Simple First Aid to Treat Your Dog's Cuts and Small Wounds at Home
I realize that there are some wounds that a lot of dog families are not willing to take care of at home.
If it is the middle of the night, however, and you do not have access to an emergency vet, if the roads are iced over and you cannot travel, or if you are without a car and there is no one available, are you willing to just let your dog suffer?
If not, find out what to do.
Grab Your First Aid Kit!
It is vital that you have a simple first aid kit at home at all times. (Read this article and get all of the supplies before you ever need them.)
In order to treat any cuts or small wounds that your dog might get the kit should include some sterile bandages, some tape, a small bottle of hydrogen peroxide and another of betadine or chlorhexidine, disinfecting solutions that will clean any wound.
If you already have a good first aid kit for people at home you can use that but you should also have elastic wrapping that he will not tear off and a pair of bandage scissors used with dogs. These scissors will not allow you to damage your dog when he wiggles around as you are bandaging his wound. Buy them at your local pharmacy when you are purchasing betadine.
Once you have your first aid kit out and before you get started, please try to get someone to help you hold the dog and use a muzzle if you have one. Even a dog that would not normally bite will be upset and may bite during wound cleaning.
This is the muzzle I use and it is vital when treating wounds—almost all dogs will bite when in pain. Buy the appropriate size for your dog and keep it on hand in your first aid kit.
First Aid For Your Dogs Wound
There are a few simple steps taking care of a wound but it all depends on whether the dog is bleeding. If he is bleeding you need to deal with that first. Bleeding from a bite wound is a lot less serious than bleeding from running into a glass door or jumping out of a window, stepping on glass or metal, etc. Here are the basic techniques that every dog owner should know for taking care of dog injuries at home:
- Try to stop the bleeding by applying pressure. Put something on top of the wound and put pressure on it to allow the small vessels to clot and stop seeping blood. If the wound is small you can use a gauze square but if it is large just grab a clean towel. The wound is not clean yet and it is not a big deal if you use something from around the house.
- Stop more serious bleeding. If the bleeding from your dog´s wound is really bad, there might be a "pumper", and blood will shoot out every time his heart beats. This is common if the wound is deep, like a cut foot. It will do no good to apply pressure to this wound since it will still bleed. Go into your first aid kit and grab a pair of forceps, reach down into the wound and grab the tip of the vessel and clamp it shut. This is not easy, but keep trying. If you are not able to stop the bleeding the dog might bleed out and die. If the bleeder will not stop and you cannot clamp it you will have to do whatever you can to get him to a veterinary emergency clinic.
- Clean the wound. A bite wound can be quite small but since a tooth "injects" bacteria under the skin it will be dirty and infected. “Road rash” will be a lot larger and may look worse but is actually a lot cleaner. You can use the betadine from your first aid kit to clean around the wound but to actually clean it you can use plain tap water. (Use the large syringe in your first aid kit. Fill it up with water and spray the wound to flush it any bacteria.) Tap water is less irritating than most of the things we used to pour into the wound. If there is any gravel, twigs, or other material in the wound now is the time to take them out.
- Disinfect the wound. Your first aid kit should include some betadine or a mild chlorhexidine that you can use to clean wounds. Never clean a dogs wound with hydrogen peroxide. It will damage the tissue and cause his wound to heal even slower.
- Apply a temporary bandage. This is not a regular bandage with tape and a roll of elastic. A gauze square will work fine on most wounds. Put a small amount of KY to top of the wound to keep any hair from falling in and then just put your temporary bandage on top of it. You do not need to tape up the wound or wrap the foot at this point. Just cover it up so it will not get even dirtier as you are working around it.
- Clip the hair around the wound. This is really important to help keep the wound clean. Use your scissors (be careful!) to clip the long hair around the wound and collect the hair so it doesn’t get the wound dirty. Wash your hands to remove all of the hair before finishing.
- Remove the temporary bandage, clean off the lubricant, and clean it again if you need to. As long as the wound is clean at this point, you can go ahead and finish.
- Close the wound if possible. If you are doing this at home you obviously cannot suture the wound; if you have cleaned it and flushed it with water go ahead and pull the edges together before bandaging, if this is even possible. (Butterfly bandages work great on a small cut.)
- Clean open wounds again. Open wounds are more likely to become infected. If the wound is still open clean it again with some water and use a gauze pad to gently scrub the tissue before disinfecting.
- Apply a thin layer of antibiotic ointment. You should have a small tube in your first aid kit. This layer should be thin, just enough to keep more bacteria from entering the wound. Cover it up immediately so that the dog does not just lick it off.
- Put on a final bandage. If the cut is on your dog´s side or back, a square bandage will do. If it is on one of the limbs you can put on a square bandage and then put an elastic bandage on top to hold it in place. If you do use a roll bandage on the limbs you need to make sure the toes are visible when you are finished. The toes on a normal dog are parallel and close together. Check the foot every hour to make sure that the toes look exactly the same as when you started (compare the toes to the foot that is not bandaged if you need to remember what normal looks like). If there is any swelling you need to take the bandage off and wrap it a lot looser. If you do not you can cause your dog to lose his leg.
If you have done a good job cleaning the wound your dog might be okay with simple first aid. A small cut will be healed up within about a week, but if it is a larger case of road rash expect it to take longer.
Will My Dog Need Anitbiotics and Pain Meds?
Wounds that are very dirty (like a bite wound) will probably need antibiotics if not flushed immediately. If the wound needs to be sutured, or it is a large open wound that will become infected, take her into your veterinarian as soon as possible to start antibiotic therapy.
If the wound is severely inflamed or is swollen with pus, your dog has an infection and should be put on antibiotics. Take him in to see your regular vet at that time. Your vet will also need to determine if your dog needs pain meds, based on the severity of the wound.
Should My Dogs Wound Be Closed or Left Open?
A small simple wound may be closed after cleaning. Small wounds that are sutured heal quickly and produce very little scar tissue. If you have cleaned up your dogs wound well, you can try to appose the edges and apply a bandage that will allow it to close and heal even quicker. Some wounds, especially on tissue like that of the nose and footpad, cannot be closed with sutures and are sealed with a surgical adhesive that is similar to super glue.
If your dog has jumped through a glass window and has numerous small wounds that are bleeding, closing them after cleaning is sometimes the best alternative, but if you can apply some pressure and bandage the wounds it is better. As super glue is working it gets hot and really hurts; don’t be surprised if he tries to get away or bite. Only do this if absolutely necessary.
Do not use this super glue technique on a bite wound. Bite wounds are dirty and you will be trapping the bacteria and it will cause an abscess; no matter how bad it looks it must heal from the inside/out.
Do not use super glue to close wounds after road rash, do not use it on lacerations that are dirty, do not use it if there is any chance the wound might be infected. These wounds should be left open.
When you are finished there will be a mess. Hydrogen peroxide breaks up the red blood cells and makes cleaning up a lot easier.
Your dog will probably do best to remove any bandage. Most pet superstores sell plastic collars that will keep your dog from reaching his bandage. If you are not able to bandage your dog´s wound, an Elizabethan collar will also prevent your dog from licking on the wound. Dog saliva will not make a wound heal faster.
Check the wound daily to make sure that it is not infected or in need of further treatment. Your dog will appreciate your efforts.