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Help, My Dog's Stitches Are Oozing!

Adrienne is a certified dog trainer and former veterinarian assistant who partners with some of the best veterinarians worldwide.

Stitches on dogs after major surgery

Stitches on dogs after major surgery

If your dog's stitches are oozing, you are likely concerned. The post-surgical period in dogs can be challenging—there are so many things pet owners need to take care of and be aware of!

For example, the wound stitches: Dog owners have to be familiar with what normal healing looks like so they can spot issues and red flags. This is not always easy and vets often have little time to cover all basis when pets are discharged.

In this article, veterinarian Dr. Ivana Crnec, a graduate of the University Sv. Kliment Ohridski’s Faculty of Veterinary Medicine in Bitola, Republic of Macedonia, will discuss:

  • Differences between absorbable and non-absorbable stitches
  • The signs of good healing stitches in dogs
  • What type of oozing is normal
  • What type of oozing is abnormal
  • The four main types of discharge
  • Several signs of infections
  • The types of discharge from dog stitches that warrant a vet visit
  • Tips on caring for your dog's stitches

Different Types of Stiches Used For Dogs

The term “sutures” is used to describe the wound-closing material surgeons use to put the two ends of the wound together. There are different types of sutures, and they can be classified based on many criteria.

Based on Absorbability

Based on absorbability, sutures can be classified as follows:

  • Absorbable: As the name suggests, they get absorbed and do not need to be removed. Their absorption is enabled by tissue enzymes, or in simpler terms, the body is capable of naturally "digesting" them.
  • Non-Absorbable: The non-absorbable sutures cannot be digested by the body's enzymes. Instead, they need to be removed later on or, if necessary, left to stay in permanently.

Based on Structure of the Material

Based on the structure of the material, sutures can be further classified as follows:

  • Monofilament: Monofilament sutures are made of a single thread, thus allowing easy passage through tissues. Monofilament sutures are less secure, but also less likely to get infected.
  • Braided: Braided sutures consist of several braided threads, thus making stronger and more secure knots. However, their passage through the tissues is more invasive, and they are at a higher risk of getting infected.

Based on Origin of the Material

Finally, based on the origin of the material, sutures are classified as:

  • Natural: made of naturally sourced materials like collagen and silk.
  • Synthetic: produced from synthetic materials such as nylon and plastic.

5 Signs of Dog Stitches Healing Well

With the types of sutures and stitches explained, it is time we get to the more practical part of the article: How dog owners can recognize the signs of good healing stitches.

Namely, after the procedure (based on the type), the dog will be released home, and it is up to the owner to ensure proper recovery care. Wound care is an integral part of the recovery phase (more on this later).

Here is a short description of the signs of a good healing surgical wound:

  • The wound and surrounding tissues should be clean and tidy.
  • The wound edges should lightly touch each other, but they should not overlap.
  • Slight skin reddening or bruising around the stitches is normal, especially in pale-skinned dogs.
  • A small amount of blood seeping from the wound within the first 24 hours is also acceptable.
  • A small amount of serum is also considered normal as long as it is not smelly, tainted with other discharge types, and excessive.
These dogs' stitches are healing nicely

These dogs' stitches are healing nicely

Oozing Stitches in Dogs: 7 Signs of Trouble

Once you know what normal healing stitches look like, it will be easy to spot issues and problems.

Here is a short description of the signs indicating oozing stitches due to an infected incision:

  • Intense skin redness and swelling around the stitches
  • Presence of foul-smelling discharge (with pus or blood)
  • Pain and tenderness around the surgical site
  • Pronounced warmth on and around the incision
  • Enlarged lymph nodes near the surgical incision
  • Increased body temperature (fever) and lethargy
  • Loss of appetite and disinterest in everyday activities

4 Different Types of Discharge From Dog Stitches

As mentioned, a small amount of draining serum can be normal, while the presence of other discharge types is a red flag. To make things simpler for understanding, let's review the four different types of discharge.

1. Serous

The presence of serous discharge is normal as the serum is formed during the inflammatory stage of healing.

Sometimes, if the vet removes a larger tissue portion, the body may produce serum to close the gap (it looks like a bulge beneath the incision).

The formation is called a seroma and rarely requires veterinary attention (the body will absorb the discharge over time).

2. Serosanguineous

This is a common type of discharge in incision wounds. The serosanguineous discharge is watery, thin, and pink.

Whether its presence is normal or not depends on when it develops (normal during the initial healing phases and abnormal later).

3. Sanguineous

Sanguineous discharge is a bloody discharge. Blood may seep from the wound intermittently during the first 24 hours.

Any continuous discharge of blood warrants immediate veterinary attention to play it safe, and so does intermittent bleeding if it persists after the first 24 hours.

4. Purulent

The purulent discharge is milky with a rather thick consistency and a pungent, foul odor. In terms of color, it can be yellow, grey, or green.

The presence of purulent discharge is always concerning as it indicates infection.

Despite the discharge appearing pinkish when wiped off, this dog's stitches turned out being OK according to the vet who received this picture. The discharge stopped at the end of the second day and the incision healed nicely in 10 days.

Despite the discharge appearing pinkish when wiped off, this dog's stitches turned out being OK according to the vet who received this picture. The discharge stopped at the end of the second day and the incision healed nicely in 10 days.

When to Call the Vet

Oozing stitches are a serious situation meaning you need to check with the vet whenever you feel something is not right.

Considering dogs need to rest during the postoperative period, it would be therefore practical to take a picture of the incision and send it to the vet.

If everything looks as it should, you will not have to make an unnecessary trip to the vet's office. On the other hand, if the veterinarian spots an irregularity, you will be instructed on what to do, or, if necessary, go to the clinic.

In a nutshell, if suspecting an issue with the surgical incision, do not take the wait-and-see approach. Get proactive and check with the vet as soon as possible.

The Elizabethan collar, AKA "cone of shame" can help prevent trouble to your dog's stitches

The Elizabethan collar, AKA "cone of shame" can help prevent trouble to your dog's stitches

How to Take Care of a Dog's Surgical Incision

As mentioned, knowing how to take care of the wound is paramount for preventing problematic oozing stitches. Here are some helpful tips on what to do and what not to do.

Check the Incision Twice a Day

Take a good look at the incision after the procedure and pay attention to factors like wound length, the number of stitches, and overall appearance. This will be helpful when checking the incision later.

Keep the Incision Dry

You need to keep the incision as dry as possible, meaning no bathing in the first few weeks after the procedure, and if raining, you need to cover the incision during potty breaks.

Restrict the Dog’s Movement

Cage rest is vital for normal wound healing. You should keep your dog resting and only leave the house for scheduled potty breaks.

Use the Elizabethan Collar as Directed

The Elizabethan collar is a must: Licking the wound will inevitably lead to future damage and delayed healing. Therefore, you need to make sure your dog is wearing its E-collar no matter how much it hates it.

Avoid Applying Ointments

Do not apply ointments to the incision. Unless specifically instructed to do so by the vet, do not self-treat your dog at home and put any types of creams, antibiotic ointments, or disinfectants on the incision.

Avoid These Products

Never use hydrogen peroxide or alcohol: Both hydrogen peroxide and alcohol damage healing cells and may degrade the suture materials leading to incision irritation, pain and delayed healing.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

© 2022 Adrienne Farricelli