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.