A laceration is a wound produced by the tearing of body tissue. The edges can be smooth, jagged or irregular depending on the initiating factor.
Lacerations are one of the most common reasons dogs go to veterinary emergency rooms. They can be a minor skin problem or a very significant major problem.
Depending on the underlying cause, depth and force of the trauma, there can be damage to underlying soft tissues and structures. Muscles, tendons, nerves and blood vessels can be damaged. Penetration into the chest or abdominal cavity can even occur as a result of the trauma that produced the laceration.
Minor trauma may only produce skin damage. Deeper or more forceful trauma can cause severe damage to the underlying structures that could even be life-threatening. The traumas that most commonly lead to lacerations are usually associated with contamination from debris, dirt, and bacteria.
Below are answers to some common questions pet owners ask when their dogs suffer lacerations. This information will focus on what you can do for your dog at home.
What Causes a Laceration on a Dog?
Laceration can be caused by a variety of traumatic events. The most common causes of lacerations in dogs include getting cut on glass or sharp objects in the yard (especially rough wires around fencing), jumping through a glass window, bite wounds and injuries that break the skin as a result of being hit by a car. Some dogs come in bleeding with a laceration and their owners never know what happened.
Home Treatment for a Dog with Laceration
Specific treatment of a laceration depends on the degree and depth of injury, in addition to associated or secondary injuries. It is very difficult to give advice here without knowing the full extent of the injury. The best thing to do is to take your dog to your veterinarian to help you determine the extent of the injury.
If you cannot take your dog to your veterinarian – you can do the following:
- Carefully evaluate your dog’s wound. He could be in pain so take special care not to be bitten when examining the wound.
- If your dog’s wound is bleeding, take a clean towel and gently apply pressure. Again – be careful.
- If the wound is superficial – if possible, try to clip around the wound. Take care not to get hair in the wound. You can place sterile KY Jelly in the wound to protect it while clipping the hair. This allows the hair to stick to the KY Jelly instead of the wound.
- Examine the extent of the injury. If the wound is deep – if it seems to go deeper than the full thickness of the skin – and it is bleeding profusely, or if the wound is longer than about 1 inch, it really is best for you to see your veterinarian. The wound should be examined and most likely sutured.Again, this is not the ideal course of action, but for those of you that simply cannot take your dog to the veterinarian, then you should do the following:
1. Clean the wound with lukewarm water. Flush it like crazy. You can’t use too much water. If you have a syringe – you can draw up water into the syringe and squirt it into the wound. If you also have a syringe with a needle – you can squirt the water into the wound through the needle. The needle and syringe should never touch your dog. Squirting water through the needle actually applies enough water pressure that can effectively remove debris from wounds. What you are trying to do is use the water and the pressure of the water to remove debris from the wound. If you don’t have a syringe – you can use a kitchen baster. If your dog is small – you can use the kitchen sprayer or if he is big – a sprayer from the hose on a gentle spray. The force of the water jet should never be enough that it would hurt you or your pet.
2. While you are cleaning – you can better evaluate the wound. If the laceration appears superficial – you may be done with cleaning it. Dry the area around the wound.
If the wound is deep or draining – the best thing to do is see your veterinarian. Some deeper or draining wounds can benefit from a bandage. You need to be VERY careful. Most bandages that veterinarians see that are applied by owners are bad news. NEVER make the bandage too tight. To apply a bandage – you can use a 4 x 4 then wrap it with gauze. If the wound is open, we prefer using a bandage material called Telfa. It is a gauze-like material impregnated with a substance that keeps it from sticking to the wound (which can hurt when removing the bandage). So you would have the Telfa next to the wound, then some absorbent cloth if the would is draining a lot, and a wrap to hold it in place and keep it on the pet.
3. The typical bandage consists of gauze or Telfa next to the wound, cast padding or gauze type wrap followed by an outer wrap consisting of Vetwrap®. A small strip of tape can be used to help secure the outer wrap.
4. If you place the bandage on a leg, make sure it is not too tight. Check the toes every few hours for swelling. If you see swelling – remove or loosen the bandage.
5. Observe your dog. For minor injuries, your dog should be otherwise acting normal – eating and drinking okay, no vomiting or diarrhea, normal urine and bowel movements. If your dog is vomiting, having diarrhea, acting lethargic, or if your dog won’t eat or appears to be having difficulty breathing – please see your veterinarian.
6. Keep your dog from bothering the wound or bandage. One way to do this is to cover it. Or, if your dog is bothering the bandage, you can prevent him from getting to it by using an e-collar. (An e-collar is a cone-shaped object that goes around the neck of a pet to prevent him from licking or chewing.) For more information, go to: “E-collars in Dogs”. You can also cover some wounds on the chest or abdomen with a t-shirt. Small dogs can often be dressed in toddler t-shirts. Simply place your dog’s head through the head opening and the front legs through the armholes of the shirt. This can work well to cover wounds on the sides of the body that a bandage cannot easily cover.
7. If you see drainage coming through the bandage – change it. Examine the wound. If no drainage is coming through – the bandage should be examined and changed in 8 hours. If the wound looks clean, dry and closed, you may be able to leave the bandage off. Make sure your dog can’t lick at the wound.
8. Change the bandage as needed. This may be once to 3 times daily until it looks like the wound is healing.
9. Signs of wound infection are swelling, pain, redness, foul odor, and discharge – especially bloody or yellow discharge.
10. If possible, take your dog’s temperature twice a day. Normal temperature in a dog is approximately 100.5 to 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit. If your dog’s temperature is over 103 degrees Fahrenheit, contact your veterinarian.
This is important! If you notice any of the following signs, SEE YOUR VETERINARIAN:
- your dog appears to be in pain
- a foul-smelling discharge
- your dog is not eating
- your dog acts lethargicMost lacerations are dirty wounds and pets with these types of injuries require antibiotics. Your pet needs your help and the professional care your veterinarian can provide. If your pet is having any of the clinical signs mentioned above, expect your veterinarian to perform some diagnostic tests and make treatment recommendations. Recommendations will be dependent upon the severity and nature of the clinical signs.
When Is a Dog’s Laceration an Emergency?
A laceration is always an emergency and should always be examined by a veterinarian. Even small cuts can be deep and can penetrate important structures that require sutures or additional treatment.
Great Links for More Information
Disclaimer: Advice given in the Home Care series of articles is not meant to replace veterinary care. When your pet has a problem, it is always best to see your veterinarian as soon as possible. But in some cases, it is not always possible to seek veterinary care. You could be traveling, it could be after hours and there are no 24-hour clinics near you, or maybe you simply can’t afford it. Whatever the reason, when your pet has a problem, you need answers. Most vets will not give you any information over the phone – they will tell you to bring your pet in for an office visit. So, when these difficult situations arise, many pet owners don’t know what to do – and they end up doing the wrong thing because they don’t have sound veterinary advice. When your pet has a problem and you can’t see your vet, the information in this series of articles can help guide you so that you will not inadvertently cause harm to your pet. However, this information is not a replacement for veterinary care.