HEALTH & CARE

How to Clean a Dog Wound: Alleviating your Dog’s Suffering Right at Home

dog with a wound
Emily Young
Written by Emily Young

Dogs get wounds at one time or another. Unfortunately, it is possible for your dog to suffer in silence if you are not a keen observer, because unlike other animals, our canine friends are very good at concealing the pain. While taking your dog to a vet can get her the help she needs, there are times when knowing how to clean a dog wound may come in handy.

Dogs are active animals; wounds are therefore inevitable. We have looked into this and found out that taking care of your dog’s wound properly can alleviate her suffering, prevent infection, and accelerate the healing process.

Should the wound get infected, all is not lost; you can deal with the infection and still make the experience as bearable for your pooch as possible. So, how do you go about this? By arming yourself with everything you need to know about dog wounds.

Below, we have outlined wounds that your dog is likely to get, how to examine them, signs of infection to look out for, and above all, a step by step guide on how to clean your dog’s wound. The guide wouldn’t be complete without acquainting you with precautions for cleaning your dog’s wound and warning you on substances to keep off during the process.

6 Different Types of Dog Wounds

dog with a wound

When looking to clean your dog’s wounds, factors such as the cause, the location, and level of contamination of the wound will be important. Below are some types of dog wounds depending on the causes.

#1: Lacerations

Lacerations are simply cuts or tears on your dog’s skin. The wounds don’t go deep into the skin tissue. Some will have clean, smooth, or jagged edges. They don’t cause significant problems for your pet. Nevertheless, some lacerations will affect multiple tissue layers depending on the cause,

Management of such wounds is done by cleaning the wound to remove dirt and applying complete closure on them. However, if the damage affected tendons, muscles, and other sensitive tissues, cleaning and treatment must be done by a vet.

#2: Abrasions

These are rash-like wounds created when your dog’s skin is scraped. With the removal of your dog’s coat—a protective measure against bacteria and dirt—she becomes susceptible to infections. The scrape brings about bleeding, bruising, and inflammation.

The most common cause is when dogs itch and scratch themselves excessively. Other causes could be from playing, running, and friction with rough surfaces. Abrasions are characterized by signs such as swelling, puffiness, or odorous discharges.

#3: Punctures

If your pet spends a lot of time outdoors, punctures are going to be the most common type of wounds she will have. Puncture wounds result when sharp objects or teeth pierce your dog’s skin. This leads to holes on the skin—big and small—and can affect multiple layers of tissue. This leaves her exposed to bacterial infections.

If your dog was bitten, the puncture wound will be deep with wide gashes. These injuries are the most problem causing and will most likely require vet treatment. They need to be cleaned thoroughly and medications administered.

Puncture wounds become abscessed easily, something that can create a bigger medical emergency for your pooch.

#4: Degloving Injuries

These occur when the skin is torn off or sheared. They happen when dogs are hit by cars or bikes. Most common locations are the limbs, the paws, or the torso.

The skin loss is often very extensive and may affect even much deeper tissues. If the skin is not completely removed, it mostly remains fragile, bruised, or loosely attached to the surrounding skin but not the body tissues. It eventually ends up dying due to a lack of blood supply. These wounds require the attention of a vet since they can be fatal.

#5: Gunshot Wounds

Dogs are great personal friends; their ferocious barks and fierce lunges make them amazing personal and property security. In their duty, they are likely to meet hostiles who shoot at them. For most gunshot injuries, the wounds are typically very deep.

These types of wounds are very contaminated because bullets drag hair as well as dirt through the wound. If the bullet exits the body, the wound at the exit wound will be much larger than the entrance wound.

In addition, bullets hitting the dog at very high velocity create shock waves which affect the surrounding tissue or even cause fractures because of the blunt force. These types of wounds require a vet who can perform surgery.

#6: Pressure Wounds

Also called decubitus ulcers, pressure wounds develop because of prolonged pressure on an area of skin. Paralyzed or immobile dogs are the most affected. When a body tissue doesn’t receive enough blood or oxygen, it begins to die, causing a wound.

These are the hardest to treat. When you catch these wounds early, clean and bandage the wound to prevent further damage. Change the pet’s position to prevent pressure wounds.

See Also: How to Tell If a Dog Has a Fever

How to Determine If Your Dog’s Wound is Infected

Without proper cleaning, contamination happens to wounds. The difference between contaminated and infected wounds is determined by the number of bacteria present.

  • Clean (Surgical) Wounds: Clean wounds are wounds created under sterile conditions. These are mainly from surgeries. These wounds don’t contain bacteria due to sterilization.
  • Contaminated (Infected) Wounds: These are wounds where the underlying soft tissue has been affected by pathogenic organisms (bacteria). As mentioned above, this brings about swelling, redness, pain, abscess, and fever.

As a responsible dog owner, you should spare some time to examine your dog and check for any wounds. This involves looking for any open wounds or signs of distress. Sometimes a simple wound can actually be extensive and deep.

There are certain symptoms you need to be aware of to recognize infections. How should you go about this?

#1: Make Observations

checking a dog

Check for any open, visible wound or any blood on the dog’s body. Most wounds bleed but stop afterwards. This is the first sign of the existence of a wound.

#2: Assess for Redness and Swelling

Swelling and redness are the initial signs of wound infection. Examine and monitor these two and note if the situation worsens or improves. The swelling can either be soft or hard; investigate both.

#3: Measure the Wound Size

Take a measurement of the wound size to be able to monitor it. An increase in size means there is an infection. You can take pictures or mark around the wound using a marker pen. If the wound becomes bigger than the mark, then it is infected. In fact, if it measures over half an inch long, it needs sutures by a vet.

#4: Detecting Smell

Naturally, when a wound is infected, it will produce a bad odor due to pus. If you notice that, check the wound for further signs of infection. A bad odor requires wound cleaning and skin debridement.

#5: Check for Any Behavior Changes

sick dog sitting

An infection brings with it changes in your dog’s normal behavior. An infection causes pain and stress to your pooch. You should observe her eating habits, walking style, or sitting posture for any change.

#6: Know the Signs and Symptoms of an Infected Dog Wound

To be able to clean an infected dog wound properly, you need to be able to identify the symptoms. Here are the most common signs and symptoms of an infected wound.

  • Abscess (Pus): An abscess forms as a result of bacterial infection. The formation of abscesses can be in or around the wound. They often look like swollen lumps, and with time, they develop a bad odor. They are quite sensitive or painful and require antibiotics. With time, there may be a discharge of pus from the site. Abscesses also bring about depression and fever, which can be very serious if not treated. Treatment involves lancing, draining, and cleaning, sometimes with induced local anesthesia.
  • Swelling and Redness: Dog wounds will have some redness because of the natural inflammatory process of healing. Similar to redness, swelling is present at the early stages of the wound’s healing process. However, it is supposed to reduce continually in approximately 5-7 days. If the swelling and redness persist, it is an indication of infection. Always track the redness and swelling of your pet’s wound.
  • Continual or Increased Pain: Pain should decrease with gradual healing. If the wound continues to cause pain to your canine friend, it could be an indication of further infection. There are pain medications that can help your pet to cope better.
  • Heat: Infection-fighting blood cells are sent to the wound to help in healing. This may result in the wound feeling warm when you touch it. If the temperatures increase, it may cause your dog to develop other infection symptoms such as pus.
  • Fever: Quite different from you, your dog has higher normal temperatures. They range between 99.5 and 102.5F degrees. An infection on the wound can make her get a fever, as her body attempts to fight it off. Feel her nose. If it’s cold and wet, she’s fine. If it’s dry and hot, she probably has a fever.

Materials Needed to Clean Dog Wound

bandage

If you are planning to clean your dog’s wound at home, there are some essential items to have. Some of these come in a first aid kit, but you need to buy others separately depending on your needs. Make sure you have the following items:

  • Heavy Blanket or Thick Towel: When performing wound cleaning, your pet should be lying on a soft surface. Use a heavy blanket or a thick towel to make her comfortable.
  • Gauze: This is used to control bleeding as well as to protect wounds during cleaning. Gauzes can also be used as makeshift muzzles
  • Styptic Solution: To further stop bleeding if it becomes excessive, you can use a styptic solution.
  • Non-Stick Bandages: Bandages will help in stopping bleeding, keeping the wound clean, and also protecting the wound from any further injury. Bandages can further protect wounds from excessive drying.
  • Skin Stapler: For big wounds, a skin stapler is used for holding the edges of a gaping wound together. This helps in controlling bleeding and any worsening of the wound.
  • Adhesive Tape: This is used for holding bandages when closing the wound. The adhesive bandages used should be those made for pets (dog). They are not the same as those for humans.
  • Food (Treats): Dogs need emotional support when wounded. One way of ensuring this is by giving her treats to relax.
  • Antibiotic Spray or Ointments: These are applied to help in reducing or preventing infection on the wound after cleaning.
  • Antibiotic Wipes: You will use these for cleaning your dog’s wounds. They ensure you don’t further infect the wound by adding dirt.
  • A Soft Muzzle: If your dog is wounded, they may be frantic. A muzzle, preferably one that is adjustable, will come in handy. It will prevent her from biting if she experiences any pain.
  • Scissors / Electric Clippers: Both of these can be used to cut the hair around the wound to prevent it from sticking to the wound.
  • Alcohol: It is used to soak gauze pads and even sterilize your scissors.
  • Antiseptic: Around 10% povidone-iodine comes with dog kits. Alternatively, you can use Nolvasan.
  • Syringe: You may need to use a syringe to feed your dog antibiotics.
  • Sterile Wound Wash: This can be applied using a syringe to help in flushing out debris from the wound.
  • Examination Gloves: These are used to prevent contaminating the wound further during the cleaning and also to protect your hands.
  • Mild Antibacterial Soap: This will be used for cleaning dirt on the outer area around the skin with water to prevent dirt from getting into the wound.
  • Warm Water or Warm Saline (Salt Solution): This will be used for rinsing the wound area to remove dirt or debris from the wound.
  • Epsom Salt: Epsom salt is beneficial in disinfecting the wound.
  • Neosporin: This is a regular first aid ointment that comes in most first aid kits. It is perfectly safe to use on dogs with scrapes, minor cuts, or abrasions. It should be used externally, and avoid the inside of the ears and eyes
  • Betadine: This is an over-the-counter (OTC) topical antiseptic that reduces the number of microorganisms on the skin. It contains a potent antiseptic called povidone-iodine.

How to Clean Dog Wound

Proper cleaning of your dog’s wound at home will enable her to heal faster and may also be good if you can’t get to the vet. Before you start anything, you need to perform a full physical examination while paying attention to the wounded area. After understanding the situation, follow the steps below.

#1: Stabilize Your Dog

calming a dog

Wounds can cause shock and trauma, so, before anything, you need to calm her. Dogs can read your tone so don’t let her catch you expressing worry or panic. Once she is stable and comfortable, you are good to go.

#2: Muzzle the Dog

Infected wounds are painful; you can’t be assured of your own safety without muzzling her. Naturally, most dogs may lash out to protect themselves from further pain during wound cleaning.

See Also: How to Make a Dog Muzzle

#3: Stop any Bleeding On the Wound

It is vital to stop any profuse bleeding as bleeding can be fatal. You can do this by applying direct pressure on the wound for around 4-5 minutes. Do this using an absorbent material that is clean such as gauze for small wounds or cloth for big ones.

If the bleeding has stopped, let go. Overdoing it can prevent the normal blood clotting process. For any excessive bleeding, you can use a styptic solution.

#4: Apply a Temporary Bandage

Temporary Bandage for a dog

This is quite different from a regular bandage which has a tape and a roll of elastic. Preferably, use gauze to prevent any hair from falling in the wound. You can then put the temporary bandage on top.

#5: Cut Away Hair From Around the Wound

This can be done using a pair of scissors or electric clippers. It is important especially if your dog has long hair. Trimming the hair away will let you have a good look, give you access to the wound, and also keep hair from getting trapped in the wound.

#6: Clean the Wound

saline water

This is a very important process as you need to ensure you don’t hurt the dog or leave the wound with infections. You now need to flush out the wound with warm saline water (ratio of 2 teaspoons to one cup of water) using a syringe.

Squirt the water gently. The tissue should be glistening and clear—this indicates a clean wound. Alternatively, you can pour the water over the wound. For a wound located on the paw, you can soak it in a small basin or bowl to clean it.

#7: Disinfect the Wound

Dilute betadine (Povidone Iodine) or mild chlorhexidine (Nolvasan) in warm water. Rinse or soak the wound with this solution. This will be enough disinfection for the wound for now, and it’s an important step with regards to how to clean an infected wound on a dog.

#8: Dry the Wound to Prevent Excessive Seepage

sterile gauze

Use sterile gauze to pat and tap gently on the wound. Do not scrub or rub as this will cause more pain or further injury. If you don’t have sterile gauze, you can use any clean absorbent material.

#9: Apply an Antibiotic Cream or Spray

Apply the spray gently so as to not scare your dog. As an alternative, you can use an antibiotic ointment but only do this if the wound will be closed with a bandage. This is because the dog can lick the wound

#10: Close the Wound

For home wound cleaning, suturing is not possible so use a bandage. For side or back injuries, use a square bandage. If you prefer a roll bandage for the limbs, do not cover the paws completely. Do not tighten the bandage especially with any swelling present as healing requires good blood flow and oxygen.

You should note that bandages have three layers:

  • The first layer of the bandage is for debriding and cleaning the tissue. It has a mesh material which promotes early healing by allowing fluid to pass through.
  • The second layer is used in padding the wound, absorbing fluid, and also for supporting the limb.
  • The final layer is for applying pressure to the wound, and protecting the inner layers from dirt.

#11: Keep Checking the Wound

You should do this daily to ensure that you spot any infection. If any infection signs are noted, take the dog to the vet.

#12: Use a Protective Dog Collar for Your Pet after Wound Cleaning

Protective Dog Collar

You must be wondering: is this really necessary? Naturally, your canine friend will want to lick her wounds. This delays the healing process and can cause infections.

This is where a dog’s protective collar comes to use; it is placed around your dog’s head and prevents her from licking her wound.

#13: Seek Help or Visit a Vet

After cleaning the wound, you may need to take your pooch to the vet. She may require stitches or suturing of the wound. Wounds around the eye should also be examined by the vet as they can result in visual damage. Also, bite wounds should be examined to ensure your dog didn’t get rabies or other diseases.

Once the vet has examined the wound, treatment can be applied. They may recommend a mild antibiotic for preventing infection if the wound is severely inflamed or is swollen with pus.

Substances and Chemicals to Be Avoided During Dog Wound Cleaning

Hydrogen Peroxide

Below are substances that shouldn’t be used at any point of the wound cleaning process:

  • Soaps & Shampoos: These may contain strong chemicals which can be toxic to the dog’s internal organs. Only use surgical soaps and only when recommended by the vet.
  • Rubbing Alcohol: It can be very harsh on a dog as it is very strong. You should just use water or a saline solution.
  • Herbal Preparation: Herbal preparation should be avoided on dog wounds. They may be good to humans but can contain harmful substances to dogs such as ginkgo and garlic, especially when “wildcrafted.”
  • Tea Tree Oil: It can be tolerated only in small concentrations (.1% to 1%) by dogs. However, as a safety measure, avoid using it.
  • Antifungal Creams: Avoid using any antifungal creams (ketoconazole, clotrimazole). Only use them when instructed by your veterinarian.
  • Hydrogen Peroxide. It is safe for humans but not for dogs. When applied in dogs, it forms some bubbles. These bubbles signify that the hydrogen peroxide is destroying the cells in the dog’s body needed for healing.
  • Super Glue. Avoid using super glue to close wounds. It shouldn’t be used on lacerations, especially the dirty ones. Also, do not use super glue to close bandages.
  • Steroids. Avoid using ointments with steroids such as betamethasone or hydrocortisone that may interfere with the wound’s healing process.

Wrap Up

dog with bandaged head

Cleaning an infected wound at home is not very hard as long as you put your safety and that of your dog into account. If you are concerned about the seriousness of your dog’s wound, take her to a vet who can perform much more effective and reliable cleaning.

After cleaning the wound at home, get your canine friend some antibiotics to help her in healing, preferably by a vet’s advice. Also, consider pain medications as wounds are quite painful.

Prevention is better than cure, so the saying goes. This is true for your pooch. While you cannot protect her from all possible causes of wounds, you can definitely cut down the instances by ensuring a safe environment for her.

Did you find this article helpful? We would like to hear all about it. Also, feel free to share your experience, tips and any other info on dog wounds with us. Leave your comments below, and check out our next article on how to treat abscess on a dog.

About the author
Emily Young
Emily Young

Emily is originally from China where she graduated from The University of Hong Kong with high distinction learning about fashion and design. During university she opened her own magazine about Dog Fashion as dogs were always in her heart. She was surprised, when she moved to a beautiful British Columbia 10 years ago, to see many great Boutiques with dog's designer clothing and desire of pet owners to make their babies look nice.

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