A laceration is a wound produced by the tearing of body tissue. Unlike an incision with smooth edges, a laceration is often jagged and irregular. As a result, there can be variable degrees of damage to the underlying body tissue and structures depending on the depth and force of the trauma that caused the laceration. Minor trauma may damage the skin only. Major trauma may damage deeper muscles and tendons, or extend into the abdominal or chest cavities.
The wound created by the laceration is frequently contaminated with debris and bacteria, and all lacerations have the potential for hemorrhage, or infection.
Lacerations associated with the following signs may require emergency treatment:
- Difficulty breathing
- Inability to stand
- Abnormal mental state
Diagnosis of a Laceration
Diagnostic tests are needed to determine the severity of the lacerations and their impact on your pet. Tests may include:
- Complete medical history and physical examination. Concurrent injuries should be noted.
- Screening to determine if your pet is in shock.
- If severe hemorrhage has occurred, tests for anemia (low red blood cell count), may be performed. However, laboratory tests are seldom needed unless the trauma is severe.
- A chest X-ray may be needed if there is generalized trauma.
- An abdominal X-ray may be required to determine the extent of injury.
Treatment of Canine Lacerations
All lacerations have the potential for hemorrhage or infection and, therefore, should be evaluated immediately by your veterinarian or local emergency hospital. Intravenous fluids may be administered if your dog is showing signs of shock. Blood transfusions are needed if there is severe blood loss causing anemia.
Emergency wound care involves the following principles:
- Controlling hemorrhage
- Removing obvious debris from the wound
- Covering the wound with a sterile bandage until definitive treatment can be done.General anesthesia is often needed to permit cleaning, suturing and management of the wound. This is done in a controlled situation that will not cause your dog pain. Infrequently, local anesthetics are used; these can block pain, but won’t keep most pets still.
- Hair is clipped from the skin that surrounds wound.
- The wound and surrounding skin are cleaned with antibacterial scrub solution.
- Surgical debridement (cutting away/removal of dead or badly infected tissue) is usually needed with severely traumatized tissues.
- Repair of damaged deep tissues (for example, those affecting muscles or tendons), may require sutures.
- When possible, the skin is sutured (sewed closed with stitches). Sometimes a drain is placed inside wound, to prevent fluid build-up under the skin .
- The wound may need to be left open if excessive skin loss or wound contamination has occurred. The latter is to prevent suturing from “burying” infection or debris within the wound.
- Antibiotics may be administered and prescribed for home use.
Home Care of Lacerations in Dogs
If your pet has a laceration, consider applying direct pressure over the wound with a clean cloth to control the bleeding. Attempt this only if you are confident you can do it without being bitten by your frightened pet. Pressure will allow the smaller blood vessels to clot and stop bleeding. The larger vessels will not clot with pressure alone, but will at least stop bleeding until you can get your pet to your veterinarian.
You can use water from a hose or shower to gently flush large pieces of debris out of the wound. This should only be done if the wound is heavily contaminated and there is a delay in getting your pet to your veterinarian.
Cover the wound with another clean cloth, such as a clean towel, while transporting your pet.
After your veterinarian has repaired the wound, keep your pet indoors to allow it to rest and heal and to allow you to monitor the wound.
The skin sutures are removed after the wound has completely healed, usually 10 to 14 days. Do not allow your dog to chew or lick at the wound. To prevent this, you may need to obtain an Elizabethan collar from your veterinarian.
After the laceration is repaired, your pet will need time to rest and heal. Keep him indoors and allow minimal activity. Watch the sutured wound closely for excessive redness, swelling, or discharge, to ensure that the wound edges remain closed.
Your dog will need to be returned to the veterinarian to have the wound reevaluated. The skin sutures will usually be removed at 10 to 14 days or when the wound has completely healed.
Give all antibiotics as directed. Notify your veterinarian if you are having difficulty treating your pet.
In-Depth Information on Lacerations in Dogs
Common causes of lacerations include bite wounds, running into sharp objects, or being hit by an automobile. Trauma that causes a laceration may also cause more life-threatening injuries that need to be evaluated, such as shock, bleeding and fractures.
Lacerations are just one type of wound or tissue injury that can occur in pets that have suffered trauma. The severity of lacerations can vary from small, single lesions to multiple or highly complicated lesions. The location of injuries can impact the wound management.
The following situations require special management:
- Degloving wounds. Loss of large areas of skin, usually from extremities
- Shearing injuries. Loss of large areas of skin and underlying soft tissues and bone caused by abrasion of body along a rough surface, usually the road
- Traumatic fractures. Broken bones often occur with the severe trauma that causes lacerations.
Diagnosis In-depth on Canine Lacerations
Diagnostic tests are needed to recognize the impact of the laceration on your pet. Some of these include:
- Complete medical history and physical examination. It is important to determine whether your pet is showing signs of hypovolemic shock secondary to the trauma or blood loss.
- It is also important to determine if there are other injuries present. Small lacerations can be difficult to find if they are not bleeding or the animal has thick hair or fur. Lung damage, broken bones or ligament injuries may occur with trauma and may require treatment.
- If severe hemorrhage has occurred, a PCV (packed cell volume), will be performed to see if your pet has lost too much blood. The test gives an estimate of the percentage of red blood cells present in the blood stream. It is performed by placing a small sample of your pet’s blood usually taken from one of the legs, in a centrifuge and spinning it down.
Treatment In-depth on Canine Lacerations
Treatment will depend upon the cause of the trauma and secondary injuries present and may be emergency care, emergency wound care, or definitive wound care.
- Intravenous fluids will be administered if your dog is showing signs of shock. Fluid therapy can help support the cardiovascular system in maintaining blood pressure and making sure that the body receives oxygen.
- Blood transfusions are needed if there is anemia from severe blood loss. When the body has lost excessive amounts of blood, it becomes very difficult for the heart and lungs to supply sufficient amounts of oxygen to the tissues. The red blood cells in a blood transfusion, will prevent the tissues from becoming hypoxic, or starved of adequate oxygen.
Emergency Wound Care for Dogs
- Stop continued bleeding to prevent hypoxia, or lack of oxygen delivery to tissues. Hypoxia of the damaged tissues in the wound worsens tissue necrosis (cell death) and inhibits the immune system from fighting bacteria thus increasing the chance for the wound to become infected.
- Remove major contamination from the wound. Debris in the wound acts as a source for bacteria to infect the wound and impairs the body’s immune system from fighting infection.
- Cover the wound with a bandage until definitive treatment can be done. Covering the wound minimizes further contamination and potential infection.
Definitive Wound Care
- Your pet may need to be anesthetized to allow the wound to be treated adequately without causing undo pain.
- The wound and surrounding skin are clipped free of hair to allow the wound to be thoroughly cleaned and monitored while healing.
- Antibacterial scrub solutions are used to clean the wound and surrounding skin in order to reduce further contamination while the laceration is being repaired.
- Any severely traumatized tissue is excised from the wound. This surgical debridement facilitates the body’s ability to clean up the wound, and lessens the chance that the wound will become infected.
- Damaged muscles, tendons, or ligaments are repaired at this stage, before retraction of these structures makes reconstruction much more difficult if it is performed later.
- The wound is closed whenever possible, to minimize the chance for infection. In some cases, a drain is left in the wound protruding from a separate hole in the skin, which allows excess fluids to flow out of the wound, preventing fluid build-up under the skin. This is another way of reducing the chance for infection. The drain is usually removed in a few days when the amount of discharge is small.
- In major lacerations, in which there has been excessive skin loss or contamination, the wound may be left open. Daily wound debridement may be necessary until the wound is clean enough to be closed. In some cases, the wound may not be closed and the body will be allowed to heal the wound on its own.
- Intravenous and oral antibiotics are used in many cases to prevent an infection from becoming established, or to help the body fight the infection once it is established. A broad-spectrum antibiotic is used to cover the typical kinds of bacteria that might infect a laceration.
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