Your dog recently came home after having surgery and now it’s up to you to make sure the incision heals properly. The question is: How can you tell if the redness and swelling are part of a normal healing process or signs of trouble?
What Happens to a Dog’s Skin After the Incision?
Any breakdown of the dog’s skin, including wounds, lacerations, and incisions, stimulates the body’s immune system. From the moment the skin is affected, the body attempts to close the wound and heal the break in the skin. This immune response results in the mobilization of white blood cells, inflammatory cells, and protein to the site of injury. Initially, the skin swells and reddens and may even show signs of bruising. Over time, the repair cells and proteins diminish and a scar is formed. In a normal, healthy dog, properly healing, non-infected incisions typically heal within 10-14 days and a permanent scar forms within about 14-21 days.
What Is the Typical Postoperative Care?
During the healing phase, it is imperative that you do not allow your dog to lick or chew at the incision. Tongues and mouths are full of bacteria, which will only slow healing and could even cause an infection.
Infections, excess inflammation, an overwhelming immune system response to the incision, or a poorly-functioning immune system can all result in poor healing or incision breakdown. Knowing how to detect a problem early is crucial in helping your dog heal.
The Dog’s Incision Healing Process
Within the first few days after surgery, the edges of the surgical incision will normally swell and become red. The wound may look bruised and may have minor blood-tinged fluid seepage. The edges of the wound will not be healed together and a slight gap between the edges is acceptable. Signs of trouble include excessive drainage, such as dripping when your dog is standing, bleeding from the wound, or missing sutures. A wide gap, usually over ¼ inch, can indicate trouble, and any tissue that is protruding is a sign to contact your veterinarian right away.
After the first few days, the redness and bruising associated with an incision will diminish. Scabs may form over the incision site and around the sutures (stitches), but the incision should not be painful to the touch. Active dogs may develop a large, firm swelling around the incision. This is usually caused by an overactive immune system in response to excess movement and activity by the dog. These firm swellings are not painful. If you notice excess redness, bleeding, pain when the incision is touched, missing sutures, wide gaps in the incision, or any tissue protruding, contact your veterinarian. Any foul odor or discharge should also alert you to contact your veterinarian. Infection is one of the most common complications associated with incisions, and early detection and treatment can usually solve the problem before it worsens.
After the first week, most incisions are healed enough to allow the skin sutures or staples to be removed. The edges of the incision are typically sealed together, there is no discharge and no pain associated with the incision, and the redness should be gone. At this stage, your worries are pretty much over. If redness persists, however, or redness and swelling are seen around each suture, tissue is protruding, the wound is draining, or there is a gap between the edges of the incision, contact your veterinarian.
With proper home care and close monitoring, your dog’s incision will likely heal without complications.
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