Sometimes our pets get into trouble and end up with a cut or scratch – but dogs and cats don’t bleed the same way people do, so it can be hard to tell how serious the wound is. We asked Dr. Yung to explain what to do if your dog or cat gets int a fight with another animal, gets scratched running in the woods, meets up with an angry raccoon, or comes home with a mystery wound.
My dog has an open cut but it’s not bleeding. Do I need to bring him in?
YES. Superficial cuts don’t tend to bleed because dog and cat skin layers do not have as many capillaries as people. They simply do not bleed profusely the way we do, but this does not mean the wound doesn’t need treatment. The sooner the pet is brought in, the better the outcome of surgical repair. If we can suture a fresh, uncontaminated wound the laceration has a good chance of healing smoothly and within a week.
If the repair is delayed and the wound gets infected we’ve essentially lost our window for closing the wound since we can’t suture infected skin. We now need to rely on open wound management with bandaging and antibiotics, which means healing can take 3-4 weeks on a small wound and even longer on a large wound.
And even if the wound looks tiny we need to examine it – what may look like a tiny hole made by another animal’s teeth may very well have torn the underlying tissues to shreds. Puncture wounds are deceptive!
Why do you have to sedate my dog (or cat) to suture the wound? My human ER doctor just gives me a local anesthetic.
While we do give local anesthetic for all wound repairs, we do this AFTER the pet is sedated because, as you know, lidocaine stings. Our pets just do not tolerate the sting of injection and the firm restraint needed to hold VERY still for suturing that can take 10-20 minutes. In addition, our pets are covered in fur and dander and any movement can create a cloud of dirt and dander in our surgical field.
So how do you repair a laceration?
- We sedate your pet with medications based on your pet’s health requirements. Usually this is an IV sedation that will be reversed – we give an injection after the procedure that reverses the sedative and your pet wakes up.
- We surgically prepare the area that needs sutures. This includes flushing out any debris with sterile antiseptic solution (another thing which is impossible to perform on an awake pet).
- We give local anesthetic injections to numb the area to be sutured.
- Sterile materials and equipment are used to suture the laceration appropriately.
- We give injections of antibiotics and pain medication as needed.
- We prescribe antibiotics and pain medication to give at home if necessary.
Keep in mind that deep or multiple lacerations often need full anesthesia, rather than injected sedation, to repair. And puncture wounds can be tricky – exploration of seemingly small wounds can reveal pockets beneath the skin that require drain placement, or there can even be deeper, more severe injuries, particularly in puncture wounds around the abdomen. So even if the wound seems small, it’s important to have us look at it right away!