gradually reduce though as the days go by.

And what about discharge? A small amount of clear or blood-tinged discharge can be seen seeping intermittently in the first 24/72 hours. According to Pet Place veterinarians, such discharge is visible when a dry paper towel is applied to the incision. According to Assisi Animal Health, its' normal for a little blood mixed with plasma (a clear, yellowish fluid) to leak from the wound site. Normally, the discharge should have a light yellow tint (serous) or a pink tint (serosanginous) and it shouldn't have any odor.

  • Monitor for Complications

It's a good practice to observe the incision at least twice a day. Taking pictures every day in the same light will help you monitor better. Know how many stitches or staples your dog has so you can keep track of them. A big threat to an incision is an infection. The infection prolongs healing time and the pus may put extra tension on the stitches making them more prone to come out. This is why your vet may prescribe antibiotics to prevent this complication especially if the area was already infected or you are dealing with a wound particularly prone to infection such as an animal bite.

Do your best to keep the area as clean and dry as possible. The most serious complication of an incision is protruding tissue. Stitches are meant to keep the dog's underlying tissues in place, and when the stitches come out, there's risk that the tissues protrude out which can trigger a serious and even potentially fatal infection. The following are signs that an infection or other complication may be brewing.

  • Excessive swelling of the area
  • Excessive redness
  • Blood seeping for over 24 hours.
  • Discharge
  • Drainage dripping from the incision
  • Foul odor
  • A wide gap over ¼ inch
  • Missing sutures with redness/swelling and discharge
  • Edges of skin no longer together
  • Protruding tissue (this is is medical emergency)
  • A dog that is listless and not eating

At times, dogs may develop a seroma at the incision site. When small blood vessels are ruptured, a seroma, an accumulation of serum that develops as a pocket of tissue where there is extra space during the healing process, forms. The majority of these non-painful growths reabsorb on their own with time and the swelling will decrease. This collection of serum may occur because of excess "dead space" but the inflammation is also often seen in animals that were too active during the recovery process or who licked and chewed the incision site. Hot or warm compresses to the area may be helpful as these encourage blood flow, allowing the body to reabsorb the extra fluid faster.

Does the incision seem to take a long time to heal? Common causes for prolonged healing times are underlying medical conditions such as diabetes, kidney or liver failure, hormonal imbalances and cancer. Delayed healing may be triggered by certain medications such as corticosteroids and aspirin at high doses. Also, consider that senior dogs take more time to heal when compared to younger dogs. As seen, it's very important to keep an eye on your dog's incision. It's best if you are home during the day or have somebody watch over your pet. It's astounding the number of calls vets get from owners of dogs who rip open their incisions because they were unsupervised or allowed to engage in wild play!

Disclaimer: this article is of a general nature and should not to be used as a substitute for professional veterinary advice. If your dog's incision appears concerning, please consult with your vet.

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    • alexadry profile image

      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 3 weeks ago from USA

      Ouch, sounds like the edges of the cones are irritating the eyes, I would be worried about a corneal ulcer. I would take them to the vet to play it safe. Whether or not you can leave them without the cone depends on how well you can supervise them to prevent them from bothering the area. As the scab forms sometimes it gets itchy. You may have to use a soft cone perhaps, like a comfy cone or have the vet get a better sized cone that won't touch the eyes.

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      Aimee 3 weeks ago

      Hi i just got my two dogs neutered about a week ago and there's a scab on the incision. the only issue is that both my dogs now have eye infections from rubbing their eyes on the cones. would it be too early to take their cones off and let their eyes heal?

    • alexadry profile image

      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 4 weeks ago from USA

      Samanthi, this is really odd that your dog is crying. I would follow up with your vet.

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      Samanthi 5 weeks ago

      my dog was operated and the stiches were removed after 18 days. I noticed that some stiches are missing and i am 100% sure that notthing happened to the stiches. I assume some of the stiches have gone inside his skin. Now my dog is crying from time to time. Is this because the stiches have gone inside?

    • alexadry profile image

      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 2 months ago from USA

      Maria, so sorry to hear that. What happened exactly?

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      Maria 2 months ago

      My 10 Year old GSD died the next day after stitches. . .

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      E.j. Vegas 2 months ago

      My dog had a couple tumors on his lower abdomen, removed 3 days ago. Every now and again, he has a fit like a bucking Broncos. I'm thinking it's an itch. Anyone else dealt with this on how to ease his trauma?

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      Bren 2 months ago

      my dog was attacked by another dog, he had stitches, skin died and had a second surgery with many stitches in a Y shape on his rear end, now they opened and not enough healthy skin to restitch. Vet is letting would heal without stitches. These are not little wounds, they are infected and he is on antibiotics and pain meds for who knows how long.... will he survive?

    • alexadry profile image

      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 3 months ago from USA

      Doesn't sound normal, could he have got injured jumping in and out of the car?

    • alexadry profile image

      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 3 months ago from USA

      Redd, stitches may pop when dogs are overly active in the first few days after surgery, so the vet may charge you based on that.

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      3 months ago

      Our dog was fixed 14 days ago , stitches were removed tday !! He is acting weird shaking and yelping when he is held or starts to walk ! Is this normal ?

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      Bella 3 months ago

      This is a wonderful article. Everything was explained so well that I was left with zero questions.

      Thank you.

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      Debra Espinoza 3 months ago

      Had my boy Nutered hE wasn't stitched & was bleeding but not a lot I put some antibiotic stitch on him but now he is SWOLLEN bit is still oosing with some blood just wondering if that's OK

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      Redd 3 months ago

      I've paid for surgery now a stitch popped the vet wants to charge me another $100 to fix is this all on me or does the vet have to fix there mess up?

    • alexadry profile image

      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 4 months ago from USA

      You would need to keep her exercised and mentally stimulated (interactive toys, stuffed Kong, training, walks) to keep her distracted so that she'll be more likely to rest during the day and you can put the E-collar. on or supervise her. Consult with your vet for the bleeding.

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      Amy 4 months ago

      My female dog just had her right eye removed recently few days ago and she tend to be very active dog and she like to scratch her stitches but still wear E-COLLAR til her stitches removes on October 18th..she still has blood draining all over her right side how to stop her scratching and blood draining??

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      Tasha 5 months ago

      My dog was just neutered 2 weeks ago, and I removed his cone today but I noticed he had been chewing and licking it still and it's started to bleed a little and opened a little. I've put the cone back on for now but I don't know if I should take him back to the vet

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      Michele 8 months ago

      my dog was spayed on Monday and she had tore the cone off she's a pitbull puppy 8 months old had not been bothering the incision but now it is red and open and seeping a light watery blood ish what should I do to prevent her from entering herself more..... she is very active and hyper can't really keep her down

    • alexadry profile image

      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 9 months ago from USA

      Hannah, would get that checked out by the vet to be safe.

    • alexadry profile image

      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 9 months ago from USA

      Sounds good, what did the vets say when he got the stitches out?

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      Olga 9 months ago

      The stitches are out the area looks normal no drainage should I still worry

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      HANNAH 9 months ago

      My dog got hit by a car 4 months ago and the vet said her stitches will desolve but never did. I pulled them through her already healed wound and it is very red and puffy. When I squeeze it yellow puss comes out. How do I clean the infection out of it is already healed?

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      Cyndi 13 months ago

      Yes this article was helpful. I used to clean dried blood from stitches with hydrogen peroxide and now it is NOT recommended.

      We have a small Maltichon mix, 14 lbs, and wears an 18 month baby's onsie. (We usually put a bladder leakage pad in it and have it on her for when guests are coming over. She has a nervous bladder, a subservient trait of some small dogs.) Recently she had 3 sebaceous cysts removed from her back, leaving huge incisions with many stitches. The onside has worked great to keep the wounds clean and dry. No cone of shame needed after we added her Thunder Shirt that securely covered her back and kept her warm. She hasn't been able to reach her wounds to scratch or chew on them. The wounds are healing well and she is calm.

    • alexadry profile image

      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 2 years ago from USA

      Happy to hear this article about stitches aftercare in dogs was helpful to you.

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      Detective T 2 years ago

      Very helpful article. answered all my concerns about absorbable suture care.

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      Andrew Smith 3 years ago from Richmond, VA

      Our dog (Molly, a 12 year old Dachshund) just had minor surgery a couple of weeks ago. We're thinking of removing the stitches ourselves this time!

    • heidithorne profile image

      Heidi Thorne 3 years ago from Chicago Area

      We've had both the dissolving and removable types of stitches used. And it is tough to keep them from licking, scratching and pulling 'em out. The cone collars can help, but they don't like those too much either. Tough as it is, this is a constant monitoring situation for the days of healing. Thanks for the tips!