Dogs: basic first aid for wounds
First aid treatment for minor cuts and grazes. If you cannot stem a bleeding wound, or can see bone or soft tissue or suspect a broken bone or internal injuries, seek immediate veterinary advice.
Is it serious enough to see the vet?
If your pet is involved in a fight or in a minor accident that results in visible wounds — cuts, puncture wounds, lacerations or torn ears etc. — you will need to judge if the wounds are serious enough to need treatment by a vet or if they can be initially treated at home.
In all but the most minor of cases it is usually best that your dog sees the vet, if only for a quick check up the following day. With any wound there is always a real risk of infection and many seemingly minor wounds will also often require a few stitches to ensure a swifter recovery.
In cases where you are unable to stem the bleeding, and/or a wound is deep enough for you to see bone or soft tissue, or where you suspect there is any possibility of a broken bone or internal injuries, you should call the hospital for advice.
Warning. Always approach an injured animal with care. When in pain or shocked, even the most gentle of family pets can be unpredictable. Crouch or kneel to put yourself on the same level as the dog and approach him slowly and calmly. Do not make direct eye contact and talk to the dog in a calm, soothing voice.
Evaluate the extent of blood loss before treating wounds
If your pet has been scratched bitten, or clawed, or has otherwise torn skin and tissue, you first need to stop the bleeding. Apply sterile cold compresses to the wound, several if necessary. Press firmly on the wound and check the rate of bleeding every few minutes. Bleeding from minor wounds should stop fairly quickly.
If bleeding is severe and on the legs, apply a tourniquet (using an elastic band or gauze) between the wound and the body, and apply a bandage and pressure over the wound. Loosen the tourniquet for 20-30 seconds every 15 minutes.
Note: If you cannot stop the bleeding, or the blood is bright red and spurting from the wound it can indicate arterial bleeding. This is always serious. You should call the hospital immediately.
Next, see ‘Clean, Disinfect & Cover’
Clean and cover the wound
Once the bleeding has stopped you can clean and disinfect the injured area. If you are dealing with a surface wound, a severe graze for example, that has visible pieces of grit or other foreign material adhering to the skin, flush them away with clean cold water and gently clean the wound with an antibacterial soap to remove blood, dirt and debris. You may also need to cut the hair in and around the wound area. Pat the area dry before covering.
If the wound is deep and you can see foreign objects embedded in the cut these need to be removed at the hospital. Don’t attempt to remove anything deeply embedded in a wound yourself.
Apply some anti-bacterial cream and cover the wound with some sterile gauze (bandage). Wounds will actually heal faster without being covered but initially it is usually better to cover the injury because the dog will want to lick at it and its own saliva can cause infection. Alternatively you can make up a temporary Elizabethan collar from cardboard or plastic, which will prevent the dog from reaching the wound.
The biggest problem with even minor wounds is the possibility of infection. Most dogs do not have a particularly ‘clean’ lifestyle and the possibility of a wound becoming infected is high. Infections can lead to serious problems. To avoid them you need to change the dressing and re-apply anti-bacterial cream a couple of times a day. While you can use anti-bacterial creams meant for human use as a temporary measure they’re not as effective for dogs as the animal antibiotic medications/drugs we would prescribe.
Minor wounds can be treated at home
Minor injuries — grazes, shallow cuts, minor injuries to the pads of the feet — can generally be safely treated at home but you might want to bring the dog in the next day for a check.
Clean and disinfect the wound, apply some anti-bacterial cream and cover with a soft, sterile bandage. Check the injury regularly for signs of infection and consult the vet if you see signs of redness or swelling.
More serious than they look
Beware of this type of wound, caused by deep bites or the penetration of a sharp foreign object such as a stick, a piece of fence wire or other items. Puncture wounds can be deceptive, usually closing up and appearing to heal quickly with minimal bleeding. In many cases, however, infection will set in beneath the surface, requiring opening up and draining. Puncture wounds should always be checked at the hospital.